“The Heartmender” by Luna Patience

“Can you fix it,” she asked, holding her heart out to him. He took it from her hands, it’s faint glow staining his skin. Raising it to the light, he appraised it from all angles.

“Maybe. It will take me a while, though,” the craftsman set the woman’s heart down on his desk, careful not to jostle it, “it looks pretty broken. I’ll do my best.”

“Oh, thank you!” She placed a hand to her empty chest in relief,  before lowering her eyes. Sweeping her hair to one side, she revealed a small turn key in her neck, ticking slowly round. “I… my clock’s running out. I just wanted to feel something before… You know. ”

The man nodded, understanding. “Don’t worry a second. I’ll have it for you.”

The woman nodded tearfully, thanking him once again before leaving through the door.

Heartmender Illustration
illustration by Quentin Freeman

The craftsman carefully unlocked his chest, removing his own heart to set it next to the woman’s brighter one. Hers was the heart of a child compared to his, fluttering and new. His was the color of melted Amber and blood, covered in fissures and scars from all of the times it had been broken and repaired.

The craftsman produced a slender metal knife, and began to whittle away a small chunk of his own heart, setting it beside the woman’s. He hoped that it would be enough. He hadn’t any more to spare. This woman was lucky, she would be his last project. After her heart was done, the craftsman planned to retire.

Whoever it was had really done a number on this heart. It was almost broken clean through, as if they’d thrown it from a window. He wouldn’t have been surprised. He’d seen worse in his days. It was why he avoided sharing his heart; it just caused heartbreak, in the end.

Many long nights he hammered away at her broken heart, mending it’s cracks and polishing away it’s tarnish. When it got too dark to see he lit candles, and when those had burnt to a stub he worked by the light of the rising sun. He was determined to make this last one his best yet, the perfect heart.

The day before her clock ran out, the women returned. The craftsman was just finishing up, and after adding one last layer of varnish, he gave the woman back her heart. It rested, light as a feather, against her outstretched palms. Slowly, reverently, she unlocked her chest and placed her new heart among her lungs and her ribs. After locking her chest again, tears began to stream down her face, and she fell to the floor sobbing.

Stricken, the craftsman fell to her side in desperation.

“What is it! What did I do wrong?” He begged her to tell him, and finally she stopped crying and looked up at him, smiling and wiping her tears.

“I haven’t felt a heart this light since I was a small child,” she confessed, and the craftsman relaxed, knowing that he had done his job. He had created for her what she needed most.

That evening the craftsman walked home with a spring in his step. He would miss his work, but it was time to move on. Maybe he would make clocks in his spare time.

His footsteps echoed along the street, yellow light casting his shadow against the cobbles stones. From an alleyway near to him, the craftsman began to hear a soft crying, and being the ever compassionate man that he was, he went to comfort the poor soul. When he stepped into the alleyway, he saw a small boy mewling in the shadows, his face streaked with tears and his clothes ragged. The craftsman knelt before him, and asked him what was wrong, and the boy responded, “My father calls me a devil, because I was born without a heart. He says that until I become someone who can love my family, I can’t go home at all.”

The boy sniffled, running grimy hands over his face in an attempt to quell his tears. He only managed on smearing soot along his brown cheeks.

“Where does your father live,” asked the craftsman,and he looked down the street to where the boy gestured. In a split second decision, the craftsman reached up and unlocked his chest.

“Here,” said the craftsman, and he reached into his chest and removed his own heart, carefully giving it to the boy. “I didn’t need it anymore, anyways.”

The boy stared from the warm heart in his hands to the man above him, and slowly opened his empty chest, placing the heart inside. He shivered at his new heartbeat, and threw his arms around the man, eyes wide.

“I have to warn you,” the craftsman said, “it has a habit of getting away.”

“That doesn’t matter,” said the boy, his eyes glowing with wonder as he pressed dirty hands against dirty chest.

He looked up at the craftsman, suddenly determined. “I won’t forget this,” the boy said, “I promise I’ll grow up to help people, just like you do. Even if it means giving them my own heart.” The boy squeezed the craftsman once more around the middle, before running into the fog.

The craftsman stood up, the vacant place in his chest creaking with age. He’d heard it said that when you lose a physical part of you, such as an arm or a leg, you can often still feel it. It was called a phantom limb. He had no phantom heart, not even a whisper. It had never really been his, anyway. It had been given to him, years ago, on a battlefield.

The craftsman didn’t know where he was going anymore, but he continued down the road anyways, his shadow the only figure to keep him company.