I’ve always had a weak heart.
Not just physically, I’ve always been afraid of my own shadow. It was unsurprising when the doctors told me my heart murmur wasn’t just a heart murmur. A year of tests. A year of therapy, constant trips to the hospital and I was finally told that it had all been for nothing.
My poor weak heart wouldn’t last till Christmas. It’s a strange thing being told that you’re dying; I didn’t come to terms with it at first. I drank and I spent my money. I did reckless, stupid things because I was so damn scared.
Then I got the news. That a young woman called Laura had been declared brain dead and that I, the lucky chosen one, would be getting a brand new heart a week later. I drove to the hospital slowly, carefully, and readied myself for the ordeal that was to come.
As I was laying in bed on the last night, the thought of Laura swirled around in my head and it wouldn’t leave me alone. It was like her name was in flashing lights every time I closed my eyes.
It was wrong, I know it was, but I had to see the woman who was giving me her heart. It didn’t feel right not to put a face to the one who was saving my life. I knew her name, I knew what ward she was staying on- I had overheard the two nurses discussing it. I wandered down the meandering hallways until I found what I was looking for, taking my time, making sure I didn’t miss any name. I guess I had time on my hands now.
In the second to last room, she lay in bed. A woman sat on the bed next to her, holding her hand, and my own weak heart stuttered.
“Excuse me.” I had no idea what to say to her. “I’m Jenna. I’m the person… I’m having surgery tomorrow and..” What I assumed was Laura’s mother stood up and I could tell from the look in her eye that she knew who I was.
“Thank you for visiting. I know it’s strange, but a part of her is going to be living on in you. I wanted to meet you.” I stood there, helpless and lost for words. Laura’s mother beckoned me over.
“Please.” She said. “Don’t feel uncomfortable. Its what she would have wanted.” I sat on the chair next to Laura.
“How did she-“ I broke off. It was too awful to ask. Laura’s mother gave me a thin smile.
“She was a care worker. Looked after battered wives, abused women. Last month she met a guy and… Well. I suppose years of training can’t help you when you’re in love. She ignored the warning signs. And he killed her. She dedicated her life to those who needed her.” Laura’s mother looked down. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached over, and held Laura’s hand. I squeezed it.
“I’m so sorry. I had a boyfriend once who… He was like that too. Someone like Laura convinced me to leave.” Laura’s mother gave me another half smile. I could see the tears in her eyes.
Then Laura squeezed my hand. Tightly. She gripped me so hard that her fingernails dug into my skin. I recoiled, a look of horror on my face. Laura’s mother looked at me calmly.
“She squeezes my hand sometimes as well. I think the Doctors called it muscle spasms. Either way. There’s none of Laura left in there anymore.” I looked at the small crescent moons that had just started to bleed on the palm of my hand.
The surgery went perfectly. I was wheeled to the recovery suite after it was over and done with, the raised wound on my chest covered by gauze. It was better if I didn’t see it, I thought. I didn’t need any more heart issues. I spent the first day doped up on the pain medication, eating only a little and sitting up maybe two times. It was a long process, they reassured me.
Laura’s mother came to visit me the day before I was due to leave. Her calm demeanor hadn’t wavered but I could see that she was suffering. She looked ten years older, and her hands shook when she gave me a hug.
“When are you going home?”
“Tomorrow.” I told her. “Please, come visit whenever you want.” I started to jot down my address for her, when out of the corner of my eye, a flash of blonde disappeared through the doorway. The same brilliant blonde as Laura’s hair.
“Ow!” I cried out suddenly. It felt like someone had sharply squeezed my hand so hard it had almost crushed the bones. Laura’s mother rushed to my side, a look of concern in her eyes.
“What’s wrong? Is it your heart?” She stumbled over the last words, coming to terms with what she had said. I tried to reassure her and said I’d let the doctors know, and she left with a look of worry on her face.
When I looked down, a new set of crescent fingernail marks were below the ones that Laura’s had made. Ten identical bleeding smiles.
The taxi ride home was short, and before I knew it I was back in my own flat. It felt strange to try and slot back into where I had left off, my life had been almost over the last time I had been here. I looked over the mess and the cardboard boxes, the remnants of one night where I had tearfully tried to pack and store my belongings so my parents wouldn’t have to do it when I died.
Laura’s heart beat so strongly it felt like it would come out of my chest. It did this all the time, and I realized this was what a healthy heart must feel like. So why couldn’t I shake my feeling of unease?
That night, I had a dream.
Laura was in her hospital bed, but her mother was gone. I could hear my heart, Laura’s heart, beating in my eardrums so loudly it was painful. I tried to cover them, but my hands were pinned to my sides. Some unexplainable force was moving me towards the motionless figure of Laura on the bed, her lips were blue and the window had come open, whipping her blonde hair around her face.
I was almost on top of her when her eyes flew open.
They were milky white, the eyes of someone dead.
“Get out.” She rasped, her voice guttural. I could hear the heartbeat faster and faster, drumming until I thought I couldn’t take it anymore.
Then I woke up. The sound had been real. Laura’s heart was so loud it felt like it would rupture my eardrums and I screamed in agony, trying to cover my ears. It was useless, it was coming from some deep place inside me, I could feel it reverberating around the hollows of my chest.
I stumbled out of bed, gasping for air, and tried to find my phone. I needed to call someone, anyone, an ambulance or my mom. Anyone that would pick up.
“Get out.” It was a faint whisper over the hammering thumps of Laura’s heart, a low guttural voice that sounded like it had been made by an animal, and I crawled to the door, down the hallway, choking on my screams for help. My neighbor opened the door, his eyes as wide as saucers at the sight of me on the floor clutching my chest.
He drove me to hospital as I cried in the passenger seat of his car.
After about fifty different checkups, the doctors told me that absolutely nothing was wrong with me. They told me my heart was regular, my blood pressure was normal, and that everything was going just swimmingly. I stood in the waiting area, wallowing in my shame and frustration.
That heart didn’t belong to me.
My phone buzzed on the counter, an unknown number. Great. That was all I needed, more unexplained, scary things like a stranger on the end of the phone. My voice sounded small on the line,
“Good morning, this is the Thames Valley police, we’ve called to report an incident that occurred in your flat at around 1.30am today.” I felt a wave of embarrassment.
“I’m so sorry, I recently had surgery and I wasn’t feeling well. I had to have my neighbor drive me to the hospital and I think I panicked a little in the hallway before I left.” There was a small silence on the other end of the phone.
“I’m afraid this is something you might want to be sitting down for.” I felt Laura’s heart beats, strong and calm. “There was an incident of forced entry by Mr Samuel Matthews, according to our police records he’s your ex partner and you filed a restraining order against him in September 2017.” My blood ran cold.
“He’s in police custody. We found an automatic weapon on him and we believe he had the intent to harm you. We have an officer currently stationed at your flat who can fill you in depending on how long your hospital stay will be.”
I thanked him and hung up the phone.
For a moment, I leant against the wall, the horror slowly spreading over me. If I had been in my flat ten minutes later he would have found me.
Laura’s heartbeats filled my ears again but now they were gentle, calming. Her mother said she dedicated every part of her to helping those who needed it.I put both my hands on my chest, overwhelmed by my own gratitude, and listened to Laura.