Standing around the Hearts

by | Dec 13, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Thirty

In first period health class, all twenty of us stood around the cow’s heart Miss Hutchings unwrapped on her desk. “Inside and out,” she said, “we need to know ourselves,” halving that heart with a scalpel to show us auricles, ventricles, valves, and the wall well-built or else. Her fingers declared where arteries begin. She pressed the ends of veins.

Richard Turner, whose father’s heart had halted, examined his hands. Anne Cole, whose father had revived to cut hair at the mall, stared at the floor, ducking the entry to the steer’s aorta, the four chambers we were required to know.

While we watched, Miss Hutchings, who knew nothing of our families, unwrapped the refrigerated hearts of chickens and turkeys, swine and sheep. She arranged them by size on the thick, brown butcher paper, leaving a space, we knew, for ours. Frank Kratzer, who was excused from gym, drifted behind us.

Miss Hutchings, who sometimes forgot our names, had us take our pulses. We listened to each other by way of her stethoscopes, boy to boy, girl to girl, because of the chance we would touch. Those chilled hearts warmed while I dreamed of pressing my ear to the rhythmic heart of Stephanie Romig, whose breasts, so far, had brushed me one time while dancing.

And then Miss Hutchings said, “You have ten pints of blood inside you, sometimes more or less, depending on your size. Whoever is largest almost surely has the most,” and Alma Booker snapped the lead of the school pencil she used, like all of us, for taking notes. Miss Hutchings didn’t pause. She said, “Your hearts, so far, have beat half a billion times. On average, they will beat two more billion times,” leaving us to calculate our futures while Frank Kratzer backed through the open door and vanished.

He didn’t hear what Miss Hutchings said as she gathered the hearts to return them to ice. How the blood has so many routes to follow, their total would take us around the world and back. How our capillaries are so close to the surface, that where the skin is thinnest, like on our lips, it is the most sensitive. All of us were paying attention when Miss Hutchings said, “Think of how a kiss is a pleasure,” but then she paused, cradling the cow’s heart, and all of us, no matter our size and shape, seemed to bow our heads, secretly thinking of how our blood, even for the unhappiest, rushed to the sensitive sources for joy.

Read more Fiction | Issue Thirty

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