Playing Hearts

(written 9/96 or so.)

He won her heart.

She’d raffled it off, a ticket apiece for everyone who wanted it. She’d
considered selling it to the highest bidder, but that hadn’t seemed fair.

How can you give up your heart, he asked her, so casually?

You need it more than I do, she replied. And smiled, with her teeth
showing, the way she did.

He put her heart in a jar with air holes punched in the lid. And put it on
the shelf with the others. He didn’t pay as much attention to it as she’d
thought he would. Hers wasn’t the first, not by any means. One he’d won, one
he’d bought, three or four he’d stolen. He kept them all, though he rarely
even glanced at them. Occasionally he took one down off the shelf and toyed
with it before putting it back in its place. Now and then he dropped one -- by
accident, he insisted -- and it shattered. Sometimes he tried halfheartedly
to put the pieces back together. More often he swept them up and left them at
the curb to be picked up by the garbage men.

I want it back, she told him. I was wrong. I need it more than you do.

You would only give it away to someone else, he replied. At least it’s
safe here with me.

You only took it because you have no heart of your own, she cried.

I would not be so foolish as to allow anyone else to see mine, he

She visited his house one day while he was out. She examined each heart on
the shelf, impartially. Her own was firmly lodged in its jar. She started at
the other end of the shelf, and one by one, she stole his collection of
hearts away from him.

It took months, but she was nothing if not patient. Dust had gathered on
some of the hearts, and frost had nipped at others. She took each one in
hand, carefully, almost lovingly. Watered them, nourished them, and took them
away from his shelf.

At first she intended to set them free, release them into the wild, but
she soon grew attached to them. She started a heart garden on her windowsill.
She made sure they got plenty of sunlight and fresh air.

He continued to collect hearts, and she to steal them away from him. It
became a sort of a game between them. Once or twice she considered finding
some fresh ones of her own, but she discovered that she found second-hand
hearts more of a challenge.

They all began to look alike to her. One day, tending her garden, she found
she could no longer remember what her own heart had been like. She thought
perhaps that she had stolen it back long ago, and planted it with the others,
but she could no longer tell.

It didn’t matter, anyway. She had her garden, and that was the important


This just came to me one day, almost in its entirety. I hope it’s not an
unconscious plagiarism. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I put it on the
Web… As they say.

Jed Hartman <>