I’ve made many things that I am very proud of. I’ve made some things from scratch and others from scraps. I’ve found eyes that had so much more to see and popped them in new faces. I’ve taken dusty fingers from a child’s grave and made them into a warrior. I’ve polished long-dead teeth and built a shimmering grin. I don’t need eyes or fingers or teeth, mind you, but it makes things easier. While I would love to tell the story of all these pieces and the people they turned into, I have another story to tell. This is the story of the time I found a heart.
Never before had I been so fortunate to find a heart. If you were to ask me back then, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you where to start a search for a spare heart. People are so fond of them, and they are almost always in use. It’s a shame. A lot of those people don’t realize what a peculiar gift it is to have that little thing ticking away in their chest.
I was just out of my apprenticeship at the time, only skilled enough to make simple things like the occasional mouse, but with my newly acquired freedom, I had a license to build without restraint. My head was so full of new ideas that I nearly stepped on the dusty old thing! It was just lying in the dirt, in the gutter, if you can believe it! I surely couldn’t believe it myself. It just looked like a dirty old sack or maybe a rotten fruit. At first, I rode the high that came with my discovery, but the elation curdled into a soggy mess of self deprecation. In fact, I felt more guilty than anything. There were other makers much more deserving than I, but before I could doubt myself too much, the tired thing was already in my bag. I had a secret, and that was its own kind of treasure.
That night, I spirited away to my room without dinner and lit a single lantern to avoid too much attention. It really didn’t look too bad once It was cleaned and patched up. The whole night as I repaired and prepped it, my mind raced with possibilities. It could turn into virtually anyone that could do virtually anything. It is a very dangerous thing to be given a heart.
Ya’ know. No pressure.
Now, I understand that not every story needs to have a moral, but perhaps this is a parable of earnestness. If I had asked for help or advice, maybe things wouldn’t have gone the way that they did. I don’t regret It, but I wonder what a different fate would have looked like. Creations, primarily people, are masters of cruelty by day one. It is the nature of a free will to tend towards depravity. It is also the nature of free will to be afforded the chance to rise above; that is what I was taught at least.
It took a little over a week of concentration, tinkering, and seclusion to finish. Pieces never fit right the first time. Seams aren’t tight enough. Joints squeak. It can really be a huge mess if you don’t keep your head on straight, and let me tell you, heads never go on straight. Imperfections are expected, though. They are like the witness marks in a clock. After hours and hours of adjustments and fabrication, I finally stepped back.
Maybe It was the proportions or the coloring. It might have been the over all shape or the way It moved, but something was off. Something was just not quite right which was somehow worse than It being completely wrong. It was squat and oddly shaped. Its internals must have been just as bad because despite Its best efforts, It could not speak. With a grimace, It would open and close Its mouth in vaguely familiar ways, but all that would come out were long strings of ah’s and oo’s. It was, by all intents and purposes, an undeniable failure.
But It already had my affection; It had my heart.
Instantly, I fell in love with It. I wanted to parade It about; maybe the others would think It was cute in Its own way. I was just about to present It, but a realization stopped me in my tracks. If they were to know that I made a human, It would be forced to live with the others of its kind. It’s the way things go. Creations were not pets, but confiscation was not an option.
The other humans would revile It as a monster. They would eat It alive. They would burn Its bones and curse the ashes. A heart so precious deserves more than curses and flames.
So I hid It.
While It couldn’t have the power of a maker, It could learn like one. It watched with burning blue eyes at my every move. Its curious fingers traced over objects, testing their texture and weight. In nearly every moment, I could catch It dazed in fascination.
One day, I let It watch me work. “This is going to be a bird,” I explained, “It doesn’t look like one now, but it will eventually. Stuff has to start simple then you can make it more complex. Its tricky.”
It fumbled Its hand into a basket of down.
“Those are feathers: down specifically. We are going to need a lot. Essentially,” I gestured to the bean shaped figure on my desk, “we need to cover this whole thing with that. You can play with it for now though.”
I didn’t necessarily need to give It permission as It was already tossing small fist fulls of the fluff into the air. Its choked up laugh crackled in its chest, and all I could do was smile. Words wouldn’t do justice to moments like that, but a smile felt right. I was never really sure how much I could actually teach It, in all honesty. If all It learned was how to smile, though, that would be alright. That would be okay.
The bird was a quick job, but I saved the heart for last. I built that one, no hand-me-down hearts that time. Before I installed the little beating muscle, I gestured It over.
“A heart,” I said, pointing at my handiwork, “It’s the engine that keeps things like birds alive. Not just birds, though; lots of things have hearts.”
It was already pointing to Its chest, beating me to the punch.
“Yes! That’s what I was just about to say. You have a heart too, but yours is special. I didn’t make yours like I did with this one,” I popped the heart into the jay, and for a while it just laid there.
It looked back and forth between the bird and I. I made a “just wait” kind of gesture then pointed back at the feathered creature. The bird drew its first, almost imperceptible breath, but It didn’t notice. The lungful was too small, too shallow, but with the next inhale I nearly thought It would burst with astonishment. Its dumbstruck face turned into a bold smile, all teeth and gums. All the things that made It human was in that smile, and for the first time I was certain that It would die.
