I almost lost it. The 'thrum-thrum' sound kept getting further and further away. I tried to go faster, but there is only so much speed that will can give you, and my chest ached and burned at the same time and my stupid skirt caught on everything.
I wondered what would happen if I had to go back and live my life without a heart. I didn't think it would grow back. I wouldn't be able to have friends, just acquaintances. There would be no love, just sex. An emptiness I'd learn to ignore. I tried to go faster.
Then all of the sudden it was shrieking again. It was wailing hideously loudly, and it had stopped moving. I stopped running and pressed my hands over my ears. I walked forward more slowly, peering ahead to try and see what was going on.
I reached the edge of a ditch. A much, much tinier gulf. A natural trough in the ground, probably worn into the earth by a stream that had since dried up. The sides were steep. My heart was lying at the bottom in the muddy dirt. It lay on its side, cradling one of its legs and shrieking. When it noticed me it stopped.
It had fallen into a hole. It had fallen into a hole and hurt itself because it was running through a forest in the dead of night, not looking where it was going. I panted to catch my breath and pushed my tangled hair out of my face.
"You're a retarded little organ," I told it.
It mewled pitifully.
I climbed down and tried to pick it up. It bit me. I hadn't even realized it had a mouth. I dropped it. It screamed and I pressed down on the tiny gouge it had left in my hand, trying to stop the bleeding.
The running and the ache in my chest and my bleeding hand were suddenly all too much. I sat down in the dirt at the bottom of the hole. I leaned my head against my knees and closed my eyes. My heart whined. I ignored it. I sat like that for a while, resting. My heart was mostly quiet.
"Are you all right, miss?"
I looked up. There was a man standing at the lip of the hole.
He looked like a gentleman librarian, somehow dapper in tweed. He had gray hair, but something in his eyes made him seem very young. He was carrying a book and leaning on a cane. I had no idea what he was doing in a forest at night, but I had no idea what I was doing here either.
"Yes," I said automatically. It's funny how the world trains you to answer yes to that question. After looking down at my heart and my dirty dress I changed my answer: "No."
He nodded, and gestured towards my heart with his cane.
"Your heart seems to be broken."
"Yes," I said glumly.
My heart whined.
"Its leg should be splinted so that it does not hurt itself further," he said. "May I help?"
"Oh. Yes, please," I said.
The man put his book in his pocket and used his cane to climb carefully down the side of the ditch. He knelt by my heart. It growled at him. Unperturbed, he sat beside it. He lay his hand on the ground near it in a casual way. My heart shifted away and kept growling.
"I'm sorry," I said. "It's not very friendly."
He waved his other hand as if brushing away my apology.
"It is prudent to be careful about who may touch your heart," he said.
Eventually, my heart stopped growling. He moved his hand closer to it, and the growling started again. He waited until it stopped, then approached another inch. And then he waited again. A slow, patient progress.
Eventually, his fingertips touched the space of muscle where I knew its mouth was hidden. He moved and rested his palm on its side. My heart sighed. I could see his hand bounce gently up and down, in time with my heartbeat.
He picked my heart up, very slowly and carefully. Resting it on his lap, he took a roll of bandages out of his pocket. My heart's broken leg was too short for a proper splint, but he wrapped it securely and many times with bandages so that it couldn't move the limb. I sat close by and watched him.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"I am Virgil," he said as he worked.
"Thank you Virgil."
"You are most welcome." He glanced up at me as he worked. "Most people don't let their hearts run about like this."
There was an implied question in his words. I sighed.
"I'm a little lost," I told him. "I thought if I followed my heart, I could find out where I should be going. I wasn't doing so well at that when my heart was inside of me, so someone I know kind of...literalized the situation. But so far that hasn't helped much. It's just been trying to get back to this guy I'm kind of still in love with."
Virgil nodded as he finished wrapping my heart's leg and tore the end of the bandage. "Love is a precious thing. What keeps you from satisfying your heart and returning to him?"
I leaned back. "There's a gulf between us."
"Ah," said Virgil, sighing. "It's so sad when once-lovers grow estranged."
"He wasn't really good for me anyway," I said.
"I doubt that makes it easier," said Virgil.
"No," I said.
I lay down on the ground, suddenly very tired. My heart had started crying during our conversation and Virgil pet it until it calmed down. He touched a bruise on it's side.
"It is a good heart," Virgil told me. "You should treat it more gently."
