Yvonne left her heart, at last, under the willow tree in the park one night. The park closed at dusk, but she slid over the fence in the dark, pulse thrumming and the cold air stroking shivers across her skin. She had used to do this with someone else. They had helped one another over the fence, landing in one another’s arms. They had laughed as quietly as they could. Now she picked her way through the park alone, toward the tree where they had sat together, backs against the bark. She leaned against it and closed her eyes. For a moment, she could almost imagine skin against her skin, warmth against her warmth. Then it was gone, and she opened her eyes to see the empty park. The streets and cars winked from beyond the fence, but within the trees and grass were still and silent.
Yvonne stood and bent down, splaying fingers out on the grass. The earth was soft, and she burrowed with one hand until she had made a dent in the ground. She placed her heart in the hollow at the willow’s roots, and then she left. The fence was easier to jump on the way out. She felt lighter. The glare of headlights and the glow of windows seemed distant and calm as she walked home.
For a while, she could not even notice a difference in herself. She wondered absently how many people did just the same and wander through the world, heartless. Perhaps nobody could ever tell. The only thing that seemed to have changed was that she did not hurt, and she was glad of that. There was no ache that bloomed when she opened her eyes in the morning, and that she curled around when she fell asleep. She had no bad dreams. Her sleep was smooth and dark, and when she awoke she did not shudder with the memory of the night. She barely dreamed at all anymore.
If anyone else could see that something had shifted in Yvonne, nobody told her so. Her work colleagues treated her with the same mild politeness. Her friends met her and chattered and teased just as they always had, and she was able to smile and tease back. Her life was a comfortable habit, and its touch did not chafe. It was even easier, now that she could follow those rote patterns. Some of it was interesting, some of the time. She observed herself living with detached curiosity. She did not remember what it had been like to live with her heart trembling inside her all the time. When she realized that she had forgotten, she thought she might revisit the park to see if anything had changed. And, after all, she wanted to check that her heart was still there. She didn’t want to carry it around, for it was heavy, but she didn’t want it nibbled by squirrels and buried somewhere unknown, either.
That night she climbed over the fence and into the park, as she had done so many times before. The metal of the fence was cold on her skin and the darkness deepened as she walked, but she was not frightened. The elm tree twined up toward the sky in a familiar shape, and she nodded when she recognized it. There among its roots was the hole she had made, and her heart nestled inside just where she had left it. Old leaves and twigs had cluttered and crowded it, so she moved to brush them away. When she touched her heart, just for an instant, she could see all her ghosts ranged around her. They looked at her with solemn eyes, and she shivered. Her heart beat under her fingers. She closed her eyes against the dark, knowing that the ghosts were there. They moved forward, gathering, and Yvonne snatched her hand up. The pain ebbed and disappeared. The ghosts were gone from her eyes. She shook her head to clear it of cobwebs, and then she turned to leave. The ghosts were left there, watching her go, wishing for her to take back her heart and to bring them with her once more. They called, but she could not hear. They scrabbled at the leaves and could not move them. They tugged on her heart, but she could not feel.