The Stiff Heart by Meredith Miller

Meredith Miller is the author of “The Stiff Heart” which draws its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Meredith’s piece is a story about life under the surface, in New England in the 1870s where secrets and fears and desires sometimes refuse to behave properly. Not everyone joins in the self-satisfied complacency of this prosperous post-Civil War community.

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The blood would look best on the carpet. Certainly it made her shudder to think of it leaking through the seals between the floor boards. People would come as soon as they heard the shot, but they’d stand there, gaping, while the blood ran out. People always gaped, and then there were more fluids. Sniffling and tears. Perhaps best to do it in a different room; blood was one thing, but all that sniffling in here. It is the nicest room in the house, the sunniest and the airiest, but best of all to do it outdoors. She knew just where.

There is a copy of the Temple Bar on the table, three months old. Not bought at the bookseller, but brought on the ocean from London. It smelled like the ghost of salt and she’d dropped it next to the geranium. She could have had a more recent number from the booksellers for half the trouble, but they thought they were so clever bringing the first chapters of The New Magdalen and an article by Arnold on culture. That is how it is with them, that smug generosity. The self satisfaction of nursery maids and town politicians rolled into one. They are the kind of people who will never sit in the dark, never not light the lamps when the sun goes down. Never let the shadows melt together, fall over their shoulders and creep up their legs. Instead they will light the lamps and read the advertisements for silver plating from Mappin & Webb. Shall we order a serving dish, Old Thing? Gordon will pretend to be clever about the new science involved and Patience will pretend that anything but solid silver is beneath her.

A gun has to be cleaned and oiled, but she will let someone else do that. Everyone thinks she never leaves the room, so it will be easy to take a gun from the back of the Makepeace house. It will sit there in the shed until she needs it, waiting with its one dark eye. Campbell will oil it every Friday afternoon as he always does, until she is ready. On that Saturday, Makepeace will go out with his spaniel and he will reach for the shotgun. No one takes a revolver to the woods on Saturday morning; he’ll never know it’s gone. Not until after, and no one will even think to blame him.

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