The wrinkled hand rested on the side of the rough table, knuckles bending slowly as I watched.
“What did you come here for?” the old woman asked calmly, carefully.
“My…my sister,” I stammered, but she put a finger to her lips and I stopped.
“No, no, not that. Why did you really come to see me?”
I hesitated, but she nodded at me encouragingly. With a swallow, I pulled my heart from my pocket and held it out to her. The side of the heart was clearly tearing, and bits of glass and rubble had made its way inside. The woman didn’t take it, but continued to stare at it as it pumped softly in my hand.
“I know it’s not much,” I quickly said, “but if there’s any way for you to fix it…”
“My dear child,” she said softly, “of course I can mend it.” She reached for the heart, but paused. “It will, however, cost you.”
I had known it would come to this. Nothing truly was free; everyone knew that. I fumbled around in my pocket for the meager change I had managed to hold on to and presented it to her. “Would this be enough?”
The old woman smiled and looked down at the table. “No, dear, this cost is not of monetary value. I am asking you to give up your comfort for a short while.”
“Pardon?”
“This is going to hurt.”
Right. Fixing a damaged heart couldn’t be without pain.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” she asked, staring into my eyes.
Of course I wanted to do this. Hadn’t I travelled all this way? I finally nodded, avoiding her gaze.
She smiled warmly at me before opening a small bag beside her and rustling through it. When she was done, a sewing needle and a long roll of thread had been put on the table.
“That’s it?” I couldn’t help but ask. “You’re going to fix it by sewing it together?”
“A start,” she replied. “It’s a start.” She threaded the needle and looked up again at me. “Would you like to watch? I must admit, it can become a bit much for some people.”
I nodded, a hidden fear beginning to rise into my throat. How many times had I stood before so-called “healers” who had made my heart worse? Why would this be any different?
The old woman rolled the needle between her fingers and felt the heart carefully, muttering to herself. Then she took the needle and poked it in the side of my heart, and a stab of pain shot through my chest.
“Temporary, temporary,” the old woman muttered, pulling the thread through. She thrust the needle through again; an uncomfortable pricking shivered throughout my whole body. The woman continued to work, jabbing the needle through my heart over and over again as I tried not to cry out in pain. It was a strange feeling– even while the needle stabbed through my heart, something else surfaced as well. It felt good. It felt relieving.
After a while, the pain began to cease and simmered to a quiet throb. A while after that, the woman pulled the needle through one last time, cut the thread, and set her sewing equipment on the table. The heart, still pumping strong, pulsed red and raw in her left hand.
“I’m afraid I cannot undo all of the damage,” she informed me. “Some things will still hurt from time to time, and that’s simply a side effect of being alive.”
I took my heart from her and held it in front of me, tracing along the bumpy lines the thread made. It had worked! My heart was sewn together again!
“But how are you different from any other person I went to?” I asked quietly. “None of those healers were able to help me.” I wasn’t sure if I was asking the woman a question or if I had even said it out loud.
“Oh, my dear child,” she said as she stood up slowly. She met my anxious look. “That’s because I’m real.”
The old woman gave a small smile, packed up her sewing supplies, and disappeared out the back door.

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