There once was a woman who kept half of her heart in a box. She kept the box in a trunk, tightly fastened with an old iron lock, and that trunk lay at the foot of her bed. She kept the key to that lock on a silver chain around her neck and never took it off. She thought that by keeping half her heart in a box, she kept her whole heart protected. There was only but so much you could love with half a heart. Heartbreak was an impossibility and she never had to worry about needing anyone, which was exactly the way she liked it.
Most people steered clear of her. No one knew about the missing piece, and she wasn’t unattractive in anyway, but they could feel her difference. Some said the air around her was cold. Whatever the reason, she did not suffer much interaction with the human race. Even animals were said to give her the right of way. So, the woman walked the Earth with a veritable force field, shielding her from feeling. Until one day, when a little boy happened upon her home.
He had lost his parents years before and has since been wandering the streets. Many days had passed since the boy had eaten or slept, so fatigue over-rode the instinct to pass the woman’s house by. The little boy crawled up the stairs and after ringing the bell, sat in a puddle on her doorstep. Finally, the woman opened the door. For a moment she said nothing, and the little boy, now frightened out of exhaustion, stared up at her wide eyed. “What do you want?” she broke the silence.
“A place to stay the night,” the boy replied. He wanted to ask if she could spare some food, but was afraid to ask anything more. The woman touched the key around her neck, then decided there could be no harm in letting the little boy stay the night, so she stepped aside and let him in.
The woman had never had someone in her home before, and the little boy had spent years avoiding adults, so neither really knew how to behave around the other, but one night turned into two days and then one week, and eventually a whole month had gone by. The two settled into a routine, albeit awkward, and before the woman could stop herself, she became used to the idea of the little boy being there. She made him breakfast in the morning and had him read to her during the day. At night long after he had gone to bed, the woman would tip-toe into his room, adjust his covers and watch his chest rise and fall.
One day the woman and the little boy were out in the garden. The woman was pruning her roses and the little boy was sitting in the grass, reading aloud. In this particular selection, the boy happened across the word onomatopoeia, a challenging word for a boy his age. He stumbled and stuttered, coming at the word from all different angles. Finally, his tongue became so twisted up in knots that the woman burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the scene. She clapped her hands over her mouth, startled at the sound. She had never heard herself laugh before. All at once, she was terrified.
She bolted toward the house, ran up the stairs and slammed the door to her room behind her. With trembling hands, she took the chain from around her neck and unlocked the trunk at the foot of her bed. Then, very gently, she picked up the old antique wooden box, and lifted the lid. She sat on the floor, with the box in her lap, staring at the half of her heart not beating in her chest. It had been years since she looked at it. She had never had a reason to. Up until now, she has never wanted to love anything or anyone with her whole heart. But after hearing the trill of her own laughter in the garden, she had begun to feel hollow inside and wanted nothing more than to fill that space.
She raised the piece of her heart out of the box and brought the two halves together. In that moment her heart swelled to such a size that she ached with the pain of it. She gasped and clutched her chest. Warmth spread from her center and poured into her extremities. Despite the pain, she had never felt so good.
She walked back down the steps of her home and out the side door to the garden, where she found the little boy, still sitting, looking puzzled. She gathered him up in her arms and squeezed. The little boy pulled back just enough to look into her eyes.
“There is something different about you,” he said.
“Yes, there is,” she told him.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“Because my heart is pouring over,” she replied.
“Is that a good thing?” the little boy wanted to know.
“Yes,” she said, “it is a very good thing.”