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The Heart of a Child

Short story By: Jan Gabriel
Literary fiction

It is story is about the experience of an old man who is reunited with his childhood dreams.

Submitted:Apr 26, 2012    Reads: 18    Comments: 5    Likes: 2   

I remember the days when I was once a child. We were all little boys and little girls at one time or another, running in the fields and rolling in the dirt without a care in the world. There are those among us who still cling to the fervor of those days, but their stories are mixed with tragic loss, with senility at old age… but even more tragic is the fact that rarely do these stories ever end happily. We find ourselves pointing and laughing at those who stubbornly hold on to their lost youth, calling them childish and naïve. But in truth it is us who are to be laughed at, for we are the ones who envy these people who are able to hang on to the heart of the child in them, and we begin to find ourselves lacking. In our envy, we remember those dreams we shared as children. Those fleeting moments we recall those fantastic lands of castles and flowers, of songs and magic, of soaring with the birds and fighting the dragon, but we know all too well that these are all but memories… and just as we revel in our long-lost fantasies we are pulled back into reality, cruelly torn from our dreams.

One such man, whom those he knew called John, was troubled with these very same thoughts. He lived a fairly ordinary life, working hard as most ordinary men do, and feeding his family as is the duty of ordinary men. Married for several years to a loving wife who had sadly passed on, with several children whom he was proud would carry on his name but has not since in a long time, he had lived out the dreams that he once had as a young boy. His dream of being a teacher, his dream of having a home, his dream of having his own pets-they had all been fulfilled. He thought by this time he would be satisfied with life, but for some reason he was not. He fulfilled all those dreams, except for one...

He dreamed of being a child again.

No. He dreamed of being the child he never was.

But what hope did he have of achieving that dream? He was growing old, and the dynamic age of youth was far behind him. It would be his seventieth birthday tomorrow, and tomorrow was also Christmas. Even with those joyful days approaching, he could feel little joy because he would still be no closer to seeing that dream come true. In those days he was taught to work and to obey. John was taught that he would become a man even before he had reached the age of ten, and was taught how to do things he would not even be doing for another ten years. On those Christmas days he would not be given toy boats or yoyos, but pens and books. No teddy bears or candy canes, but tool kits and manuals. Even before he had reached the age when he could be called an adult, being an adult was all he knew. His mind did not understand what it meant to be a child, although it certainly wished it did.

Christmas morning came just like any other morning, save for a few obvious differences. The snow fell, and John could hear the voices of the children singing jolly songs of dear Saint Nicholas, of the rain deer with the shiny nose, of Miss Claus and her tiny elf helpers. On his old radio he could hear the news of that day, much of which had something to do with cars being stuck in snow, but the mood of the whole town was more or less cheerful. John sighed as he reclined into his chair, sipping from his cup of hot coffee, his old hands clamped and shaky from the cold weather.

He looked to the opened letters on the side table. There were electric bills, donation requests, and Christmas and birthday greetings from his sons and relatives among others… nothing out of the ordinary, John thought. It was not that he no longer appreciated the greetings from his family, but the thought of death-which often came with old age-had been creeping up on him for the past few months. It had suddenly dawned to him that one day he would go to bed and may never wake up; that, like a thief in the night, death would take him and that would be the end of it. This bothered him greatly, but because it was Christmas he decided it would be counterproductive to harbor any negative thoughts-that and he honestly did not want to think about taking his last breath. He would be happy, at least for the holidays.

Suddenly, John heard a banging noise coming from the attic. Shaking his head, he put away his cup and slowly made his way to the stairs. Even his legs were beginning to fail him and he thought, rather cynically, that it would not be long until his whole body would start to fail him too. He thought that he had gotten rid of the rat problem months earlier, but apparently not. He reached for the ladder leading to the door of the attack, climbing steadily in fear that both his legs and the old wood of the ladder would fail and send him falling. Reaching the attic door, John pulled it open and crawled inside to take a closer look.

He was surprised to see that the lights in the attic were already open. He looked around to find what had fallen and caused the loud bang, and saw the carton of his children's old toys turned over and that all the toys were scattered on the floor. Shaking his head, he walked towards the mess and started to put them back in place.

Each toy he held brought back fond memories. The old wooden horse reminded him of the times he would let his daughter ride on his back as he crawled around the garden on all fours, with his daughter bouncing up and down as they both laughed along the way. The toy car with no wheels reminded him of the time he and his sons bought the go-carts and rode through the neighborhood. He could recall that it was hot that day, and after a few hours of driving the go-carts he and his children went home and swam in their pool. His smile grew wider as he looked through each of them, his mind flooding back with memories of those days. The baseball bat, the toy plane with the missing propeller, the stuffed penguin… things that John had not thought of in a long time came rushing back in only a brief moment, and the emotions that filled him seemed too much to bare. What has he been worrying about all this time? The realization hit him like a bolt of lightning, and tears started to stream down his face. "He was a child," his mind shouted as he unknowingly began playing with the toys. "I was a child", he thought as he made plane engine noises while waving the toy plane in the air. "I was a child," he cried out silently as he began whispering to the stuffed penguin about the unicorns he saw in his dream the other day... "I danced with them," John said. "I danced with them under the apple trees, and I waved goodbye as they galloped back into the rainbows. I saw it, I really did!"

Words could not describe that feeling. Joy? An understatement. Giddy? Hardly. Ecstasy? Quite a bit off the mark. But at any rate, he was certainly enjoying it.

He laughed heartily for hours in that attic, making car noises and talking to his penguin friend of his adventures in the forest, about his bird friends who flew in to save the king from the dragon, about the unicorns riding towards the glittering rainbows… it was feeling like no other. After so long, he finally knew what it was like to be a child again.

He slept that night with a wacky grin on his face without a care in the world. He never woke up, because he wanted to spend all his time with the birds and the flowers, and with the unicorns and the rainbows. He had found the heart of the child, and he never wanted to let go.


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