This is a story by my wonderfully talented friend, Serena W. Sorrell. Enjoy!
Long, purple shadows slithered along the cracked pavement. The inky ghosts stretched longer and longer until the smog-sputtering steampowered sun set. Pierre, oblivious to the machinations of dusk, rubbed the sand from his weary, red ringed eyes. He had spent a long night sorting through garbage, mountains, bins, and boxes of it. He had scoured the pipe sewers while BiBi, his black pig, trotted tirelessly beside. Tonight would be much the same. So Pierre labored through the dirty work of sorting dust and grime and forgotten memories. By the first light of the mechanical sun Pierre’s efforts were rewarded. Soggy and dripping, and crinkled on the sides, Pierre held a heart that was chipped and cracked. He packaged it up and wrapped it away.
The most grueling and delicate work still waited at his shop. Merely recovering a discarded heart wasn’t enough. No, not at all. And though this one was in terrible shape Pierre had been lucky to find it at all, and BiBi was largely to thank. This particular heart had been given to Lane Two’s Miss Perdue from one Mister Lerrare–and shortly disregarded. Repairing it would take time, but not time alone. Such was the work for a heartsmith. And, for better or worse, business was never long lacking. The city of gears and grease was packed tight with fools who wore their hearts on their sleeves while they strolled in the park. Pierre was constantly busy, and it was taking its toll.
The shadows deepened to fresh spilled indigo as the sun clinked below the grimy skyline. Pierre watched the belching light vanish with BiBi at his side. His only constant companion and, some said, the reason Pierre remained unwed in the prime of his youth. She pressed her pink snout to his trouser leg, an encouraging remark from a pig. He smiled and BiBi grunted in glee. It was no fault of BiBi’s that Pierre remained alone. He had chosen his solace–had chosen the safety. Being a heartsmith, he saw where giving your heart to another inevitably led. Caring too much about any old thing could fracture a heart, make it hurt, make it sting. For some the loss of money and youth broke their hearts; for others it was that the stars were too few, or hardships too many.
Pierre had better uses for his heart, although questionable. But for Pierre BiBi and his craft were enough. What need was a heart? Pierre returned to his shop on Eighth Avenue; he heated the furnace that had gone cold during the night; he cleared scraps from the tables and benches; and carefully, so carefully, unwrapped Mister Lerrare’s broken heart. With the magnifying loupe over his eyes Pierre assessed the damage wrought. Most of it was surface, dings and scratches; but what he’s taken for a crease on the side was a collapse over a missing piece of the heart. Pierre made a soft mould to better inspect how much had been taken. It didn’t look good. BiBi pressed her nose to his knee just as the door chimes jangled announcing a customer. Mister Lerrare shuffled inside looking hopeless, sullen, and ashen.
“Ah, Mister Lerrare. Hello.” Pierre dropped a handkerchief over the man’s junky heart.
“Hello, heartsmith. Any luck with last night’s search?” Mister Lerrare sighed with great melancholy, “I–by myself–searched the parks and riversides where Caroline and I sometimes took walks. But to no avail.”
Pierre’s eyebrows pinched. “I haven’t found it yet, but I’m sure I will. After all, sir, that’s why you’ve come to me. Best heartsmith ever there was, in this city of gears or the next. Guaranteed service.”
Mister Lerrare said nothing. No smile. No frown. His eyes were blank and stared at nothing at all. Pierre’s guarantee garnered not even a blink. Mister Lerrare had become wispish and light, like he’d been half erased. Pierre cast his eyes away from Lerrare’s. His own heart ached for the poor man who had so carelessly entrusted himself to someone’s clumsy care. Pierre kept Lerrare’s heart hidden under the rag. He’d fix it up new, but only in private. Mister Lerrare tipped his hat to Pierre mechanically and made a promise to come visit the next morning.
Alone once again, Pierre locked his shop’s door. There was work to be done and repairs to be made–and a price to be paid. Pierre’s methods were secret, unknown to all but his pig. Little BiBi, black as an inkwell, knew how the heartsmith repaired the broken and battered hearts of the city. And, though she disapproved, BiBi said nothing–most of all because she was a pig, but her greatest hope of all was for Pierre to find a new way to mend the pain of others.
