CW 10: The Heart of the Matter
28 June 2011
I wrote this today as part of my commitment to the Clarion West Write-a-thon. A dedication means that person sponsored it by donating to CW, and then provided me a writing prompt that sparked the piece. If you would like something written especially for you, please consider sponsoring me.
The Heart of the Matter
for Kevin Scarr. Thank you for your support of my work and Clarion West.
Here was the day when the newly dead returned to finish particular business with the living: a crowded hour of violence and love in breakfast nooks, in bars, motels, alleys, the bedrooms of children come home with sharp teeth. The living knew whether to expect the dead, and whom. Passion and rage were things that cried out for closure, and so the dead came with soft open arms to pull the living into love, or strong hard hands to pull them into pieces. Everyone else locked their doors and turned up the music loud.
Lucy wasn’t expecting the dead. She was turning from the counter with a cup of apple-cinnamon tea, lifting it carefully because things were still sore, and a dead was sitting at her kitchen table. She fumbled the cup and spilled half the tea on the floor. The heart in her chest began to beat strong and wild, like a bird fluttering get away get away.
Lucy had never seen a dead; you didn’t generally, unless one came for you. He was a man in his early thirties in pressed linen trousers and a beautiful blue silk shirt. He looked like money. He looked solid in every way. The sun through the window did not bend around him; the floor did not crack beneath. The lights didn’t flicker, the doors didn’t slam. But there was a sense of power and intention in her small kitchen that told her those things were possible, if the dead were feeling cranky.
“Hello,” Lucy said, as cautiously as she had lifted her tea a moment ago. “Do I know you?”
He cocked his head and raised an eyebrow at her chest. The heart inside thumped so hard that Lucy swayed.
“Oh, Christ,” Lucy said. “You’re Jack Mossman. Oh, Christ, have you come for your heart back?”
“No,” he said. “I thought we could… talk.” It surprised her enough that some of her wits returned. She put the cup down. “The dead don’t come to talk,” she said.
“No, we come to fuck or kill. Occasionally both,” he said. “Nonetheless.” He shrugged, opened his hands. “Willing donor. I’m not feeling robbed. But I want to know what you’ve done with it.”
“Um,” Lucy said. “Um… I don’t understand. I’m still…” She found herself unbuttoning her robe and spreading it open to show him the long red scar. “I’m healing.”
“Are you?” the dead said, and then bang! he was standing right in front of her, inches away, and the heart slammed against her sternum so she thought she would faint from the pain, and then he put his hand on her chest and she felt it as warm and real as it must have been in life before it slid like smoke into her body and cupped the trembling muscle there.
“Show me,” the dead said, and Lucy tried to find breath to say I don’t know what you mean, but the heart between them answered for her. Look! Look! Lucy wakes in recovery and her first thought is of someone’s life inside her, and when she feels it beat she thinks oh god, oh god, every day is a miracle! Lucy lies in her hospital bed and her visiting hours are full of friends whose joy is as bright as the flowers they bring, as goofy as the Get Well cards that make her laugh too much and hurt the heart inside her with the happiness. Lucy cries alone and afraid the first night at home, thinking how many people she must make amends to if she is to deserve this heart. Lucy hears her favorite 80’s mix and when Simple Minds play “Alive and Kicking” she cannot find the breath to sing with her voice, so she lets the heart sing for her. Don’t say goodbye, don’t say goodbye, in the final seconds who’s gonna save you?
“You did,” the dead said. “I am healed.” His hand still on her heart. “Oh, the miracle.” And then he was gone.
Lucy put her hand to her chest where the dead had touched it. Inside, their heart beat, full of life.