Once upon a time, in a realm where summers lingered long, there lived a famous smith, whose job was to forge and shape, with the help of hammer and anvil, the hearts of all the citizen of the realm. He was capable of knowing straight away whether the newborn who was brought to him needed to have a heart strong as steel, or one soft as tin.
One day a very well-mannered man came to the Smith. With his he had his two daughters, twins, whom his wife had just given birth to, so that the Smith could give them hearts. The Smith took a careful look at them, eyes shifting from one to the other and back again, and back and forth again.
“How strange…” he muttered from time to time. After a few minutes, the father, puzzled, asked the Smith:
“What is going on, mister Smith? Is there anything wrong with my two babies?”
The Smith shook his head and explained:
“With this one” he said, picking up the smallest of the twins, “there is nothing wrong. I knew straight away what heart I was going to give her: a strong and vigorous heart, wrought-iron, capable of bearing any harm and any pain, because this poor soul will have much to bear, yes!”
The father, though he did not agree much with those words, said nothing, paying respect to the Smith. He knew his work very well, and if he said that Lucrezia - that was the name of the newborn - would have to suffer, then, alas, so it would be. The Smith put then Lucrezia down, and gestured towards the other baby.
“This one though… You know, such a thing had never happened to me, never since I started forging heart, not even my father, who forged hearts before I did, ever told me such a thing!” he said in a frenzied tone.
“What? What had never happened to you? Is it serious?” ask the worried father.
“Serious? Oh no, I cannot truly say whether it is serious or not. But is is weird, very weird!”
“But what is it?” the father asked again, still not understanding. The Smith picked up the baby to show her to her father, then, with an extreme caution, incredible in a smith, he knocked on the baby’s chest.
Tump. Tump. went that chest.
The father looked at the Smith, waiting for an explaination.
“Can’t you hear? There is not cavity, gosh! The cavity for the heart!”
“So you mean that Marzia has no right to a heart?”
“Right, right… of course she has right! Like everybody else! But she has no cavity, no cavity, you see? In the baby’s chest there is no space for a heart!”
“So, what will you do?”
“What will I do… what will I do… Maybe we should wait. I will give a heart to this one, while for this other we will wait for a space to form in her chest. Take her to me again in six months and I will see what to do. In the meantime, I advise you not to make her cry or laugh or cause any strong emotion in her. You never know how she could react without a heart to contain them!”
Though shocked by the news, the father thanked the Smith and went back to his wife to tell her of the situation of the bigger sister, Marzia. She, who in her own time had received a strong and steady heart from the Smith, took the news in her usual quietness, not worrying too much.
“The Smith knows what he’s doing, there is nothing to worry about, in six months I will bring her back to him!”, she said.
During that time, husband and wife followed the Smith’s suggestions and played with Lucrezia, the younger twin, reproaching her when she did not want to go to sleep, surprising her with ever changing games. Marzia, on the other hand, was treated with much care by both parents, but with no games, no reproaching, no laughing in her presence. Every now and then her parents would give her a few shy smiles, unseen, from behind her crib so that she could not see.
When the six months were over, the mother took Marzia back to the Heartsmith, sure that there would be no problems this time, but when he examined the baby and tapped on her chest, she knew the problem was not solved yet.
“There is no room… there is no room… there is no cavity!” the Smith was muttering to himself, and the baby was looking at him with her black glimmering eyes, neither smiling, nor crying.
“There is no room in her chest yet! Take her back to me in a year. And in the meantime, no laughing, no weeping. Let her in peace in her crib”.
The mother took the baby in her arms and nodded. She took her home and that night spoke to her husband.
“What? Has he not given her a heart yet?”, he asked, red-faced, after she had told him what had happened that day.
“Perhaps she might have to stay like this…” the woman ventured.
“What are you saying, my dear! Our daughter would then be destined not to have a heart? That is not acceptable!”
“Unacceptable as though it might be, this is what we’re given, and this is what we need to live with”, the woman said, sadly resigned.
Years went by, and for every year that Marzia grew up, the Smith always gave the same answer to her parents: “There is no cavity! I can’t do anything without the cavity!” And the parents always came back home, almost giving up to having a heartless daughter.
When little Marzia turned six, questions started popping into her head, which instead had a cavity, and one well equipped with intellects.
“Why when Lucrezia hurts, water comes from her eyes?” she asked her mother.
