“Hey, we missed you at Yessi’s going away party last night,” Jim said as he peeked into Nadine’s office. He was known over in marketing as Horse because of all the “hey”.
Nadine looked up from her computer and hit pause on her mp3 player, keeping the left earbud in her ear. “I had an appointment yesterday afternoon and the doctor ran late. By the time I got out of there. . .” she smiled and shrugged.
“Hey, no biggie. Clean bill of health?”
“You know me,” she said.
“Good, good. Hey, there’s a new jazz club that opened on the west side and a couple of us from marketing are heading up there Saturday night. You want to join?”
“Is that the one they did the review on in the paper? Slate Lounge?”
“Yeah, yeah. That’s the one. I’ll be the double D if that sweetens the deal.”
“I’ll check my schedule and get back to you,” she laughed.
“Hey, we’ll be meeting there at five thirty, so you let me know.”
He disappeared from her door and she resumed play, readjusting the right earbud tucked carefully inside her shirt.
“Since this is an elective surgery, your insurance will not cover it,” the doctor said. His voice was calm, apathetic. A voice that gave away nothing but the facts.
“I figured that going in.”
“And you saw the pictures I sent you last week?”
He uncapped his marker. “I’m proposing we do the application here so there’s no discomfort when you wear your bra.” He started to draw lines on her chest, the felt tip of the marker stalling on the scar tissue between her breasts. “The frame will be inserted here and it’ll take about four to six months for it to become fully integrated with your body.
“And it won’t interfere with the heart?” she asked.
“It shouldn’t but as you know all surgical procedures have risks. You’ll have to keep in mind that the scar will still be there from your previous surgery but other than that,” he drew a horizontal line on her chest. “You’ll be safe with this high of a neckline if you don’t want it to be seen.”
The wail of sirens woke her in the middle of the night. Startled, it took her a moment to remember where she was even though she had lived in this apartment for over a year. After the accident and subsequent transplant, she had moved to the suburbs to escape the constant echo of sirens in the city.
She turned on the lamp and pulled out a box from the bedside table. Unwrapping the stethoscope, she put the earpieces in her ears, and pressed the cold chestpiece to the scar.
“I hope that didn’t scare you,” she whispered.
“Hey, you made it!” Jim waved her down from a table near the stage. The marketing team and her coworkers from the IT department greeted her warmly. Yessi gave her a hug. “Sorry I missed your party,” Nadine said.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m glad you still want to hang out with me since I’ve moved on to a better paying gig.”
“Working for the enemy,” Jim teased.
While a jazz quartet played on stage, they ordered another round of drinks, and Nadine requested ginger ale.
“Hey, Nadine. I’m driving, remember?” Jim said.
Nadine tapped on her chest. “I’m good.”
Yessi placed a hand on Nadine’s and drew close. “So how have you been?”
“It’s been decent,” she replied. “New place, same work. Just taking it one day at a time.”
“Do you see his family at all?” Yessi asked.
Nadine sipped from her ginger ale, tasted cayenne; ginger beer. “My mother-in-law calls about every other week. We weren’t close but we got along even before the accident.”
“Hey,” Jim shoved his way in between them with his phone glowing. “Did you see the article about the artist in Australia who grew an ear on his arm? What a weirdo, right?”
“Not before dinner,” Yessi complained.
Nadine didn’t respond. The audience was clapping and the jazz guitarist was at the microphone. “This next one was written by a college buddy of mine. Jeremy passed away about a year ago and this song of his was originally written for solo guitar. We added accompaniment for the piano, drums, and upright. Hope you enjoy it.”
Yessi squeezed her hand and Nadine whispered. “I need to use the restroom. Excuse me,” she stood up and pushed past Jim who called after her “by the bar, on the left.” She bypassed the bathroom and went out the back exit into the alley as the notes of the guitar drifted out into the night.
“The anesthesiologist will be in soon,” the doctor said.
Nadine sat up. “What you do you think about this? Do you think this is weird?”
The doctor cleared his throat. “It’s strange, yes. I wasn’t sure how to respond to your email months back. I have to confess, I reached out to the plastic surgeons mentioned in the article you sent me for guidance. That’s why I suggested counseling beforehand. Safer, less expensive. I understand why you want it, and I can tell you it isn’t the strangest thing I’ve encountered in my thirty-two years of practice.”
The anesthesiologist entered the room and introduced herself. “Are you ready to get started?” she asked.
“I’ve heard you took some time off from work. Is everything alright?” Yessi asked over the phone. She had called Nadine at work one morning many months later.
“I had requested to work from home for awhile but everything’s fine. Great actually. Who told you I was out?”
“Horse, of course,” Yessi said. “You know he has a thing for you.”
“I wish he wouldn’t,” Nadine said glancing at her door.
“I think he’s slowly getting it. I told him to lay off.”
After hanging up, Nadine glanced at the door again as she unwound her earbuds, placing one in her left ear. She turned her back to the door and placed the second into the ear over her heart. It had grown beautifully over the last six mouths and the scar from her heart transplant was hardly noticeable.
She pressed play.
The applause faded out as a man began to speak. “This last song is written for my wife, who is the bravest person I know.”
“For the last five months, she’s been on the waiting list for a new heart. I can’t tell you how powerless it feels when the only thing you can do is write songs for the one you love and not give them what they need to live life to the fullest.”
“This last song is called “Heart Song”. I love you Nadine. We’ll get through this.”
“I love you too Jeremy,” she whispered down to the ear over his heart.
A/N: The artist referenced in the story is Stelarc, who grew an ear on his arm as part of his performance art.