The young boy padded over to the side of the big leather armchair. He was just tall enough to lean his elbows comfortably on the armrest without having to stretch, his chin would normally slot into his hand out of habit as the leather of the chair made noises of protest against the new weight but today he was here with a purpose. Sitting in the chair was a hairy, burly old man, his wide frame filling into the chair, his long white beard reaching down past his chest, seemingly in an attempt to compensate for the lack of hair on the top of his head.
The young boy proceeded to place his palms on the arm of the chair, pushing himself up off the ground until the only things keeping him in place were his arms straining from the exertion required to handle the weight, locked out at the elbows to ensure stability. The old man now turned his head towards the boy with a look that was a mix of loving admiration and confusion, the fat of his cheeks raising towards his eyes and making them close a tiny fraction. The child then began to tip himself forward, stretching out his neck and head towards the man’s chest. He lost his balance, however, and slammed his heavy skull into the heart of the old man, causing his face to twist from a look of confusion and love into one of pure pain, letting out a yell as it twisted. The boy, too, was in pain and quickly threw his head away from the chest that had caused it so much pain, but remembering his mission the boy quickly regained his composure, paid no attention to the man’s cry of pain, and moved his head back towards his heart, except gentler this time round.
The old man’s eyebrows raised and he held his jaw as the young boy was finally able to set his head upon his chest without causing any pain. The boy stayed there for a few moments, pressing his ear against him, seemingly trying to listen for a heartbeat. The old man finally spoke, “I’m not a zombie if that’s what you were wondering, Johnny.”
The boy quickly jumped back to the side of the armchair, not expecting the sudden conversation. He giggled at the assumption and opened his mouth to speak, “I know that Grandpa, you would’ve tried to eat my brains by now if you were. I was just trying to see if I could tell whether you had a hole in your heart.”
The grandfather’s eyes now squinted at his grandson. He considered joking that the boy had no brains for a zombie to be able to eat but decided against it as the second part of what he said was a much more pressing matter. He spent a little time trying to come up with an intelligent and careful response but, despite all his attempts, he could still only respond with a, “What?” His face contorting as the word escaped his lips to ensure his utter and complete confusion was successfully expressed.
Johnny took no notice of his grandfather’s exaggerated expression, obviously used to them by now, and attempted to explain himself. “Chloe was talking about people having holes in their hearts and I was wondering how she could tell. Do they have a weaker heartbeat? You would think so if part of it was missing.”
A slight indent could be seen in the man’s cheek as he held it between his teeth. He released it to respond to his grandchild, “Alright, I think I get it now.” After taking a moment to organise his thoughts, the old man once again opened his mouth to speak, “You see, when people talk about having a hole in their heart they’re not talking about an actual hole in their actual heart, at least most of the time anyway. Instead, what they mean is they feel they’re missing something in their life. It’s an imaginary heart and an imaginary hole they’re talking about, barring a few outliers.”
The young boy’s face was now scrunched up showing the hard work he was putting into trying to understand what his grandfather was telling him. “But then what are they missing that they have an imaginary hole in their imaginary heart?”
“Well, love.” Realising the boy leaning against the arm of his chair might not have an extensive knowledge of love, he began to make an attempt to list all the different kinds. “Romantic love, love between friends, love from your family.” The old man had to stop there as he couldn’t think of anymore, he thought that perhaps he needed to study the different kinds of love a bit more as well because surely there’s more than three. “Basically, anytime someone talks about the heart they’re talking about love except for when they’re talking about an actual heart.”
“So then how do they fill the hole in their heart? Does someone else give them a piece of their heart? But then that person would have a hole in theirs. And I thought having something jammed into your heart was meant to be a bad thing.” Johnny’s voice was beginning to reach higher and higher pitches, his facial expressions more exaggerated as a result of the strain caused by trying to understand how this whole “hole in the heart” business worked.
Johnny’s grandfather laid a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. “It’s not that the other person gives them a piece of their heart but they share their heart with them and so the one that has a hole in their heart can get better that way.”
“But what if the other person’s heart can’t handle being shared? Or what if the person dies and now there’s no heart to share?” The young boy had now taken to looking off into the distance intensely as he questioned what his grandfather was telling him.
The old man hadn’t been expecting a question like that and was now going into panic mode except he didn’t at least have the opportunity to express this as it could upset his grandson. “Well… if that happens…” Stuttering over his words, he began to realise he was out of his depth trying to explain heartbreak and loss to an eight years old boy. He began to avoid looking at Johnny and started praying that something would happen that could get him out of the conversation. Thankfully the universe had decided to be kind to him today, probably to make up for the loss of hair. Although if that was the cost of escaping the questions of his grandson then he would take it.
Before the bearded oldie was able to stutter over his words some more, his wife walked into the room. The woman, her hair a platinum blonde in transition from its once natural colour to its now natural grey, took in the sight of her grandson leaning upon the armchair staring intently at her red-faced, red-eared husband and felt the edges of her mouth tugged up into a subtle smile. “So what’s going on here then?” she inquired, trying to ensure no hint of teasing was evident in her voice.
The old man saw this as the perfect opportunity to trap someone else with the child’s questions but before he could even utter a syllable Johnny had started to answer his grandmother. “Grandpa is telling me what having a hole in the heart means and how people with holes find other people to fill those holes or heal them or something. I don’t really get it.”
“Well no wonder you don’t get it, your Grandpa is telling you a load of nonsense.” stated the boy’s Grandma in a rather matter-of-fact manner.
Johnny quickly turned his head towards his grandfather to guage his reaction to what was just said. While his pride was slightly damaged by the remark, it was a price worth paying to get out of the situation, as apparently his hair loss wasn’t enough, so he simply replied with a “Your Grandma’s probably right, Johnny.”
His grandfather’s response caused the young boy to laugh, similarly to how he does when he’s watching Tom and Jerry. “Why’s Grandpa talking nonsense, Grandma?” the boy asked, not showing the same courtesy as his grandmother by ridding his voice of any signs of teasing.
The woman required no time to respond and almost began talking before Johnny had even finished his question. “Because when you have a hole in your heart nobody else can heal that but you. Think about it, when someone breaks their leg who has to heal it? Them or their husband?” Her eyebrows were now raised as high up her forehead as possible, “When you get a scratch can I heal that for you or does your body have to do that itself?”
“But then why do people go to the hospital when they break something?” asked Johnny. His grandfather had almost asked the same thing but feared it would lead to him being pulled back into the conversation and once more getting interrogated by the boy who’s curiosity seemed boundless.
“Well sure other people can help. When you break something the doctor can put the bone in place to make sure it doesn’t reattach the wrong way round.” The woman paused so her words weren’t drowned out by Johnny’s giggling at the idea. “And when you get a scratch I can put a plaster on it and kiss it to make it heal a bit faster. But, ultimately, it’s your bone that has to grow back together again. It’s your skin that has to scab over and knit your skin back together, no one else can do those things for you.”
“And it’s the same for having a hole in your heart?” inquired the young boy.
“Exactly.” stated the boy’s grandmother, “Other people can help the hole heal quicker and show the person how to heal their heart, sure, but ultimately the only person that can fill the hole in their heart and make it whole again is themselves.”
“But,” the young boy looked over at his grandfather with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes, the teasing in his voice back once again, “Then why didn’t Grandpa know any of that?”
“Oh, well that’s an easy one.” The old woman now looked over at her husband too, the same mischievous twinkle mirrored in her eyes. “It’s because he’s never watched Oprah.”