“Because a pixie wets her cheeks!” she made up. Marzia nodded, satisfied by the answer.
“Why when Lucrezia talks to the dolls she makes faces and her belly moves?” Marzia asked her father.
“Because the doll plays making faces with her!” and Marzia hushed, contented.
But that could not go on forever.
Little Marzia who, unlike her sister, had to live isolated in her home without ever going out, started to read very soon, and in no time she had devoured every single book in the house and started to ask her parents for more.
Marzia’s parents, who sought no danger in reading for their child, gladly gave in and soon found a large number of books for her. Marzia read and read tirelessly, looking in the books for the answers which - she now knew - her parents could not give her.
In most of the books she noticed that people did and felt many things she could not understand: they laughed, got angry, fought, got sad, and, most of all, they loved. That particular idea much fascinated her, and she wondered whether she too, one day, would ever love someone, and whether she would ever be loved in return.
Years went by, four, to be exact, and while Lucrezia started dating guys her age and going to balls with her friends, Marzia had by then formed a good idea of her condition, even though her parents kept on hiding the truth from her. After years of reckoning, she had at last come to the conclusion that the only way to actually find out the truth about her absence of feelings was to secretly visit the Heartsmith, and ask him for the truth.
She waited for an evening when her parents were out for dinner and Lucrezia was at a ball, then she mounted her green bike and rode to the Smith on a street well etched into her memory since she was a child.
When she arrived at the feet of the mountain where the smithy was, Marzia left her bike and prepared to know the truth.
The young girl called.
“Mr Smith? It’s Marzia”.
The Smith emerged from his forge wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, then gave her a large smile.
“Marzia, of course, Marzia! Come in, sit down!”
He said, pushing her towards a tall stool.
“I, Mr Smith, wanted to ask you something”.
The girl started.
“A question, sure sure, of course you would have many! Wait here a second while I finish forging this heart”.
Thus speaking, he went back to the forge, followed by a great panting of bellows and heavy hammering. When he emerged again from the forge, he was even more red-faced and sweaty than before; he took a rag to wipe his brow and he sat down by the girl.
“You know, I did tell your parents to talk to you about it, but they wanted to wait and wait, wait for what, I said! It is fair for her to know of her condition! I’m happy that they finally told you why you don’t have a heart!”
“I… don’t have a heart?”
“That’s it! That’s what you wanted to ask me, right?”
“My parents… actually, they never told me anything about this, I came here just to find out the truth”.
“Oh, the truth is always a good thing, I always say that! Do you know how many broken hearts they brought me to repair because of people who didn’t tell the truth? A lot! A lot of them, I’m telling you!”
“So, the truth is that I am heartless. This explains everything. And the reason?”
“The reason is never there when it should be, I always say. Bit in this case, there is one: the problem, my dear, is that you have no cavity! The cavity for the heart! I was really sorry, you know, when I saw it! No cavity, not ever a trace! Of course I couldn’t shove a heart in there by force, of course not! It takes carefulness, a great carefulness, things nobody usually expects from a simple smith!”
“Now I understand. And the fact that I’m heartless… What does it mean, exactly?”
“What does it mean? In means that you cannot feel emotions, and this we know already! Where you were this little, I did tell your parents not to put you through any source of strong emotion, because I didn’t know how you would react, but then I understood that, without a heart, emotions are not born, they do not exist, and that is dangerous!”
“Dangerous? How so?”
“It’s dangerous because, let’s say you meet something really frightening, bad, that wants to hurt you, you wouldn’t feel afraid and, having no fear, you wouldn’t run, and you could even buy the farm! Do you understand?”
“In books, the characters are afraid when something or someone that could hurt them is close to them, but sometimes they are even without reason. I think I can manage to stay away from trouble, anyway”.
“Books? They let you read books? Well, the damage is done, and maybe you even learnt something, if they didn’t cause you harm. But you must be very careful, my dear, if you don’t want to get into trouble!”
“I will be careful, I promise”.
Thus speaking, she went away on her green bike.
Four more years went by, during which Marzia often went back to the Smith to talk about her condition and to check whether anything had changed.
The Smith who, in the meantime, was getting old, had took a young apprentice, a few years older that young Marzia, and soon after they met.
The young apprentice, who at his birth had received a heart of gold from the Smith, as soon as he saw Marzia, he hopelessly fell in love with her.
