A Special Valentine Edition - “The Girl With A Hole In Her Chest”

By Demi Utley

Ellie Arnold lost her heart. 

One day she stumbled out of a cab, an hour late for work, and when she arrived at her desk, she discovered the hole in her chest. She spent the afternoon searching for the missing organ with no luck. 

To her surprise, living without a heart proved to be very similar to living with one, with a few notable exceptions.

First, she no longer cried or felt any sense of emotion when she saw the ASPCA sad dog commercials. 

Second, she found it very easy to say no. 

Third, she no longer needed love. 

This final benefit allowed Ellie to spend most days blissfully on her own. After work, she wandered through parks and stores, marveling at the wonder in the world. Her tongue longed to taste new cuisines. Her brain desired to know how things worked. Her ears perked whenever a hint of melody sounded on the air. 

The hole in her chest sat silent. 

On a late spring afternoon, Ellie sat at an outdoor cafe sampling a variety of cheeses. Her mouth and nose reveled in the experience, and her brain took note of the best ones to remember for later. 

“Excuse me,” a deep voice asked. “Mind if I share the table?”

Ellie looked up from her plate in annoyance and stopped mid-bite. Before her stood a man with dark hair, warm eyes, and an awkward grin. Something in her moved. She knew him from somewhere. 

“Sure, help yourself,” she said, returning to her cheese and not giving the man another glance.

He sat across from her, doodling on a notepad. After five minutes of silence, Ellie’s curiosity won.

“What are you drawing?”

The man shrugged. “Not drawing, taking notes. I like to record different experiences for inspiration in my music.”

Ellie’s ears jumped at this confession, and before she knew it, a string of questions poured from her throat. 

Despite the bombardment of words, the man smiled. “Want to go for a walk to show you what I mean?”

Ellie hesitated. She didn’t want to lead on this kind man, for she had no heart and could provide little. Yet, she wanted to know more. 

“Just this once.”

They spent the afternoon walking from neighborhood to neighborhood, sharing insights they observed about the world. The man’s name was Ben, and he explored the world with his senses, just like Ellie. His catalog of food, music, ideas, and arguments astounded her. She needed to spend more time documenting her own. 

When they arrived at her stoop, Ellie stopped, surprised that they made it home so fast.

“It was lovely meeting you, Ben,” she said, turning her key in the door. 

“Shall we continue tomorrow morning?” he asked with a smile. 

Ellie’s jaw clenched as she prepared for his disappointment, but instead she heard herself say “Absolutely”, and that was that. 

Ellie and Ben spent every day together for the next several months. They attended museums, movies, and book readings. They discovered new musicians and revisited established joints. Ellie found herself smiling more than expected and greatly enjoyed her days with Ben. 

After an evening of pasta and pastries, they sat on a bench overlooking the river. Ellie knew the time had come to say goodbye. Ben had a heart, and every day she sensed its growth. She rehearsed her lines in her head, ready to tell him about the hole in her chest. 

Before she could speak, Ben said, “I have something for you.”

Ellie frowned. This would make things harder. She started to dismiss his actions, when out of his pocket, Ben pulled something red and pulsating. 

Her heart. 

Ellie held out her hands, tears in her eyes as she saw her heart for the first time in years. It thumped gently between her fingers, pleased to be back home. Time had worn it a bit, but it still shined bright and full of love. 

“Thank you,” Ellie sobbed, years of lost emotion overwhelming her. 

Ben wrapped her in a gentle one-armed hug.

“I found it years ago and made it my mission to find its owner. When I saw you at the cafe, it pounded in my pocket. I thought it was yours, but I wanted to be sure.”

Ellie smiled. “Thank you.” She started to put it back into her chest and stopped. “Maybe it should stay with you. It needs safekeeping.” She held out her heart.

“You’re sure?” Ben asked. “I’ve never been given a heart before.”

Ellie nodded. “I’m sure.”

And so Ben had Ellie’s heart. Because she knew its location, Ellie felt the love and joy return to her again. She stopped in front of flower shops to daydream of dates. She passed couples wrapped up on benches and wished Ben were closer. She even cried at the ASPCA commercials. 

On their one-year anniversary, Ellie decided to make pancakes for Ben. She strolled through the grocery store aisles, collecting her ingredients, when right in front of the bananas, she collapsed.

Pain jolted from her chest. Something had happened. It was all wrong. 

Leaving her basket of groceries behind, Ellie stumbled home, searching for Ben. 

“My heart,” she wheezed, clutching her chest when she saw him. 

He looked at her with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Ellie. I became so used to it that I made a terrible mistake.”

Ellie felt the pain in her chest deepen. 

“What happened?”

Ben swallowed. “I pulled it out of my pocket to make sure everything was okay, and it slipped. I forgot how I have to hold it just right or I drop it, and it happened. It bounced away and fell down the drain before I could find it. I’m so sorry.”

The pain intensified and Ellie realized the truth: she never should have trusted Ben.

She walked out the door.

Ellie roamed the streets, hoping to find her heart. Before her chest had been empty, a joyful absence. But after a year using her heart each day, Ellie felt its absence. She longed to feel complete once again. 

That night Ellie lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, wishing she had never had her heart returned in the first place. 

Several weeks passed, and the pain in her chest turned to a dull ache. Ellie stood in front of the duck pond, when she saw a Mallard nibbling on something red and squishy. 

“My heart!” She called, jumping the fence and racing into the water. 

Sure enough, it was hers. Bruised and trembling, but otherwise whole and safe. 

Ellie held the heart to her chest and nestled it back into its rightful place. 

Warmth and comfort spread through her. 

She spent the next few months falling back into her old pattern. Tasting food, finding music, and expanding her mind. 

She let her heart stay quiet. 

Then one day, she saw Ben on her walk home. He stopped in the middle of the street and then raced towards her. 

“Ellie!” He yelled. “Ellie, stop! I have something for you.”

Ellie turned around. “I found my heart. Don’t pretend you have it.”

Ben shook his head, eyes solemn. “I’ve missed you, Ellie. I was careless, taking your heart for granted. There is only one way to fix it.”

With that, Ben opened his chest and pulled out his own heart. 

“Keep it safe?”

Ellie stared at the thumping heart in his hands. She wanted to take it and crush it so that it would be just as bruised as her own. 

But Ellie’s chest pulsed. She remembered she had a heart now, and she couldn’t act just on anger. 

It awakened at the sight of Ben, eager to finally be put to use. 

“I can’t take your heart, Ben. It’s too much power,” she said, reaching into her chest. She broke off the corner of her heart and handed it to him. “But you can keep this piece safe. We can be together, and protect pieces of each other, but still stay whole.”

Ben beamed. “I like that.” He tore a piece off his heart and placed it in Ellie’s hand. She held it to her own, and they merged together, beating to the same rhythm.

Ben and Ellie planted the hearts in their chests and locked fingers, strolling through the park together.

Ellie never lost her heart again. Every time she exhaled, she felt a piece of her heart pounding in Ben’s chest just as his beat in hers, reminding her of the love that lived within her.