The Pickpocket’s Paper Heart
To his surprise, when young Arch reached his hand into the man’s pocket, he pulled out not his watch but a paper heart, all red and full.
He tucked it against his breast and ran, the rules of thievery trumping his shock. But around a corner he stopped and examined it. At first it had seemed smooth, but with a closer moment revealed dark patches, a nick along one red and rounded hump at the top, the tip was missing a piece and the fiber of the paper had pulled free in little threads.
Arch was angry, what fence would buy a paper heart? So he kept it a secret. Why he did not discard it, and why he carried with him always, even he could not answer.
After some time, the heart began to tell him secrets that seemed of no value.
Why was it important that a man might love another than his wife, what did it matter that this woman passing him now had never known a peaceful sunrise, always at the workhouse before dawn, what business was it of his that it broke a tough man’s heart every time he dropped his price terrier into the ratting pits of Little Water Street.
What use were these secrets, he asked the heart, if they were things he already knew and could see? Everybody knew that everybody else was unhappy.
Despite misgivings Arch listened and he aged, aged faster than the other boys, which on these streets was quite a trick.
He grew older and one day the secrets made sense, but they still did not turn a profit.
One day the heart led him out of his old story and into another, and in that other story Arch was walking through a crowd one day in a city far from home and felt a tug at his jacket that he ignored.
But later, he reached into his pocket for the heart and found nothing but lint.
Photo credit: Shoeshine and pickpocket, ca. 1865-70
Albumen print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Abbott Lawrence Fund
Tug and Tanker
The tugboats were clustered at the entrance to the dock, blocking the path of a larger tanker.
"You can’t come in," One told him, "You’re not a tugboat. You’re a tanker and too big to fit in here."
"And you don’t work the way that we do." Another added.
"But I could. Really, I could." The tanker said.
"No, you can’t. You never will." And the tugboats turned their backs and would not respond to any more of his protests so the tanker chugged back out into the cold, dark bay. Even the moon had covered herself in a coat of clouds to keep warm. In the distance, he saw another tugboat and made his way toward it.
"Hello. Why aren’t you with the other tugboats?"
"I don’t like closed spaces. Why were you trying to get in?"
"I’m really want to be a tugboat."
The tugboat looked the tanker over and shrugged. “You’d be better suited to being a tanker.”
"I don’t feel like a tanker and I’m just as strong. I could pull anything, I bet."
"Maybe." Said the tug.
The tanker never tried to get inside with the other tugboats again, even though they sometimes floated past, engines grinding like a thousand tigers, and laughed at the unlikely pair of friends.
One day the tanker broke down, his engines wheezing as they tried to move through the water. The tugboats moved up and offered to tow him in, but the tanker refused.
"I’d rather rust to the bottom of the ocean." The tanker said.
Finally his friend the tugboat found him and offered to tow him into the dock.
"But you don’t like being inside." The tanker said.
"I’ll be okay." The tugboat said.
"But you’ll be scared."
"It doesn’t matter."
"I don’t want the tugboats to see me getting towed. They’ll laugh at me again."
"I have an idea." Said the tugboat and got behind the tanker and started his engines, pushing until the tanker started to move.
"See? It looks like you’re towing me."
Halfway to the mechanic’s dock, the tugboats engine spluttered and failed, the engines gone cold, the propellors still beneath the bay.
"What happened?" Asked the tanker.
"My engine’s are broken. I can’t push you anymore."
"Wait, I’m feeling better. I think I can move."
The tanker lashed himself to the tugboat, using the very chains he used to tow, and pulled the smaller boat into the dock past the rows of astonished tugboats. The tanker circled and dropped the tugboat by the dock for repairs and waited while the mechanic looked him over.
"You can tow after all." One of the tugboats said to the tanker.
"Yeah. You can. I guess you can stay here if you want." Said another and a few others murmured their agreement.
The tanker looked around the dock, noticing for the first time how small it was.
"No, thanks. I think I like it better out in the bay."
"But it’s so much better in here." Said a tugboat.
"Maybe for you, but it’s not for me." The tanker decided and when his friend the tugboat was repaired they left the dock for the bay and the blue horizon to wait for the rising sun to paint the ocean gold.