Among the many things that make my job stressful, death has to be one of the hardest. Everything wears down after a while, and some makers deal with that better than others. None of us ever want our creations to die, but they have to. The reality that they will die is really the only motivation they have to keep living sometimes. I wasn’t so bothered when my mice were trapped or eaten by predators, and I didn’t even blink when people squashed my bugs. Something was different about It. I’ve always heard about how precious a heart was, but no one ever mentioned how fragile they could be.
It picked up the bird in both hands.
“Careful, you might break it.”
Over the next couple weeks, It became restless. Being confined to my workshop (even when I wasn’t there) had to be boring, admittedly. I would catch It in the corner of my eye staring out the window at all the people milling about, and I would try to offer a distraction.
“Look! The cow is done!” That worked for a while, but It wanted more than I could offer.
It wanted to enjoy other creations, not just mine. It didn’t even have experiences of other places to be able to miss them. It only knew those four walls, and I could see Its light begin to fade. The spark in Its eye fizzled to a dull glimmer. Maybe I should have realized sooner, but I had robbed It of something so fundamental: the chance. I had been so scared It would be rejected that I never even gave It a chance to be accepted. “The chance to overcome.” It couldn’t tell me that was what It was missing, but I knew.
I met It at the window, “Lots of people out, huh?”
It gave a tired smile.
“You know that you are like them, right? The people. You are a person just like they are.” With a flick of an eyebrow, It spun Its face my way, and I just nodded. “Yup. You have arms and legs and a brain and even a heart just like them.” I could see gears turning in Its head, processing the revelation. “They are really impressive, honestly. They build things too, just like us, but they destroy things too. Sometimes they hurt things, even kill them, if they are different. Not always, mind you, but sometimes. You and I are different in that way. I can only make things; I can’t break things like they can.”
It peered out the window with fresh, moist eyes. That was the first time I saw It cry. It wiped them away in embarrassment.
“It’s okay to cry. They cry too. They cry when they are happy. They cry when they are sad. Wow. Now that I think about it. They cry all the time,” I laugh, and It echoes me.
The room is quiet for a moment, and I can hear It breathing. I wish for more than anything to know what It was thinking.
“You want to go with them; don’t you?”
It stepped from the window and stared at Its feet. After a while, It shrugged.
“It’s okay if you do. People deserve to be with other people,” I said, trying to stay as nonchalant as possible. I didn’t want It to feel like It had to stay just to save my feelings.
Again, the room fell quiet as It thought, and again, It gave another shrug.
“Well then what are we waiting for?”
I had to make it quick before I second guessed myself. It seemed a little alarmed at first with my abruptness but quickly caught an excited air. I was setting a ship to sail on its maiden voyage, having no clue as to its degree of seaworthiness. Soon, we were peering through dense foliage at a small enclave of men and women.
It seemed, understandably, nervous.
“If you go, I can’t take you back,” I said, trying to keep a light tone, “and I can’t promise that things will always be what you expect. That can be a good thing, though.”
It didn’t shift Its gaze, but slowly curled his knotted hand around a couple of my fingers and squeezed.
“It’s okay to be scared too.”
It squeezed a little tighter, but I knew that It would be leaving. Again, it’s the nature of people to take chances, to jump into a sea of possibilities without knowing if they will ever reach shore. It was born of a chance after all, a second-hand heart.
It didn’t look back when It finally made up Its mind. It smiled though, just like I taught it. I savored the small seconds between seconds when that hand rested in mine, but I was not the one to let go. It was, which is how things should be. It needed something I never had and could never give.
As expected, they hated It at first glance. The chaos started with a scream from the first person to see It. Men emptied from the surrounding houses to see what the commotion was about, and they looked in horror at the stumbling, misshapen It. Without hesitation, they descended upon him. Rocks and blades.
It was helpless. It had a heart born from brokenness, and I still wonder to this day if I was wrong. I told It that It was like other people in the fact that they could destroy and I could not. In that moment, I wasn’t so sure about that anymore, because I was (and am) convinced that It would never, could never lift a finger to harm another soul.
Like a pack of sharks on a bleeding fish, the crowd scrambled to tear It into pieces. The ones that couldn’t join the orgy wailed in bloody ecstasy. In minutes, It was indistinguishable as ever being a human. A shaman from the town approached and snatched Its still beating heart from the pile of viscera before parading down the street with the entire congregation on his coattails. The pack marched to an alter of stone, and as gently as one might lay down a child, the shaman positioned sacrifice appropriately for all to see.
The shaman looked stoically upon the crowd then announced the heart as a gift in my name. They screamed for me and my mercy. They danced and cried, and I accepted the offering. The organ steamed in the cool breeze of the evening.
Being handed such a thing so flippantly. What did they think I would do with it? Why would I squander it on another vessel just for it to be cut down? I thought it so tragic: less because It was gone and more so because It is a very dangerous thing to be given a heart.