It was just a bit of foolishness at first, the satin being left over from the lining of my old winter coat and me tired of making the same old aprons and fancy napkins for the church bazaar every spring.
The first heart looked more like a beef kidney, but once I figured out the stitching where the lobes met, they looked all right. I embroidered “love” in my finest white silk, figuring folks might like it, though I myself consider it a bit showy. Then I stuffed all twenty-five of them with dried lavender—we got it hung in bunches like scarecrow’s wigs from the rafters in the attic, far more than we can ever use—and then the one with the silver dollar. It was a kind of harebrained idea, I’ll give you that. No reason for it, I just stitched a silver dollar into one of the hearts. And only one.
The ladies, even one or two gentlemen, snatched them up that first year at a dime a piece, all gone in the first quarter hour. And just as quick, if you listen to what folks say, they got scattered all over the county—girls to boys, boys to girls, those who was already courting, and those bent on revealing a secret love.
Two weeks later came the news about Edna O’Leary to Frank Sullivan, and Mrs. O’Leary nattering on about how Frank—a good catch in anyone’s books—got the heart with the silver dollar from her daughter, and how it must have been the lucky charm that wooed him. Of course, I made more next year, and upped the price to twenty cents. A much-coveted item is a godsend for the church coffers. And again, a couple of Sundays after the sale, it was announced Maggie Morris to the Quinn boy—I forget his Christian name—and same about the satin heart. The very next year, all sold out, even at a quarter a piece, and it was Aileen Flynn and the youngest Doyle. Three years in a row, each one because of the luck of the heart with the silver dollar. And so it started to be said, my needle had the gift and all.
“Mrs. Willoughby, won’t you please make me a silver dollar heart?” the young girls whispered when the bazar was announced and they ran into me at the grocer’s or the library. I confess to a weakness for a good mystery time to time, and Miss Trafford is not averse to setting aside for me one worthy of a glance or two.
But as for the young girls and their pleas, I’ve no time for village fancies. Have faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is what I tell them, but not lucky needles or silver dollars that do the work of an enchantress. So they come to the stall and pick them over. I won’t let anyone pinch them—they’d squeeze the stuffing right out if they could, and then what use would they be to anyone? But I can’t still them from weighing the hearts in their small palms—thinking they can figure out which is the heaviest—and everyone else watching to see who’s itching to marry the spring.
Then Lavinia O’Hearn—too long in the tooth for marrying, too young to be put out to pasture—she parted with thirty cents and landed the heart with the silver dollar this year. From the look on her face—red as boiled beets under a dour grey scarf hardly fit for a dust rag—I’d say she’d been put up to it. Right away, everyone started spinning tales about who she’d be giving it to, seeing as no one had looked her way in five years, save the widower Morelli up the sixth line, but he’s a pig farmer and I can’t say I blame Lavinia for turning him down. He’s one of them Eye-talians.
After weeks of everyone watching Lavinia like they were hawks and she a mouse—which, in deportment, she is—people, as is their usual, idle way, moved onto other more juicy dealings and forgot about Lavinia. A faded rose no suitor knows, and a home-stitched satin hear, charmed or not, makes no difference.
Then, about a fortnight ago, all the village in a dither about that young member of parliament coming through town by train on his way to Toronto. And Mayor MacKenna out to impress, though if he was halfway serious about impressing that young buck, he wouldn’t do it at the station, but take him into town and get William Black to slap a fresh coat of paint on the dining hall in the Village Inn and stuff him with Shelley’s roast beef dinner with the Yorkshire pudding hot from the oven. That’d impress bigger men than him, maybe even the prime minister or Cardinal McGuigan himself.
But instead it was rosettes on the lapels and bunting here and there and the marching band from the high school, a more ragtag bunch you’ve never seen. The pup with the big bass drum dropped his sticks at least a dozen times—all due I am certain to his one cast eye—his mother and sister down on their knees trying to get hold of them sticks rolling around everyone’s feet, them and the sticks in danger of falling off the platform onto the rails. The whole village out and looking down the track, you could see the relief on Mayor MacKenna’s face when we heard the whistle from where the tracks cross the third line.
And that member of parliament, handsomer than Homer, shook hands and kissed babies and he spoke like a missionary about our town spirit, all promises and spit. He left as quick as he came, the newspapermen snapping his photograph as he posed at the window and waved good-bye.
Such a ruckus, and so we didn’t know a thing about Lavinia O’Hearn until the next morning when the papers came out. Not just the town paper, but they say the photograph was in the Telegram, too—those high and mighty folks in Toronto finally paying us heed—not that we care in the least for such trifling attentions. There he was, waving like King George, everyone waving back, except Lavinia. He arm was out, like a fishing pole, above everyone’s heads, pointing right at the member of parliament. And dangling on the end, the satin heart. For him. And you could see it there on her face, writ plain as day, all what she’d been hoping since the spring bazaar, a whole life story built on a fistful of lavender and a scrap of satin—and how it was never going to come to pass. Because the member of parliament looked at her just as he looked at the rest of us. Right through her like she was a window. The whole thing captured and frozen there in the papers forever for the whole village—nay, the whole province—to see.
And so that’s the end of my satin hearts. My own heart just isn’t in them any more. I threw that needle out with the rubbish. When I see Lavinia O’Hearn now, which is not that often, I try to act normal. Like you do with strays or anything that don’t quite know where it belongs, I try not to look her in the eye.
Excerpted from Lima Bean (Bada Talaab Press, 2007)