The hot furnace bellowed. Pierre poured liquid metal from a crucible into the mould. The metal replacement would make the heart whole. All other heartsmiths used brass, gears, and steam to mend the endless supply of broken hearts. It worked well enough. But a mechanical heart could not beat on its own, could not feel quite as deep, could not love near so well. Just because it was whole did not make it full. Pierre loosed the pebble sized filling, measured it with calipers and a steady hand, opened his chest, and carved a piece of his heart away with practiced precision. Over a gentle flame he binded it to Lerrare’s. He hammered out the dents and sanded away the rough edges until it was smooth and shining. Sweat dripped down his neck. The work had been hard–it always was. The missing part of his heart beat far away, like an echo; and from tomorrow it would beat inside Mister Lerrare. No master had taught him. Pierre still had plenty of heart to give. He lived only for work so any lack of love went unnoticed. Over the years he rarely used his own heart; but Lerrare’s sad, soulful brown eyes had encouraged Pierre. He wanted to see his customer smile.
The next morning, before Pierre had poured his coffee, Mister Lerrare stood waiting and wasting outside in the rain. He had scuffled through town all night once more. He had searched each shadow and dump for his throwaway heart. His eyes were red and his chin stubbled. He had not slept and looked practically dead. Rain dripped off his coat, down his cheeks like fresh tears, and on to the workshop floor. He looked to Pierre without a flicker of hope. Something inside Pierre tugged and pulled. He pushed away the feeling. Business hours had begun.
“Mister Lerrare,” Pierre tried to sound cheerful, “you’ll be relieved to know I have found your lost heart and repaired it brand new.”
The news brought Mister Lerrare back to life. Pierre showed him the beating heart, whole and filled. A weak smile danced across Lerrare’s pallid lips. After a few minutes and with the heartsmith’s hard work the heart returned to its home. Color flooded Lerrare’s cheeks. He smiled and laughed. His heart had returned, undamaged and clean, with only the smallest piece of Pierre’s hidden within. Mister Lerrare shook Pierre’s sooty hand with such enthusiasm both men laughed. BiBi trotted in circles and squealed with delight.
“Excellent work! I feel a new man!” Remarked the handsome Mister Lerrare.
“Good to hear and happy to help. Take care of it now. Rest it a week or two; and remember hearts are fragile. They should be treated with care.”
Pierre could not admonish the man too much. His twinkling, brown eyes were so happy, ready to live life and love every drop. Mister Lerrare paid his account with a grin on his face spread just for Pierre.
He shook the heartsmith’s hand, “Thank you, Pierre. Truly.”
“Just doing my work, Mister Lerrare,” Pierre dropped his smog-colored gaze feeling suddenly shy.
“That simply won’t do. You’ve saved my heart, man. We are friends. Call me Hugo.”
Pierre had never been asked to call anyone anything. It was awkward. Something inside lurched. Still he smiled, ever courteous to his clients. Besides, Pierre would never see the man again. Once he smithed a heart new it never broke again.
Hugo took to the streets with jaunty, light steps. No shadow of gloom stirred in his wake. No clue that only that morning he’d been a wraith. Pierre watched the man disappear, tipping his hat at strangers to make them smile. Pierre watched until Hugo was long out of sight. He had more hearts to repair, but none of them so broken as Mister Lerrare’s had been. For the rest of the day Pierre hammered and pittered, repaired hearts by the pile. In a city so large and a world so uncaring there was always a surplus of broken hearts.
Pierre’s business remained as steady as ever in the weeks following. Months passed and still business was constant and ever lucrative. If Pierre lingered on the state of hearts in the mechanical city for too long he found melancholy seeping into his hands and poisoning his work. If not for BiBi’s constant love by his side Pierre knew he’d have lost belief in the precarious emotion so many seemed to chase. Love was dangerous. Love was blind. Love came with claws and fangs. And all to often love was a one way transaction. Pierre would not be so foolish as to succumb to love’s cruelties. BiBi’s love was enough for him. Pierre snuffed out the furnace after another long day of wearying work, the comfort of his bed calling him like a siren, when the doorbells chimed. Beleaguered, Pierre turned. A stooping shamble of a man stood slumped over his own weight like gravity itself meant to pull him into the ground. Brown eyes met Pierre’s steel gray. Hugo was ten times worse than before. A gasp escaped the unaware Pierre as he rushed to his friend’s side. BiBi trotted along at his heels.
“Hugo, what happened? Has something gone wrong? My repairs should have lasted.”
“No,” Hugo’s shoulders slumped in defeat, “I did something very dumb.”
“Oh.” Pierre knew by the listless lack of joy in those drowning brown eyes.
“I thought it’d be different this time, Pierre. He was such a fun gent. We’d been chums since our long ago schooldays. Perhaps I knew him too well. Or he me. Whatever it was it has ended.”
“If I may hire your services again, Pierre. You’re the finest heartsmith ever was and I’ll never find better.”
