The Heart is the Least like Soap

With the bear, you can tell. But the heart is the least like soap. Red and lacquered, it could be plastic—a doll’s heart maybe, perfect and shimmering wetly on the shelf. The others pick their favorites: for Aaron, the bear with the trout in its mouth; for Jill, the bird swinging in its cage. I linger at the heart.

Gary tells us the man who carves the soap figurines uses a staple for a whittling knife. For the color, he scrapes ink from magazine ads, mixes different shades with his finger, rubs his homemade dye onto the whittled soap. The figurines are lined up on a shelf in Gary’s office. Gary sells them for the man, who cannot sell them himself because he is serving two consecutive life sentences. The hearts, Gary tells us, are the man’s best sellers.

What the man did is not a question I ask as I take my wallet from my purse. All day we have been learning what a shovel can do to a skull, how deep dirt needs to be to suffocate. My group is here to teach lawyers like Gary how to shape their clients’ stories, how to make a jury sympathetic, or a judge. But innocence means something else in a capital case, like the boy whose father made him eat bread soaked in urine, how he didn’t have to ask what would happen if he refused, how one day he became the man with the shovel, and one day after that he became a man whose carved heart I carry home in my luggage. What becomes of a heart like that? Mine droops; the colors run. Over time it brittles at the edges and splits. One day it doesn’t look like a heart anymore.

Lauri Anderson is a Ph.D. student at Texas Tech University, where she serves as an Associate Editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. She is a 2010 finalist for the Charles Johnson Student Fiction Contest, as well as a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short-Story Award for New Writers.