Heartbeat (2013 Winning Story)

by Casey Dunn (Michigan)

(Dedicated to my grandmother who was such a generous woman, even after death.)

1 He’s coming, a man who I have waited weeks to see. HE is coming to this house. I can’t wait to see him, to see his face, his eyes, to be next to him and hear and feel his heartbeat.

She climbs the stairs, shuts the door, and goes to the fireplace. She kneels on worn knees and feels the pang of numbness her now weak nerves send upon her legs. She sets wood into the fireplace and sets the once living plant ablaze.

2 Don’t freak out, don’t freak out. You haven’t flown in a while but don’t be paranoid. Just think of what’s going to happen AFTER you get off the plane safely. Going to see a woman who has been waiting to see you for an eternity.

He sits on the plane, motionless, with eyes still, arms tense, and jawline rigid. He feels the engine of the plane start and grips his seat.

One second down, four hours to go.

3 She sits, tired from the work she has done. She looks around the living room, everything is spotless. She stands as she looks at the clock.

30 minutes until his plane lands.

She goes to the kitchen.

* * * * Ding Dong!

Finally!

With anxiety and excitement she rinses her hands, dries them, and rushes to the door. Her heartbeat pounds like drums in an African tribal song. She puts her hand over her heart and slowly opens the door, taking a deep breath. There he is. She looks up, sees his smile, and his eyes glisten. Her heart swells.

He sees the door open and smiles as if seeing a long lost friend. His heart thumps like hail on sheets of aluminum. He looks at her expression and can tell she’s happy he’s there. He feels welcome, enters, and looks around the room. He drops his luggage near the front door and keeps his carry-on near him as he sits on the couch. She leaves the room to bring the food she has prepared. He feels the warmth of the fireplace, closes his eyes, and breathes deeply. He has now learned to take in big events like this, as if to breathe it into his body. He used to take these things for granted as a doctor. He saved lives as if he were working with machines, without emotional ties to his patients. He opens his eyes and remembers that his life has changed since then.

She enters the room with appetizers. They eat in silence, taking the moment in. They look at each other and smile with warmth. After eating the appetizers, she stands, he stands close behind her while she shows him the renovations in the kitchen, dining room, office, and game room. She then walks over to a bedroom door, opens it, and looks behind her with a subtle facial expression that lets him know it’s okay to enter. The room seems as if no one had cleaned it and seems untouched compared to the other rooms. The room seems simple, nice, and relaxing. He sits on the bed comfortably.

She looks up from the floor and looks around with distracted eyes and then fixates her eyes on him. She walks to the bookshelves and runs her fingers over the worn books, then holds a picture nearby. She walks to the bed and hands him the picture with a gentle smile.

He scans the photo. “I like this picture. It looks happy.”

“Thank you,” she says as she sincerely smiles.

She opens the door and is followed to the living room where they sit again. She looks at him as if inspecting his body. “How was your operation?”

“It was successful. I’m glad I had the opportunity to have the surgery; many people aren’t able to get an organ match, I of all people should know.”

Every word is heard, each settles inside her brain and flow through her veins.

“Thank you for coming,” she warmly replies.

He closes his eyes for a moment, slowly opens them, and leans from the couch to her as she sits on a chair.

“Are you ready?”

She gently nods her head with a soft smile. He reaches into his carry-on bag still resting near the couch where he had left it. He rummages through the medical equipment and gently takes out the stethoscope and motions her to come.

“Here,” he says slowly.

4 As she slowly reaches her hands to the medical instrument she thinks of the past few months and remembers the picture in her son’s bedroom– the picture of her son in his football uniform. She flashes back to the night he scored the winning touchdown during his homecoming game and how the entire crowd roared his name. She was so proud of all of his accomplishments. He was always a good student, athlete, and son. He did almost everything right. When he was heading home, he reached a stop sign, and decided to text her. As he was doing so, an oncoming drunk driver collided with her son’s car. When the police arrived they found him with his phone nearby. The unsent message stated: I’m coming home. She remembers the night at his bedside and their final goodbye.

She takes the stethoscope as tears emerge from her eyes, puts the instrument to her ears, and places it over the man’s heart. For the first time in months, she feels her son with her. She hears her son’s heartbeat and weeps next to a man she has never met before.