Davy Cunningham’s rubber ball heart

Davy Cunningham is in the park again.  In the daytime it’s grey and cold.  In the night it’s black and cold.   And Davy isn’t counting days any more.  There’s no point in counting what has become meaningless.  Once, Davy had a Tuesday swimming friend.  Once, Davy had a little boy to meet from Cubs on a Thursday.  Once, Davy had an old mum to visit on a Sunday afternoon.  But now Davy has this bench and a stack of four packs of lager to deconstruct.  And if the geese startle sometimes – honking in the dark – he fails to hear the alarm.  It’s too late for alarms.  It’s too late.  His swimming friend is drinking hot chocolate with another man now.  That little boy is a man of twenty three who once walked past Davy in the street and didn’t recognise him.  Mum is in a grave, hidden like buried treasure, and Davy has no map.

But what has really gone – and Davy knows it – is his heart.  The thump has stopped.  He puts his hand on his chest and there is the rattling rise and fall from his struggling lungs.  But there is no heartbeat.  Some days he checks the pulse points – wrist, neck, groin – hoping to find the tail end of a beat somewhere.  But he knows it’s hopeless.

When he isn’t in the park, Davy goes to the supermarket down by the sea.  It’s the place to beg and buy his beer.  He watches the waves sometimes.  But now, the year ending, it’s too cold to bear for long.  He can’t risk it, not without a heart to pump the warmth around.  So he heads inland.  He sits in the shelter of this little privet alcove and drinks and pulls his sleeping bag round his head.  Sleep comes sometimes – often at dawn, as the joggers start circling his curled body.

Toby had said there was always hope, which was a bit ironic, given that Toby had put himself under a train at Burgess Hill.  But Davy remembered him saying it and he thought he’d meant it at the time.  Toby had been telling him about when he was a little boy at the boarding school and the men came in the night.  I always hoped it wouldn’t be me, Davy, and sometimes it wasn’t.  I always hoped it would stop altogether and, you know, one day it did.  Of course, Davy knew that it never really had stopped for Toby and that was why he’d had to go.  That and all the rest.  But, you see, Toby had kept his heart.  Davy remembered the feel of it, tangoing with his own, through the layers of sweatshirt and fleece.  Maybe a heart is a dangerous thing to hang on to in this life.  Maybe Davy is safer without a heart.

But this night, this still night of stars, Davy wishes and wishes for the beating inside.  He traces Orion in the sky and talks to Toby.  He prays a little bit but he thinks that’s pointless.  You have to give your heart to Jesus and Davy’s empty-chested.  The ache of the space, the fist-sized vacancy, makes him cry out.  Then he feels foolish and, extricating himself from the tangle of his sleeping bag, he stretches, runs a few steps on the spot.  And his foot skids on something small and resistant.  It’s not a stone.  He sees it skitter away in the gloom and he follows the movement.

It’s a dog’s ball – something someone scooped and hurled across the park.  Davy doesn’t like dogs.  They piss on his sleeping bag, stick their noses in his stuff and steal his food.   And he’s never liked their spittle – flying in the air, coating this ball, no doubt.  Still, something makes him pick it up.  It’s red – pitted with teeth marks.  When Davy squeezes it in his fist, it resists – a firm resistance that pleases him.  Davy takes the mucky, battered ball to his bench.  He climbs into his sleeping bag and squeezes – again and again.

He decides to try in the darkest hour of the night.  A breeze has brought clouds that cover the moon.  There is sleety drizzle now, wetting the skin of his face.  Davy takes off his jacket.  He pulls the greasy sweatshirt over his head.  He unbuttons the shirt beneath.  Even in the chill he can smell the tang of his own sweat.  It’s a good smell.  His finger nails dig at his flesh.  They’re ragged nails, and they’re none too clean, but he hasn’t the time to be fussy.  Davy peels his skin and parts the fibres of his muscles.  He pulls hard at one rib until he feels the crack – then another and another.  He pushes his fist past the pillow of his lung and into the hole where his heart used to be.  He rolls the ball from his palm, through his fingers, into the heat.  He waits – willing this filthy thing to work.  It jumps.  It hiccups into a rough, erratic beat.  It’s not what he used to have.  It’s really a very poor substitute.  But something, something is beating again inside Davy Cunningham.

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