Open your school desk. Inside you will find an envelope with no return address. The envelope is greeting-card size. You do not recognize the sloppy scrawl of the writing. Sister Mary Angela, who has one long black hair growing on her chin, says that only a retard like Alfredo writes this badly. It will be decades before the nuns at Mary Mother of Hope banish the word retard from their vocabulary.
At home you will stare at your name and wonder if the handwriting holds any more clues. Although you haven’t yet opened the envelope, using your father’s brass letter opener embossed with President Kennedy’s portrait on the handle, you know that the tingling in your tummy is unwarranted. This Valentine cannot be from Peter, William, or Taylor, the three most popular boys in Grade 6. Their cursive, while not up to the standard of the girls, is passable.
As you slit open the envelope, barely glancing at President Kennedy, your brain zooms in on Alfredo, left back to repeat Grade 6, the only boy at Mary Mother of Hope to have the wooden-ruler punishment inflicted daily. Ink-stained white shirt, dandruff spilling onto a too-tight school blazer, his dull eyes follow you daily from blackboard to desk. The card is a Valentine, a mushy one, with pink flowers and lace. From Your Secret Admirer is printed on the inside, followed by a scrawled X. Taped below the X is a white plastic brooch, a heart with your name stamped in shiny gold letters. The next day Alfredo’s eyes follow you, his faint moustache towering above a clump of boys. Peter, William, and Taylor. You wonder which one of them put him up to it. You will never find out. That summer Peter, William, and Taylor will occupy themselves by constructing a home-made bomb. The plan is for Alfredo to detonate it behind the schoolyard. Then run for cover. But something goes wrong. No one mentions going to Alfredo’s funeral.
The Valentine gift from Grade 6 follows you from house to house. Until you run out of houses, and your world is a single room. Where the white heart, stamped with your name in gold letters, is pinned to a blue cardigan, the cardigan an aide named Maria drapes over your bony shoulders every morning.
Hello there missus, a voice says. Hello, Alfredo, you answer. The man smiles. He doesn’t mind that you call him Alfredo, instead of Felix, the name you told him reminded you of a cat as he helped your daughter unpack your belongings three years ago. His hands hold your pills and a paper cup of water. Good job, he says, as the pills disappear. He pushes your wheelchair. Your fingers cradle a white heart on your cardigan. Be thankful for another day of God’s love, Sister Mary Angela whispers in your ear. You see her so clearly, right down to the long black hair on her chin. Her pointer with the rubber tip shaped like a bullet aims you towards a blinding white light.
Two days after your death, your daughter will spend three hours searching your room for the white plastic heart with your name. Felix and Maria will find her sobbing over the contents of drawers spilled on the bed. They will guide her to the blue cardigan hanging on a back hook in the closet. Your daughter will hold the heart in her hand, examine the old fashioned style of the stamped gold letters. She will keep the heart in her tortoiseshell box, as she travels from house to house. Until she runs out of houses. And her world becomes a single room. Where the heart with your name will be pinned to a cork board. It was my mother’s, your daughter will say to her daughter, who has a child on her lap. And the little girl, who is named after you, will point her finger at the heart. Mine, she will say as she bounces on her mother’s lap. Mine.
second collection of short poems, Carousel, is co-winner of the Snapshot Press
2019 book award contest. Her first short-form collection, The Unworn Necklace,
received a finalist book award from the Poetry Society of America. Her collection of
prose poetry, Deflection (Accents Publishing, 2015), was named a National
Poetry Month Best Pick by Washington Independent Review of Books.
Long-time haibun editor of Modern Haiku, Ms. Beary is also co-editor of
Wishbone Moon: An Anthology of Haiku by Women (Jacar Press, 2018), and she
recently judged the Sable Books Haiku Contest for Women Book Award.
Her writing has appeared in Rattle, KYSO Flash, 100 Word Story, Cultural
Weekly, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and The New York Times, and is also
featured in A Companion to Poetic Genre (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) and
Haiku In English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013).
Ms. Beary lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, Frank Stella,
and tweets her photoku and micro-poetry on Twitter [at] shortpoemz.
Roberta Beary, haiku poet and editor, on writing Haibun, interview
on YouTube (8 February 2021) with Mike Rehling, editor of Failed Haiku
Tiny Love Stories in The New York Times (8 January
2019); scroll five stories down the page for Roberta Beary’s “Now
It’s All Fresh Fish” and her photograph of lobster traps in Clew Bay,
art of brevity, an interview by Ciara Moynihan in Mayo News
(22 January 2019)
Lunch Break, a haibun by Beary in Rattle (#56,
Summer 2017), Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness; includes audio (17 July 2017)