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A new heart – Atlas

A new heart

Himali McInnes

Your parents hope that someone else’s child will die. That they will not be buckled in. Or that they will be outmanoeuvred by a riptide and suffocate in saline. These are not kind or good things to hope for. They pray for forgiveness for hoping for such terrible things. They cannot sleep at night, churning with the weight of responsibility. Yet they keep hoping. I understand this. They are good parents, they really are.

They plucked you off that tiny atoll, covered in thousands of grains of sand, in the middle of that lapidarian ocean, and plopped you here. A Pacific Princess who was too tired to swim.

I lay you out on my examination plinth, the crisp sheets a shroud against your skin. I am slow and careful, for I do not want you to fall apart. By now your heart is purplish and weak, an anaemic walnut squeezed in a thin-walled sac. Your cheeks and lips are smudged with plethoric blue, like poorly applied makeup. Your liver has swollen to thrice its normal size, congested with slow-moving blood.

You do not doubt that you need a new heart. What you want is simple; to slither like an eel under the sequinned waves, to roll down grass shrieking with lungs full of bright oxygen, to pedal downhill too fast whilst crunching gravel like shards of broken sugar, to be like other children.

When The Call comes it is late at night and you are asleep, but you are awake in an instant, because you know. Your parents are flustered and wrinkle-cheeked with tiredness. They grab your bag, they grab you, and together you speed along empty city streets skeining under orange lights.  Your brothers and your sisters sleep on in their beds, their lips open slightly. They have always been the lucky ones, but soon you will be like them.

The doctors and nurses wheel you in to the white-hot operating theatre. Your parents cannot stop crying. You are composed, wide awake, smiling. You are ready.

When I see you again, it is months later. You are transformed, a changeling of florid good health. Your cheeks are pink, the jaundiced tinge has disappeared from your eyes, your abdomen has lost its gravid swelling.

Your parents tell me that you have changed. You have a fetish for pickled things and strong salty tastes. You sing songs that they never knew you knew. Your new stamina is understandable. The memories of things you cannot possibly have seen is not.

When I place my stethoscope against your ribs, your new heart skitters inside the carapace of your chest.

I am not prepared for how it speaks to me.

I do. Not know. Where. I am. I do. Not. Belong.

Himali McInnes works as GP in South Auckland in a community that is rich with peoples’ stories. She enjoys writing articles, short stories, poetry and flash fiction. She is a constant gardener, a beekeeper and a part-time informal vet.