She is an aberration. Heartless. An unbalanced equation floating through space, which no amount of adjusting seems to resolve. She wants to be something definite, something with form - recognisable, recognised; known. Instead, she’s alone and jumbled, she’s been thinking her way through the city in an uncommon language, around a sea of others whose blank faces and grey expressions reinforce her sense of a totality of isolation.
Today she wears red, and she is escaping. From this city, from misunderstandings, from confusion and from the path laid out before her that she can’t possibly walk. She is escaping into a vision, a construct of her mind essentially, no more real yet than all those moments in this town when everything and everyone just froze, and absurdity robbed them of any independent reality. She is going to find her heart; the silence within her chest has become so deafening she is losing all words, and she can no longer bear the numbness of its long absence.
The place she is going is a place her mind has built for her, a fragment of hope pulled from the underbelly of the city, whispers in the darkness of her mind. A call from the immaterial right into her spirit, a call she, in her red dress, is following. A faint path is marked by flickering candles, a space of thought, a breeze of the soul rushing through a cavern of stone.
She has nothing, even the coffee ran out two days ago. Her body seems far, far away. Her eyes are closed, though open they would only show her the dark silhouettes and harsh outlines of the structure of her fear. She doesn’t even know which way she’s facing, can’t remember if she’s standing or sitting. She could even be lying down, cold on the fringe of the city she is leaving. It is the vision of her destination that fills her mind’s eye, her imaginings of what it could mean to leave behind this menagerie of violent voices and find her heart. It is lost somewhere deep beneath the water that pools at the back of this cavernous space in her mind.
There are flashes of colour that do not belong in darkness; everywhere light, shade and bold colour are blended like a child’s drawing. If she can just find her heart, everything will be ok.
A cool, pure breeze stirs in the cavern and its kiss on her face refreshes her focus, reminds her what she searches for, sharpens the image of this enveloping cocoon of stone. There are steps ahead, crumbling, the colour of old parchment, that follow the descent of the water. The underground stream is on its own journey, filtering down, chaotic, restless, alive, vital. Maybe her heart drowned here. She follows the steps, the bright flares of the candles picking out the lines of her bare feet. She can hear her breath blend with the rushing of the water. If she could feel her pulse, she’s sure it would be flickering like the flames in the breeze.
Down. She pauses. What if something is guarding her heart? Some beast of fire, of wing and venom, teeth and eyes shining with malice. The fear is not enough, the beast could rip her limb from limb but if she turns back without her heart her life will be just as rent, just as broken. She can’t abandon her heart to this realm, can’t leave it hanging like a chrysalis deprived of nourishment. If she can get there in time, those parts of her that are most vital, most resilient, could be rescued, restored, replaced within her chest, and her heart could lead her like a moth dancing around the candle flames.
Her eyes shine, the first few steps are weightless, the shade getting more defined, yet the child’s-painting colours are even brighter, even more out of place. She starts to hear a susurration, indistinct voices resolving into one whispered aspiration - to not let her get there, to hide her heart in such a great blackness that it will never be discoverable again. Quickening her pace, anxiety causing her to rush, she moves down the jagged steps. Escape calls, her heart and the freedom she could have if she could just leave with it, pushing her towards the voices. She must get past them, transcend them, defeat them. Suddenly she falls, she tumbles, she cries out as everything spins and her breath is stolen from her.
As she falls, she reaches the mesh of whispers that, like a net, seek to suspend her, capture her and torture her with words forever. Thrashing, casting her limbs in all directions, screaming and struggling, she fights their grip. Something in her desire to overcome, to not remain heartless, makes her heavy, restores gravity. She crashes through, hits the ground hard and tastes blood in her mouth. She cries out as her legs twist and her spine is shocked. For a moment she lays there panting, her face pressed into the dusty rock. Then she hauls herself up to her knees.
Total darkness reigns here where she has fallen, and her fear rises once more. Then, just the faintest glimmer. For an instant an image of herself appears, glowing, just across the path. Startled, she cries out, but the sound dies on her lips. Her mirrored self beckons and then vanishes, but now she knows which direction to carefully step towards. Groping ahead, moving slowly, she reaches a door. She can feel its cool, glasslike surface, the handle slipping into her hand, the sound of it rocking on its hinges like a pet left home alone overjoyed to see its master.
She opens it, steps through, and all of her breath leaves her in a plume. The cold of this hidden space so powerful, so pure and so hungry that she almost becomes a husk of ice, a body frozen in stasis, a mind trapped, enclosed. It takes a long time to breathe again. When she does, she begins to pick out the shapes on the far side of this space. The faintest green luminescence, like the Northern lights, shines on a mountain of hearts. A tower, a heap of hearts so vast everyone in the world could have lost theirs here. No guardian, no Sphinx or demon, but how will she find hers? She could look for days.
How does one recognise one’s own heart when it has been plucked out, disconnected, when it is a foreign thing, a lump of red flesh like any tissue belonging to another, no longer inside of oneself? Panic. She will die down here, heartless and alone. Despairing, she tries to remember her heart. Tries to recall the faintest feeling of what having a heart had been like. Its call, how it jumped in her chest in a storm or an embrace, how it seemed to lift and dance when it was seen, when it was recognised above all others. Then the unbearable pain when it was broken beyond fixing, when only time could bring the healing scar tissue. Tears spring to her eyes; it must be memories, it is in the empty space in her chest that she must remember, must feel its shape and form.
Desperately she calls. Heart, heart, the word repeating, tumbling over her lips like the collapse of a wall, the bricks falling out, memories released from the cement of aeons. If she could just remember her heart with such magnetic force, it would be drawn back into her, like a bullet back into a gun, damage undone. Freedom. So she creates; she begins to visualise. The strongest image she can remember. Everything drops away and she is in the midst of a glorious sunset on the waterfront in the city. Silhouetted against the fading pinks, reds and oranges is the city’s skyline. She rocks back on her haunches, pure joy expressing in laughter, and overhead a flotilla of sky lanterns graces the air; a zephyr rocking the lanterns also pulls at her hair. It is New Years Eve, and her heart pounds with anticipation; the space inside her chest is full.
In the cold cave, as her tears fall and freeze at her feet, movement begins amongst the tower of hearts. Like a beautiful arrow, like a hummingbird darting, flying free from the mass of death and dead flesh, her heart, pure, small, bright, pulsing in its anticipation of reunion, leaves the heap. Tumbling everywhere are the lost hearts of the world, and hers is found. There will be life behind her eyes again. She can hardly bear the rush of restored emotion, the anticipation of feeling again, of balancing the equation, resolving into form, being recognised. Her heart slicks through her skin, and is hers again with the most beautiful jolt.
As she looks around the freezing cave with new eyes, eyes a heart fuels to invest its surroundings with intricate and multilayered meaning, she notices once more the other hearts. Perhaps, if she could bring just one person their heart, end their searching and their pain with her simple recognition, hold her palm open and push a lost soul’s heart back into a yearning chest, then all of this could make sense. All of this could be shared. Taking a small, pale, fleshy heart in her hands, she turns herself around, ready to go outside the door of glass, the walls hewn of rock, the abyss and the water, and search for the someone, somewhere, who is waiting for the return of this heart.
Slowly, languidly her eyes open, then a sudden dawning of emotion as she feels her returned heart, beating beneath her red dress. Vibrant colours paint the drab train station she’d curled up in, waiting for her train; waiting for her escape. Her palm feels heavy, and just before it vanishes, she perceives the heart she saved from the tower, glistening in her hand. As the train pulls up, and she gets to her feet, aching, she knows the first step to returning it is ahead of her, waiting to leave the platform and the city.