"What is this?" the shaggy dark-haired five year old asked the Director of the orphanage where he was staying.
The orphanage was cold no matter the steps which were taken to make it otherwise and frost was already forming on the windows, intricate artwork created in ice by invisible hands . The boy has found a corner of the school room, as he has usually did when the others had mocked him for his slowness, and picked up a book to search through. Although he could not understand the writing, he enjoyed seeing the artwork. His eyes had come to rest upon a drawing of something he had never seen before. When the woman, whom was also the teacher, had happened to pass by him, the boy overtaken with curiousity had called out to her past his crippling shyness and inquired what the shape meant.
"It is supposed to be a heart," the woman answered in an flatly impatient voice, her belief being she had better things to do than identify ideographs.
"It is not," the boy said, pointing at a diagram that the woman had pasted to the side of the wall depicting the organs of the human body. The older children had already explained in great detail what each organ was to their younger and impressionable peers.
The Director sighed impatiently. "No foolish child," she chastised. "But it is meant to be. People...they are so stupid. They think that love exists and it resides in the heart. But what it is...they cannot face it. It is too unpleasant for them. So that is what it becomes to them. It is as false as the feeling which it houses."
Her words lingered with the young child long after she had walked away in great haste to her desired destination. Jardani Jovonovich stared at the drawing before him; he traced it with his small finger, with the his nails which were clubbed and caked with dirt.
As the snow began to fall outside, as it too often did, the class ceased and Jovonovich's classmates laughed at the boy's concentrated silence. The child did not hear them, hypnotized by the fantasized human heart.
The created symbol began to hold a strange fascination for the orphan Jardani. He could not read; he could not write but images he had no trouble in understanding, especially when a word was repeatedly linked to a picture often seen.
Illustrations seemed better to the child for they were universal; they transcended language itself and could be understood by all something words too often failed in doing.
There was another fact about the symbol which brought Jovonovich comfort: it's unrelation to the actual physical heart contained inside of his body. For Jardani hated his small body with a passion and liked believing a place reserved for his love could exist in some place besides it wretchedness.
He began to picture his feelings, his love, as existing in the drawn heart hidden in the pages of a book, ignored and forgotten at the back of his classroom and not inside his small, weak chest.
It became a way for his heart to escape his body. That way he would not have to feel what was actually happening to him.
* * *
For as long as the young boy could remember, strangers had come to the orphanage; sometimes separately and occassionally together. The Director had said that they were looking for children to be fathers or mothers to and it was the children's duty to fulfil that need. Once a week the strangers would come and Jardani or one of the other orphans were left alone with them so they could be their children. The strangers hurt him in ways he could both understand and could not fully comprehend as well. They were often times violent but Jovonovich found this preferable to the times when they just wanted to hold him, to be touched or to touch him instead. He did not know why these times caused him more pain than the cutting or the hits did. His mother had often stroked his back or kissed his cheek...why was this now so different, he would quietly wonder.
Having only a vague memory of his mother, and none at all of his father, Jardani could not mourn the absense of the either if this was all that they did when they were present. He preferred to be an orphan and left alone instead.
After finding the heart illustration, Jardani found the visits a little better to suffer. He could divide what was happening to him: the stranger was merely touching his body, they could never touch his heart which was safely hidden away. Bodies and emotions could remain different creatures: they need never touch. Though he did not look forward to the times the fathers or mothers came, the small dark-haired child could survive them.
In his bed at night, no longer crying as he had done for the many times before seeing the picture of the heart, Jardani found comfort in the image.
It was a perfect symbol after all. Two halves which made a whole.
If broken, it created the separation of the two souls making the self incomplete once more. And if it were to break, the child believed, you could easily fit it together once again.
* * *
A few weeks after the finding of the imagined heart, Jardani Jovonovich was hurt more than he had ever been before by a visit from a father. This time the man had mixed the two separate pains: he had both hurt him and touched him at once. The young boy's screams had echoed throughout the orphanage's halls and corridors until even the Director, herself, had heard them and rushed to the boy's defense. She pulled the man off of the small boy bent over the back of the bed, in the room where the meeting had been arranged and paid for.
"That is not allowed," the woman kept screaming, trying to block out the cries of her ward. "You know he is not old enough yet!"
Face down on the bed, the quilt catching his tears, Jardani felt his heart breaking for he knew the meaning of the word "yet" and dreaded a time whenever what the father had done to him would be expected.
The boy was also too aware that the Director chose not to see his pain but to center on her own violation instead. His suffering had no relation to her: she had turned it into her own.
When Jardani Jovonovich had healed enough to leave the infirmary, he found, to his horror, that he was even more of an outcast to the other children than he had been before. They mocked him, turning the horror of what had happened to him into little more than a source for their own amusement.
Late one night, trying to find comfort in his imagined heart, Jardani discovered to his apathy that it too had become broken just as his physical body had felt. The young boy climbed out of his bed and crept silently to the classroom where the book he had loved stood on the shelf in its place waiting for him. Taking it to the table where he had first looked at it, Jardani opened the book and stared at the once beloved image. With little feeling in a heart he no longer believed in, other than a dull and bitter resentment, he tore the page from the binding. Walking to the still frost painted window, the small child tore the heart into enough pieces to mirror his own: hopeless to ever be made whole once again.
The boy's sudden final fit of rage gave him the strength to open the window when he feared it would be impossible. With no emotion now betrayed on his face, as if he had spent it all on opening the window and placed the rest of it into the torn up heart now held in the palm of his tiny hand, he threw the pieces of paper outside into the night air where they joined the snowflakes slowly falling to the cold and white ground below.
The boy watched their descent but did not mourn, for hearts were useless things to possess if they could only ever be broken: both real or imagined.