Later, in the dark, I heard Harriet’s voice from the other bed. “You never told me the end of that story about Bysshe Shelley’s heart.”
“Well, what happened to it?” she asked.
“This is a hard story to tell right now,” I said. “Especially right now.”
“Because of Gil.” This was not a question.
“I can wait.”
“No, it’s okay,” I said. I took a deep breath, fearing I would break down as I talked. “Well, Bysshe drowned in the summer of 1822, was cremated on the beach. And then his friend Trelawny snatched his heart—or probably just a portion of it—from the fire.”
“And then another friend got it from Trelawny.”
“Right. But then Mary found out—and wanted it.”
“So what happened?”
“Another friend of Mary’s managed to get it back from their other friend who had it—his name, by the way, was Leigh Hunt—and presented it to Mary. But only after some hassles with Hunt, who wanted to keep it.”
“That must have been quite a scene.”
“Anyway,” I said, “that was 1822. Mary lived nearly thirty more years, wrote some more books, and raised her only surviving son, Percy Florence Shelley.”
“That’s not a name too many boys today would like,” joked Harriet.
“I guess not. He got the ‘Florence’ part because he was born in that city in Italy.”
“Still … not a name a boy would like. And if you’re going to name your kids after the towns they’re born in, you’d better be careful where you’re living. Your son could never get over a name like Florence. Imagine the nicknames—‘Flo,’ for instance!”
“Or ‘Flower,’” I said, smiling in the dark. Then smiled more when I thought how useless it is to smile in the dark. No one can see you. I went on. “So Mary died in 1851—a brain tumor. February 1.”
“Why do you know all this stuff?” asked Harriet.
Then … “Oh, you know me,” I said.
“Sometimes I’m not sure I do,” said Harriet.
“After Mary died, her son was going through her things and found Bysshe’s heart, dried and flattened, between the pages of one of the books of poetry Bysshe had written.”
Then Harriet said, “I was going to say ‘Gross!’ but then I realized how beautiful that story is. Your husband’s heart among his words.”
“Would you want to keep your lover’s dried heart in a book for thirty years?”
“But there’s more than one way to keep a lover’s heart,” I said.
Deep into the night I felt that presence again, heard the whisper, somehow more urgent this time. Watch, Victoria. Watch. And I’m not sure I slept again the rest of the night.