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LDOC Issue 11.02

free art Monday, August 15, 2016

All I Heard Fiction by Liz Grear How to Hear Your Heartbeat Photographs by Lauren Zallo


The sounds from the living room explode and I put my book on my lap and stare. My dad is scratching the back of his head where his hair had been coming out in small clumps. Family parties are supposed to be fun and relaxing and full of jokes and good food. And now I dread seeing so many familiar faces in one space. Uncle Pete leans over and says something to my dad. Something comforting probably and I can see Brandon and Uncle Jesse whispering and I just know that Brandon is filling Uncle Jesse in on the latest health issues. I can tell by the shape of his face. All anyone ever talks about anymore is my dad and sometimes talking about my dad or hearing these terrible things about my dad makes me want to run away. “Okay. So that could be worse though, right?” Aunt Shelby asks. “There are worse things than not being able to drink. I want to know how the procedure went. I mean I know he’s okay, obviously. But you never told me anything about it.” I blink a few times and sit very still. This was a topic even I hadn’t heard the full story of. All I got was a phone call so calm you would have thought she was telling me a bedtime story. “They’ve decided to put the defibrillator in tonight. Plans changed,” she’d said. “Wait, what? Why? Is something wrong? Is everything okay?” I was in my bedroom making more origami birds to hang from everything. “Everything is fine. It’s a simple procedure that the doctor has done millions of times. They’re only pushing the procedure so early because they can. And for insurance purposes.” And that was all I heard. Besides the call saying he was in recovery. And the call that said he was in his own hospital room. And then finally the call from downstairs when my mom


yelled up to say he was home and wanted to mow the lawn. But everything in between had been a mystery to me and I kinda liked it that way. A heavy sigh pours from my mom’s mouth. “That bad?” Aunt Shelby asks talking like someone is trying to sleep. “Yeah. I uh… I haven’t really told anyone this yet,” my mom starts. My stomach tightens like sore muscles. The men in the living room shout at the football game like it’s a disobedient child and I strain my ears to focus on the quiet sounds of my mom and Aunt Shelby’s voices. “Oh, Shelb. It was horrible. So we get there and it’s supposed to be an in and out situation, ya know? I mean putting a defibrillator in someone’s chest is never easy I guess. But the doctor seemed so sure. The doctor kept telling me that he had done this a million times. And I was ready to believe anything I guess. Any kind of hope. Sometimes I just don’t think I can believe in anything anymore but for some reason I believed this doctor. And he seemed so young. So I don’t know why I trusted him. I figured he’d never suffered through half the things I have so what right does he have to tell me everything would be fast and easy and peaceful?” my mom says. Aunt Shelby pushes away from the table and stands. She opens the fridge and gets my mom a glass of her boxed wine. My mom grabs it and gives Aunt Shelby a weak smile before she takes a giant sip and continues. “So I sat in the waiting room. Like usual. I swear I’m so used to waiting rooms at this point that I think they might start charging me rent there or something. You know how many times I’ve fallen asleep on those horrid chairs? Too many to even count. Too many stiff necks and hunched backs and eyes so sleepy they feel bruised. So many times, Shelby. Anyway, so I’m waiting there. And I’m starting to doze off because I was up all night worrying. You know I can never sleep when Ken doesn’t sleep. Makes me nervous, like maybe something will happen to him while I’m asleep and I won’t be awake to help him. He kept telling me to sleep because he knew the next day would be long and exhausting but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t close my eyes until he did and you know what? He never did. So I sat up all night reading my magazine

and I was pissed. Pissed at him for not sleeping. For not letting me sleep. So we ended up driving to the hospital not speaking; me because I was livid and tired and crabby, him because he knew I was livid and tired and crabby. So we rode in complete silence and it was raining like we were part of a bad movie or something. Rain. God damn rain while we drove in a completely silent car to the hospital where men I didn’t even really know were going to slice open my husband and place a machine in his heart. I felt like I should at least know the people doing this, ya know? Like maybe talk to them once or twice. Get to know who they were or something. I don’t know. It’s kind of a severe thing to allow a stranger to do to someone you love. But it’s their job and so instead of asking Ken how he felt about a stranger’s knuckles grazing his heart, I stared out the window and everything looked as grey as old coffee. Everything seemed stale. So anyway— there I am, in the waiting room with my eyes closing when a deep voice says, ‘Mrs. Tomlinson?’ and I widen my eyes so fast it feels like brain freeze. A man I had never seen in my life stood in front of me wearing the green paper suit doctors wear when they’re doing surgery. He had the mouth mask still hanging around his neck as if it was a necklace or something. ‘That’s me,’ I said. He licked his lips and I knew it was bad news. ‘We’re experiencing complications,’ he said. And you know what? I wanted to punch him in the mouth for saying it so calmly I wondered if it were part of a commercial he just memorized. And you know how when something bad happens you get defensive for no reason? That was me. I wasn’t worried or sad or nervous. I was pissed. Pissed because I wanted to sleep and who was this man standing in front of me and talking to me like I had nothing better to do. ‘Okay,’ I said back to him, wrinkling up my face so that he could tell how unhappy I was. ‘I think you should come back with me so I can explain,’ he said in that same annoying, flat tone. So I did. I followed him Shelby. I followed him and I didn’t ask why but I was only assuming the worst. I thought Ken was dead. And so while we walked through these quiet halls, shoes squeaking across the tile floor that looked like oil was thrown all