"It fell in a hole." I told him. "It chases things it can't get and it BIT me. It's a stupid heart."
"Hearts are not intelligent things," Virgil said. "That is why they need us. Come. Hold it."
I pushed myself up and went over. Virgil had me rest my hand near my heart until it grew accustomed to me and let me touch it. It seemed perverse to me that *I* needed to do that trust-building dance with my own heart, but then again, I had hit it with a stick. We clearly had issues to work on.
Virgil showed me how to hold it so that I didn't hurt its leg, and how to pet it, and where its mouth was. It had a tiny row of sharp teeth that matched up perfectly with the marks on my hand. When he noticed the bite mark, Virgil produced a flask of brandy from another one of his pockets and poured it over my cuts. Then he wrapped them with the same sort of bandages he'd used to help my heart.
"You should probably rest a while in this forest," he told me. "What with that leg, I don't think your heart is going to be ready to chase dreams anytime soon."
"Probably not," I said.
"And you should feed it," he said, patting my heart, which had already gotten up and started limping about on its bandaged leg. "It wouldn't be so small if it were properly nourished."
"What to hearts eat?" I asked.
"Poetry is food for the heart," he said. "And fish are good as well."
Virgil lent me his book, which was full of old fashioned poems that rhymed and had meter. After that, he said he had to go. He had an appointment to keep. When we said goodbye I hugged him. I think it both flattered and embarrassed him. I think he had old fashioned sensibilities. When he walked away, my heart tried to follow him, but I sat in front of it and put my hand on its back and eventually it calmed down.
My heart and I stayed in the forest for a while. I considered trying to find my way back to my apartment, but I couldn't even remember the direction I'd come from. And even though following my heart wasn't working out quite as well as I might have hoped, it was somehow still better than being comfortable and stifled in my home.
I slept on moss. After being stiff and sore for a few mornings, I got used to it. I ate berries and apples and fished in streams and occasionally missed french fries, but I got used to it. It is amazing what you can get used to.
I would like to say that I was always gentle and patient with my heart, but change is not a matter of epiphany. I'd been treating my heart roughly since long before it was plucked out of my chest and I actually took a stick to it. A lifetime's worth of abusive habits don't change because you meet a kind stranger in the woods.
Sometimes I yelled at it. Or abandoned it to get away from its whining. But I tried to remember to be kind. And I never hit it again.
My heart yowled and cried at night because it was lonely. It was an awful sound, and I couldn't sleep. Sometimes, there was just nothing I could do to make it quiet.
But the times I did comfort it, when I held it close and told it I understood and it settled into my arms and went to sleep, that was wonderful.
My heart kept trying to sneak back to the crevice. I kept stopping it. Coaxing or carrying it away. Sometimes I yelled at it, and then I felt bad about yelling at it. It never stopped trying. It was mortifying and I hated that it never stopped trying, but I tried very hard not actually hate my heart.
Feeding my heart was easy. It loved to eat, so much that most of my time was spent fishing and looking for berries and fruit trees. I read the poetry book to it over and over. It thrived on the diet Virgil had prescribed. It grew to be as big as a dog. It even looked a little like a dog, though it was all muscle and no skin, and didn't have a distinguishable head.
I had to retie its bandages many times before I felt I could leave them off. My heart still walked with a limp, but didn't seem to hurt anymore. I was secretly grateful for the limp. It made my heart easier to keep track of.
One night, after I had successfully calmed my heart into sleep, I was woken up by rustling noises. My heart had gotten up and was slinking off into the forest, trying to get back to the crevice.
It froze for a moment when it saw I was awake. Neither of us moved. Then I sighed.
"Go on then," I said.
Not an organ predisposed to hesitation in the face of opportunity, my heart jogged quickly into the woods. It was going so fast I worried for its still healing leg. I got up and followed it.
When we reached the crevice, it was as wide and infinite as ever. The far side was empty.
"There," I told my heart. "Look. He's not even there."
My heart called out tentatively. It walked to the edge. It called out again. It looked left and right. It stared across the ravine, as if by staring hard enough it could change what it was seeing. It sat down.
I suddenly felt so sad. I walked over, knelt down and wrapped my arms around my heart.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
My heart didn't respond. After a while, it got up, shrugging me off, and walked away from the crevice. I followed it.
News - 09/29/12
I like this guy. This is a good guy.