Phar Lap’s Heart Cannot Be Moved by Liz Falkingham Temple

A horse’s heart is the size of a newborn child. Two hands are needed to carry it.

She sees herself reflected in the glass; her face overprints the heart in the jar. Lit up, floating, its four chambers are dulled now, tannin brown. A piece has been cut away, analysed, lost.

Things will be better, her boyfriend promises.

She sees him, staring at the Gold Bullion Box exhibit, stooped forward. His shirt pulls slightly over the wing points of his shoulder blades. Scapulae, she remembers.

It meant nothing, we have to move past it, he tells her.

She thinks of jockey Jim Pike crouched over the galloping horse, his chest pressed to the fox-red flare of its mane. Could he hear the rhythm of the horse’s heart, its electrical thrum, over the four-time beat of its hooves? Or did the howling mass of men drown everything out, faces blurred behind the white flash of the winning post.

I know my drinking was part of the problem, I’m dealing with that, he shouts.

Courage and speed are measured in gallons, a barrel of blood every minute to power a charging horse. It’s more than that, of course – there’s desire, too, and longing. To be first, to beat the wind to its rushing point.

The bullion box is probably empty, says the display. No key fits the complex lock. Her boyfriend stares it – he’d force it if he could, she knows. LANDMARKS, says the museum leaflet, ‘Where our stories come alive’.

We don’t even know if the kid’s mine, for Christ’s sake, he pleads.

A wonder horse, they called him; his name means sky flash (lightning noun, caused by friction, the movement of things together, then apart)

Phar Lap’s heart is twice the normal size, but fragile. It cannot now be moved.


Liz Falkingham Temple is a journalist and writer based in rural East Yorkshire, England. Her work has appeared online and in print, including in the latest Bath Flash Fiction anthology, and she was shortlisted for the Oct 2017 Bath Flash Fiction Award.

Image: Mathew Schwartz