Heidi’s Advertisements (or the Return of the Mouse Folk) — Tom Tomaszewski

These were few but wonderful. Heidi, when she was among us, might have been able to sell anything to anyone. Her reputation was, however, based on only a handful of projects, and her detractors remain long after her disappearance—even though that, her vanishing, was the most famous thing she ever sold.

Surely, some say, those nay-sayers tell us everything, don’t they? If they exist she didn’t sell it: her going. Some people say that Heidi never went.

What? I ask. What didn’t she sell? Selling has its moment, and a long afterwards. If I were a journalist would I try and sell you a story from last year? We’re set in the long afterwards, with Heidi gone. All I would say is that at the time, the days leading up to and the actual hour of her going missing, everybody was sold on the idea. All of us.

Heidi was an inspiration. I would say that without her, with her gone, we are so much less. There are things left to sell but why, some of you ask, not just let people buy them unaffected? Look, I say—just look at what she sold and happened when she sold. Then have your ‘why not just let people buy them’. But not before. People cannot simply buy—or what will there be to sell? Heidi taught us this every time she sold something.

Think of the time she sold us our own hearts. Every one of us, we thought we had a heart until Heidi showed us how others had our hearts. I remember when I heard her speak and saw that look in her eye, a kind of joy, as she pointed to me and asked me where my heart was. I put my hand on my chest, she jumped down from the stage into the darkness all around me, and took hold of my hand. Her touch was like her eyes, wild and alive and she slowly lifted my fingers from my shirt and clasped them between both of her hands. I could have cried it was so animal, so daring but so safe. Imagine a cat stroking you, and you’re feeling like one of the mouse folk, but you know she won’t claw or bite. She strokes you like a baby, like a lioness with a baby mouse cupped between her paws, and you feel almost drowsy with pleasure.

She took me by the hand, led me up onto the stage, asked me to look out into the audience and to show them my palm. ‘Where’s your heart?’ she asked. ‘Do they have your heart?’ I looked at them, all of their eyes at once and felt my heart out there. I couldn’t breathe. I started to sway. My own heart was outside of me, possessed by a crowd of strangers.

‘But you can buy it back,’ she said.

I whispered: ‘Buy it back?’

All this time the crowd were silent but now there grew a murmur. It was as if a thought was passing from one person to the next, a ripple of feeling but one which I had no idea if it was for me or against me. Heidi knew. She leaned towards me and whispered in my ear. ‘They’re for you. They don’t want to keep your heart from you.’

‘What shall I do?’ The murmur grew to a rumble and then a roar, and the orchestra in the pit below us began to tune up as though we were approaching the start of the show, not the end.

‘Buy it back,’ she said.

‘How can I buy it?’ I could barely hear myself speak. As I continued I found myself almost drowned out: ‘Why should I buy it? It’s my heart.’

Heidi put her hand on my back, between my shoulders and whispered: ‘But you must buy it back—or what will they have? You can’t leave them empty.’

I thought: how much should I pay for my heart? It seemed stupid, ridiculous, and that tumult reaching to the back wall, all those eyes on me, but they seemed to hear me and reached out. They held out their arms.

‘What can I give you?’ I asked. ‘I want my heart back.’

‘Give us everything,’ they called. ‘Give us everything.’ I felt my spirit soar and I took my wallet from my back pocket. I pulled out all of my bank notes, and threw them. Fingers grasped and grabbed. People shoved forward, stepping over seats to reach the fluttering money before it touched the ground. None of it did. They took it before it landed.

‘More,’ they cried. I emptied my wallet, tossing coins to the back rows; skimming credit cards off heads as if I was slinging stones out over the sea. My driving licence—my bus pass, snapped up by an elderly woman with a fox fur around her neck.

‘More,’ they shouted. ‘We need more.’

So I took off my jacket and my shirt, my shoes and my trousers. I stood in my underwear, arms raised as they pulled on my clothes. ‘Your socks,’ a woman cried, a woman with red lips. I gave her my Falke socks. ‘But your pants,’ screamed a man. ‘We want your pants.’ I took off my pants, flung them into the middle of the crowd without thinking and stood naked. ‘Your watch!’ I wasn’t naked. There was still my watch. I unfastened the strap and passed it to a girl in the front row. She smiled and put it on.

And then I felt my heart swell. I’d given them everything and I got back my heart. It pumped in me: pumped, like the pedals on an old harpsichord and I felt their cheers like fingers playing over me.

Heidi put her hand around my waist and guided me to the side of the stage where there was a wooden stool. ‘Sit down,’ she said, ‘and get your breath back. You are the first. You’re the first person to buy back his heart. Look.’ I realised a camera was upon me: a deep lens, a mill pond, focusing on my face, scanning my body from my toes to the top of my head and then dropping slowly to my heart. Heidi reached out, touched my chest with her fingertips again and said it, those words, the words that we would all come to hear, which would drive us to want back our hearts. ‘How could you not want it?’ she said. ‘How could you not want back your heart?’ Do you remember the pictures: those shots of her fingers on my chest? Every heart in the country was sold in a week. Every heart went, and I’d do it again if I had another heart. Instead I only have one.

There was also water. Do you remember water after the floods and the waves and the rain. Winters and winters of rain? There was so much water that the earth was almost blue, but Heidi still sold us water. ‘Come, mouse folk,’ she said, ‘Lick your little lips and drink from this glass because I know you are especially thirsty.’ She held up a glass—a glass to the camera, because she was speaking to us all when she said this, her gorgeous smile illuminating screens in the dullest, wettest of basements even. The glass looked so perfect, almost made out of ice, which didn’t bother us even if it was still winter, and we couldn’t remember the last time there’d been summer, or when there’d been no ice. All that water had turned to ice. I felt hot simply looking at that glass in her hand, and I remembered what her fingers felt like on my chest. Everybody said they did that, that they remembered her fingers and we ran, we scurried to wherever we could find that sold water. We drank it like there would never be another chance to do so and we handed over our money with smiles on our faces, our little mouse hearts beating like our feet on the paving stones as we ran to drink.

I don’t want to think about when she disappeared. One moment she was watching us and we could look at her, selling us those things she did, and the next—the shock of it.

She asked if we wanted her. ‘Do you? Do you really want me?’ Of course we wanted her but how could we let her know? ‘Do you want me?’ she asked again and I think we all saw the sadness in her eyes, the darkness cross her face like a shadow of a bird’s wing as she wondered what we truly thought. The smile left her face and it was awful, like the sun rolling out of the sky.

We knew that we needed to buy her. Each of us paid all that we could—everything. I, like you, have nothing left after I sent it to Heidi. Then, finally, she smiled as she came towards us, her whole body filling the screen as she embraced us. ‘I’m coming,’ she said. ‘I’m coming to you’.

She vanished. She vanished into all of us, out of the screen, into the hearts of us mouse folk. Another miracle. Another of Heidi’s advertisements which were few, but wonderful.

Tom Tomaszewski works as a psychotherapist specialising in addiction at a private clinic, Charter, in central London. He was born in 1966 and grew up in South London, spending large amounts of time in the Scottish Highlands. His father, a printing engineer, came from a family of dissenting Polish patriots. His aunt died in Auschwitz and his grandfather was regularly prosecuted for an anti-Prussian column he wrote: Polish Fire. His mother, a nurse who worked with the Romany population of St Mary Cray in Bromley, introduced him to books and music alongside medicine and psychology, all of which continue to interest him. His novel The Eleventh Letter (forthcoming from Dodo Ink) is a story about desire, ghosts and trying to change the past.