over it they were so shiny, I felt my entire body go numb. It was like I wasn’t even there. I was numb and it was so scary. I’d never felt anything like it. My head turned into a balloon, fists felt so tight I wondered if my skin was being tugged at. It was so weird. Dry mouth, goose bumps sprouting all over my skin. I can’t even remember what we talked about though I’m sure we said something. We had to have, right? I’m sure we didn’t walk that whole way saying nothing. I just remember all the doors blurring next to me when I walked through these winding halls and I started getting dizzy and it felt like we walked to the hospital in the next town over. But finally I was in a room. An office. There was a wooden desk and not much on the desk besides a phone with a cord and I hadn’t seen a phone with a cord in so long so it made me angry all over again. There were two seats and the man sat in one and I sat in another. The walls were a light green and green is Ken’s favorite color and for some reason that was enough to make me cry. I sat there on that chair like a baby, crying and covering my face. I felt the man’s hand on my shoulder and I was too exhausted to tell him to get off. ‘You should make some calls and get some family for support. We’re just having complications and it may take longer than expected,’ he’d said. And then I knew exactly what was happening. Ken was dying and I had to call everyone while sitting in this almost empty room with a complete stranger putting weight on my shoulder with his strong hand. I noticed a box of tissues on the desk too, so I reached over and grabbed a handful. But good thing I didn’t make any calls. Good thing I was too busy crying and crying to make any kind of calls because as I blew my nose the door exploded open and another doctor, dressed the same as the one in the room with me, ripped off his mouth mask and said, ‘Doctor, we’re ready,’ and he looked at me and I was all blotchy and sad and the first doctor said, ‘Ma’am he isn’t necessarily dying. I want you to know that. He was slipping in and out of a coma but he will be okay. I think you just might want some family here with you,’ and I nodded my head to tell him I understood and I was relieved and angry and scared all at once. But then it got me thinking, Shelb. Ya know? It really got me

thinking. Who would I call first if he was dying? His mom? Our mom? Jasmine? It’s all I could think about for a while. I kept asking myself what woulda happened if I had to call Jasmine while she was away at school? She might be at a party or a school function or in class, and she’d be so far away it would be so unfair to call her with such bad news. I became obsessed with it. I kept rotating through all the people I would have to call and tell that Ken died and while rotating all these people I kept imagining the things I would interrupt them from doing. Sleeping, going on a date, attending a meeting. Who knows? Anyway, I didn’t have to make any calls. When Ken was finally in the recovery area the doctor came out and told me all these things about hearts and surgery and comas and gave me average numbers of people who survive and don’t survive. He told me so many things, Shelby, but I didn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. It was all so bizarre. So bizarre to think how so many things change in just a few minutes and I couldn’t stop wondering what my kids were doing or where they were. And then I wished it was me. I wished I was somewhere else doing something I could be interrupted from. I was jealous because sometimes I think dealing with Ken dying is actually going to kill me. I don’t know.” I close my eyes and lean my head on the back of the chair. Instantly, I wish I didn’t spend so much time listening to the whispers in other rooms. All I’ve ever heard are bad things, even when I was a kid. I have grown to understand that when words are exchanged in a hushed volume, that there is nothing good to be said. Twenty minutes later my mom’s voice is cheery and bright and I know it is fake. She calls everyone into the kitchen where the table is set in such a way that I feel like I should be dressed more elegantly. My family piles around the table, laughing and talking the way we do every single holiday, and then chairs scrape across the wood floors like grinding teeth, the silverware clanging like a hollow headache, and when we all take our seats it gets quiet, we’ve run out of things to say. We fall silent as if the silence was rehearsed and I can feel my ears straining to hear something but there is nothing and so I sit down and wait.


Liz Grear is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago where she received her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published at Word Riot, Every Day Fiction, and in Printers Row. Liz’s goal is to publish her novel and to start her own writing program in prison. lizgrear.virb.com Lauren Zallo earned her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts. She is currently working and living in Chicago, IL. laurenzallo.com LDOC is a free photography and creative writing publication featuring a new local artist and writer each month, creating an installment-based experience for the Chicago commuter. Find LDOC in red newspaper boxes at the following Red Line stops: Belmont, Sox-35th, and 69th. LDOC is also distributed by volunteers at the downtown Red Line Lake stops every first and third Monday evening of the month.

LDOC is currently fully funded by the 2015 Crusade Engagement Grant from Crusade for Art. www.crusadeforart.org

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LDOC Issue 11.02  

LDOC Issue 11.02 / Artist - Lauren Zallo, "How to Hear Your Heartbeat" / Writer - Liz Grear, "All I Heard"

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