“No fear! I have the heart right here. He was kind enough to return it.”
It was a start and at least no late night searches. Pierre nodded; Hugo took out a cloth bundle and opened each fold. Pierre stared at the holes riddled through the heart like cavities in a tooth. It could be repaired but it would take time–and more heart. Hugo waited in silence for the prognosis. His tragic gaze fixated upon Pierre.
“I can fix it.”
“Oh, thank you!”
“It will take me a week.”
“I’m afraid it’s quite bad.”
Hugo nodded, “Yes, I loved him,” a tear dripped from his chin.
Pierre gathered the heart with the utmost of care and ushered Hugo out the door. Hugo, in turn, promised to come again in seven nights. With the door closed and curtains down Pierre turned back to the broken heart. Dings and dents were one thing but swiss cheese hearts were quite another. Pierre would work his craft until it turned to magic. He’d begin right away. The fire was woken with the breath of the bellows. Pierre mixed copper and gold with a bit of his blood; the bond would need to be stronger this time. Pierre would harvest his own to make this one more resilient. He opened his chest ready to begin the transaction.
BiBi pawed at his foot, a glum look in her eye. With his eyes winced shut to ignore BiBi’s pleas Pierre began to chizzle off bits of his heart. The damage on Hugo’s was extensive. Pierre whispered to his work; he begged it to accept the pieces of his hard heart; he asked the broken heart to be whole once again. Pierre couldn’t bear to see his friend’s heart break ever again.
The shop stayed closed the next two days while Pierre toiled without rest. On the fourth day he finished. The heart was good. The cracks weren’t too noticeable. It would hold sturdy. Pierre slept the next three days and woke with a start to Hugo tapping on the door. Pierre presented the re-repaired heart and re-replaced it inside Hugo’s broad chest. It beat and thumped as good as before. A miracle! Hugo lifted Pierre in the air with a hug. He paid Pierre double for all of the trouble and promised, pinky promised, to be more careful and to steer clear from falling in love.
But not three weeks passed before Hugo shuffled in through the door. He collapsed, sobbing and wailing, onto Pierre’s workbench. Pierre couldn’t make out a word. Only that it hurt more than ever before . . . and that Hugo was doomed to never be loved. Hugo gave his heart to any who asked and never asked in return. He let people use his heart until it broke. Pierre grimaced at the torture love had wrought on his dear friend. Hugo upturned a jute sack and the pieces dropped with a thud to the table. This was beyond bad. There was hardly anything left, barely a scrap. Pierre would have to create it from scratch. Pierre only repaired hearts; he had never tried to make own of his own. The thought frightened him, but he looked to Hugo–the man who had become more than just dear. It made up his mind.
“A month. Not a day sooner.”
“Can it even be mended? Pierre, just look at the pieces.”
“I can do it, I’m certain. It’s a heart only in name but I’ll give it shape too.”
“Pierre . . .” Hugo’s hollow eyes brimmed full with tears, and inside of his chest the remnants of Pierre’s heart churned at the sight. “Thank you, Pierre. A month then.”
Pierre nodded and squeezed Hugo’s icy hand tight. Could the man truly survive with no heart for thirty-one days? Pierre had to hurry but he could not cut corners. He’d make Hugo’s heart more beautiful than ever. He helped Hugo to stand and walked him to the shop door; he kissed Hugo’s forehead and told him not to fret, and above all to get lots of rest. The door closed and the sweltering workshop felt cold. Pierre looked at Hugo’s broken heart scattered like dice thrown to gamble. He rubbed his closed eyes with a thumb and a finger. There was work to be done, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. BiBi knew, too, and did not approve. She told Pierre so by ramming her head against his leg. He took notice and looked upon his sole companion with tears in his eyes.
“I know, BiBi. But what else can I do? He loves too much and receives none in return. He gives them his all and it leaves his heart empty, battered, and bruised. I can’t bear to see him so. I can’t bear to see his heart hurt. BiBi, my sweet, please understand.”
BiBi understood. Pierre opened his chest. He took out his heart, every last piece. It took hours of sweat; it took ounces of blood; it took toil of fire and steel, magic and curses to coax the broken slivers of Hugo’s heart into Pierre’s. And all the while in the silent workshop no sound was heard but a black pig’s tears hitting the floor. And so it continued, day after day, night after night. Pierre barely slept as he made a heart for the person he liked best. Pierre and BiBi both knew that this was the final repair. There’d be no more heartsmith after the first and only re-re-repair. At least his final work would also be the greatest, a beautiful heart prefilled with all of Pierre’s love.
