Chambers by Susie Kaufman

Susie Kaufman is a Berkshire county writer and the author of the 2019 essay collection, Twilight Time: Aging in Amazement. Her stories were included in the anthology, Writing Fire, and her work has been published in America and Lilith magazines and the journal, Presence. Kaufman appears regularly at the open mic, IWOW.


The heart is divided into four chambers like a two-up, two-down house. I love that word, chambers. It brings to mind judges in black robes and powdered wigs. It conjures up string quartets playing Mozart in 18th century salons papered in silk. Again, wigs are involved.  It makes me think of cameras that capture flickers of time, separating particular images into digital rooms distinct from all other possible rooms. The exhausted nurse at the end of her shift in the room for grief, her eyes permanently fixed on what she has seen. I want to cry. The heart has its reasons. 

Just now, I think of the chambers as actual rooms that I go in and out of during this dark time. There is a room for gratitude and a room for yearning, a room for grief and a room for outrage. I can’t stay in the room for grief. In there, I start to choke like the patients that need oxygen. The air is heavy with the weight of despair. Today, I am stuck in the room where I can’t find my grandchildren. I look for them under the bed, but they’re far away in Minnesota. This is the room for yearning. Like all the rooms, it has to be cleaned. The windows have to be opened to let the wind blow in. The memories have to be dusted off so they can be accessed more readily. All the ice cream at Izzy’s in St. Paul, now closed for good, a casualty of the pandemic. 

There is no benefit to pretending this room doesn’t exist. Its floors are strewn with their fishing tackle, their Pokemon cards. Its walls are covered with their holy scribble. 

Sometimes, I go into the closets in the hall, one for judgment and one for self-doubt. I try not to spend too much time in there, but there are days when I need an old shirt that smells like me and I have to go looking for it. I want to cry so I scurry into the room for gratitude. Here I look out on spring inching its way up from the gray, daffodils and forsythia out in front as always. I eat a plentiful dinner prepared from food delivered by a frantic young person. He waves at me as he runs back down my steps. I don’t know if he’s running because he has many other deliveries to make or because he’s afraid of me. I wave back, trying to convey my concern, my indebtedness in gestures, but he keeps running. I am outraged that this is the shape of his young life. In the room for outrage, I listen to the big men pontificating and I know for them it’s all just another bank heist, another occasion for larceny. It’s a good thing there’s more than one room in this heart, more than one bed to lie down in.