Brief Death

by | Jun 13, 2023 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Three

After I dropped my kid at school, I made the fifteen-minute drive back to our house. I realized, as I often did, that I couldn’t remember driving any of that stretch. I must have appeared unwell, because my wife suggested we look at the EKG on my watch. “You had no pulse for the last fifteen minutes,” she said, startled. “You were clinically dead.”

We visited our family doctor, who reviewed the EKG and grimaced. “Yes, I’ve been seeing this a lot lately,” he told us. “It’s alarming.” We asked him what we should do. “That’s a private matter,” he said, “for the two of you to discuss.”

On the drive home, my wife squeezed my hand rhythmically and quizzed me on world capitals. “Still there?” she said. “Just checking.” Could I describe the shape of the clouds? Like sneaker treads on fresh snow, I told her. Could I name all the trees we passed? No, but I knew nothing about trees.

At our kitchen table, we made a plan. This brief death was likely related to stress, so I would cut back on work and make sure to get outside. Perhaps my diet was contributing too. Eating less salt and sugar would help. Oatmeal for breakfast, salad for lunch. And surely more exercise was a good idea. We decided a jog after dinner would work best with my schedule.

“Are you happy?” she said. “Are you happy in our life?” She was squinting at my face. “You look pale.” We checked my EKG and confirmed that my heart was pumping. Two birds settled on a tree outside our window, and she asked me to identify them. I knew nothing about birds. “Should we buy a birding book?” she said. And so we did.

I ate my oatmeal. I took my jogs. Those brief deaths on the drive back from school still occurred from time to time, but they became less frequent. My wife inspected my color. She laid her palm on my cheek. An orange-breasted bird landed on the windowsill. I said it was an oriole. “No,” she said, “it’s a robin, but they do look similar.”

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