On the thirty-first day Hugo knocked at the door. Pierre did his best to remember how to smile. He tried to recall the feelings he’d had and act perfectly normal. He presented the heart, his masterpiece of art and love. Hugo gasped at its perfection. The heart nestled snug in his chest, a perfect fit. Hugo praised the craftsmanship with a warm hug and soft kiss to the cheek. Pierre had forgotten his real smile, lost it with the last bit of his heart. He was tired but he smiled still. Hugo paid Pierre and turned to the door. He stopped. Hugo turned and looked at Pierre.
“Only that love has a high cost. The least of all pain.”
“Too true, my dearest friend. I have learned my lesson.” He laughed, but his happy brown eyes moved nothing inside Pierre. “If ever I give my heart to someone again it will only be to a real love.”
“Yes, do that.”
Pierre said his final farewell to Hugo Lerrare and closed the door.
A veil had been draped over Pierre’s world. Everything was muffled as he shuffled about his workshop. He packed away boxes and labeled his life. Box after box, tools and more tools, all of it he’d never use again for a heartless man could never mend hearts.He would have to leave the steam city, its broken hearts, and Hugo Lerrare. He would move somewhere very far where hearts did not break or need to be mended. BiBi didn’t want to leave their home where Pierre’s heart would stay. She tried her best to send all the love a pig could toward Pierre. Only BiBi’s warm love kept Pierre moving, without BiBi he would have been gathering dust.
Incessant, loud knocking made Pierre take pause from wrapping his bellows in old newspaper. The handle shook and rattled as someone outside jerked on the door. Taking his time, Pierre settled the bellows next to the tongs in a crate. BiBi nudged him, and pushed him, and loved him with all of her heart. At last Pierre saw his black pig, always loyal and beside him. The irate door came into focus too; he turned the key for what seemed an eternity. Not even a second had the lock been unlocked when Hugo burst through the frame. His face was red, tears streamed down his cheeks; his curls were a wild nest; he panted for air and heaved for each breath.
“Pierre! I just heard you’re closing up shop!”
“That’s all? Just yes?”
“Surely there are more who could use your knowhow, your skill, your craft. Pierre, you can’t go! You simply can’t leave me!” Hugo held onto Pierre’s shoulders and stared deep in his storm gray eyes. “Oh, Pierre . . . what have you done?”
“I have fixed the last heart I will fix. I can repair no more without one of my own.”
Hugo clutched his hands to his chest. He felt the two hearts inside, beating as one. Not once had he noticed how much had been given. Hugo had never asked Pierre for his heart. Pierre had gave silently, and gave, and gave. Hugo cupped Pierre’s cold face in his hands and kissed him with warm lips. Hugo opened his chest and then opened Pierre’s. He removed the perfect heart and at last heard the unspoken love, afraid to be hurt. Pierre’s fears. The pain that came from a broken heart. Pierre had seen so many broken he had vowed never to love even as he gave pieces of his heart away, without a word or a hint.
“Pierre, show me how to halve this heart. I don’t know how a heartsmith works and so you must guide me. Come teach me Pierre and then you may pack.”
“It’s simple.” With a shaking hand Hugo did as he was instructed. “You make a cut here and a small twist there,” Pierre was cold and clinical, all his warmth gone. “Now pull just so–and there,” he still had words for Pierre. “You have two halves.”
Hugo locked half in his chest and, ever so gently, placed the mate in Pierre’s. The heart filled Pierre up–not just the pieces of his own heart returned, but Hugo’s love consumed him. Pierre gasped as he stumbled and tripped. He grabbed the edge of the table and pulled himself to his feet.
“I love you, Pierre. More than anyone else. Real and lasting love.”
“It’s so much I can scarcely breathe.”
“I gave you my heart, every last bit.”
“All because I loved you. I loved your honesty and idiocy. I loved how you love with everything you have. I can feel how much I love you again.”
Pierre embraced Hugo and nestled his head against Hugo’s shoulder. Hugo held Pierre tight and pressed his lips to Pierre’s brow. Their chests beat in sync with one another. And there was never a sweeter kiss than their first, except the one after, and the one after that. Soon Pierre discovered that a heartsmith in love need not sacrifice anything at all to mend a broken heart. He needs only to remind the heart how to love with a few encouraging words–and a mallet for the extra tough dents. Thus Hugo worked in the city of grease smothered gears under the steampowered sun and forever beside him were Hugo Lerrare and BiBi the pig.
Check out Serena’s website for even more amazing stories.