Without the two of them exchanging a word, the Smith introduced the one to the other, explaining to his apprentice the girl’s problem. Patrick’s heart of gold started hammering in his chest: he had never felt anything like that. Quiet, he kept looking at the girl, wondering about touching her long coppery hair, holding close that heartless girl and keeping her warm in his arms.
When Marzia, who was just visiting the Smith, was gone, Patrick asked:
“Won’t that sweet girl really ever be able to love?”
“Never say never!” the Smith scolded him. “And now, go back to work! Ha ha!”
And so the young man resumed his cooling of the metal hearts already forged, diving them into the water and releasing big puffs of steam.
Only two days had passed since Patrick had first met Marzia, and for as many nights the young man had not been able to sleep; he was determined to win the girl over. But how could he ever win over the heart of someone who did not have one? That morning Patrick, clumsier than usual, was been reproached many times by his mentor, who, thanks to his large experience in all things hearts, had already figured things out. At a point, he gestured to the young man to stop and sit down by him on a stool.
“You just can’t get her out of your head, can you, young man?”
“That’s right, sir”, Patrick acknowledged with a bitter sigh.
“Well that, if it really is so, maybe there is a way!” the Smith said, hitting his tights with his palms and standing up.
“Is that true? What is it? I’ll do anything!”
“First of all, you need to find her and talk to her. Then you need to get her to talk to you. This way, if things go the way I expect, room for a heart should start to create in her chest!”
And so Patrick with his heart of gold started to court young Marzia, heartless.
She, who was not bothered by the young man’s presence, and not disturbed in any way, was completely impenetrable to his words, and when he asked her something, she would answer with no agitation. Patrick, however, would not give in: ever day, after work, he rode his bike - he had made it himself - to get to her home. He always had small gifts with him, like wildflowers or little animals that he forged for her in his spare time, with the leftovers from the hearts. Until one night, while Marzia sat in her room trying to comfort her sister Lucrezia who, as the Smith had foretold, had her heart broken once again, something happened. When she mechanically stroked her desperate and crying sister’s head, her eyes fell upon the small animals Patrick had forged for her. She watched them one by one: there was a bronze deer, a silver bear, a copper lion, an iron wolf and a tin toad.
Noticing her twin’s distraction, Lucrezia lifted her reddened face and said:
“Do you see? Patrick makes all those little animals for you and brings you all those flowers, because he loves you, and you won’t even look at him! Why cannot Lucas love me instead? It’s not fair!”
Hearing the word love, Marzia was startled. Did he really love her? Was that the reason why he made those little animals for her? Was that love? It was so weird, as if suddenly she felt like something was missing, a hole, right in the middle of her chest.
“Marzia? Are you listening?” the sister was asking, drying her tears with the back of both hands. But she could not say more, because Marzia had rushed out of the house and jumped on the green bike.
When she arrived at the Smith’s forge, he found Patrick waiting for her at the entrance.
“Patrick, where is the Smith? I need to talk to him at once!”
“I too need to talk to you, Marzia”, the young man said.
And when she lowered her eyes, she saw freshly sewed scar, right in the middle of his chest.
“What happened to your chest?”
“The Smith said this was the only way”.
“Patrick, I don’t understang…”
Patrick opened his hand just a little, showing what was in it: a half of a heart of gold.
“I’m giving you the other half of my heart”.
He finally said, before falling to the ground, passed out.
“Patrick! How are you? Are you ok?”
Patrick opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw was Marzia’s wet cheecks.
“You… Are crying”.
“Yes, you fool!”, the girl said, nodding and holding him thight.
“Hey, take it easy, you two! I didn’t just give you a whole heart for you to die on it!” the Smith put in.
“Sorry, Mr Smith!” The two recomposed themselves, while Patrick tried to get up from the cot he was lying on.
“What happened?” he asked when he could finally stand up.
“The cavity formed!” Marzia answered with enthusiasm. “Sorry, it’s just that I’m not used to… this”, she said, touching the scar on her chest.
“How did you save me?” the apprentice then asked his mentor. Marzia took out the little tin toad from a pocket.
“I had taken these to the Smith to give me a heart, and he eventually fused them together to remake the two halves of our hearts. This is the only one that’s left” Marzia explained. She could barely keep her new emotions at bay.
“Thank you” she then said to young Patrick, the future Heartsmith of the realm.
Author: Deborah Luna Traslation: Veronica Morphine
Published in “I racconti del Dormiveglia” 2012, ZONA