By Heart

Flash
H. Lovelyn Bettison


Sometimes she puts her hand over her heart to make sure it’s still there. She feels the gentle thumping in her chest. She is constantly aware.

*

When she woke from a drug-induced sleep, he was the first person she saw. She didn’t remember him. His white shirt was stained. Tired circles marked the spaces beneath his eyes.

“You’re back,” he said and pulled up the corners of his mouth to resemble a smile.

She didn’t speak. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. He smelled of fall leaves.

The doctors sent her home before she was ready. He pushed her wheelchair out to the car. The sun seemed so large. She closed her eyes and breathed in the heavy air.

While he was at work, she sat on the floor of his closet and tried to remember loving him. She closed her eyes, raised her hands and grazed the edges of shirts, jackets, and trousers. She tried to imagine what love would be like.

She sifted through boxes of pictures. She examined them and placed them in order on the living room floor. Wedding pictures. Honeymoon pictures. Vacation pictures. Is this the order of love?

She lay awake at night and listened to him snore. She studied the width of his shoulders and the way his shoulder blades poked out slightly as if pointing at her. She watched his deep-sleeping body. She counted the seconds between each breath. She waited for morning.

She sat on the edge of the bed in her yellow cotton nightgown hugging her pillow so tightly her chest ached. “I’m sleeping in the guest room tonight,” she said. She stared at her reflection in the window.

He stood in the bathroom brushing his teeth. He spit out a blob of white foam. “Why?” he asked. He stepped into the bedroom. A concerned crease already formed between his eyebrows.

She closed her eyes and when she opened them he was still standing there holding his toothbrush, waiting for an answer. She could see his reflection just behind hers in the window. She didn’t turn to face him. “You snore,” she said, but that wasn’t what she meant to say. She meant to say that she couldn’t stand being near him. She meant to say that she knew that he took care of her for so long but… She meant to say that she couldn’t feel anything anymore. She meant to say that she was sorry.

“I’ve always snored,” he said.

“I know.”

“I didn’t know it bothered you.”

“I just never said anything before. I’m so tired.” She stood up and walked over to him. Before she kissed him, she inhaled deeply and held it. Prepared to dive into a river of lost feeling, she slipped her hand around his waist and kissed him. Her heart banged against the wall of her chest. “Just for tonight,” she said as she pulled away.

“Okay,” he said, but he already felt tonight slipping into tomorrow night, slipping into the next, and the next, and finally slipping away. He watched her walk down the hall, away from him. She waved, a timid, childish wave, before closing the door of the guest bedroom, no longer for guests.

*

She takes off her shirt and looks at herself in the mirror. There is a scar that runs from the bottom of her neck to the bottom of her ribcage. She traces it with her fingers. This is where the doctors took out her heart and replaced it with a stranger’s.

pencil

H. Lovelyn Bettison was born into a creative family with a strong storytelling background. Some call it lying. Lovelyn took to this tradition when she was quite young. She, especially, took to it when she had spilled grape juice on the carpet. Now that she is an adult, Lovelyn makes up stories in her head while driving. The accident she was in a few months ago proves that this can be a dangerous distraction. Occasionally, she gets around to writing these stories down. Sometimes she even allows others to read them. E-mail: lovelynb[at]gmail.com.

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