Heart Disease in a Small Town
“For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken.
It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.”
Lydia Ship found herself in the waiting room. She felt her heart beating at her neck. Though she exercised regularly and was considered pretty in her small town circles, she had a serious problem. She hoped it wasn’t life threatening. Anguish washed over her like a niacin flush.
As she reached in her purse to retrieve a compact mirror, a Korean nurse, tall and thin, wearing a purple polka-dot scrub top and grape lipstick, opened a door and called her name.
“It’s like an Italian summer today,” said Dr. Floyd Cordis, a broad-shouldered fiftyish cardiologist with gorgeous gray hair, lightly trimmed beard, his intelligent eyes shining behind rimless glasses.
“I’ve never been to Italy,” replied Lydia.
“It’s beautiful,” said Cordis. He tilted back Lydia’s head and placed the stethoscope over the carotid artery at her neck.
“Listening for a rushing sound,” explained the doctor. He removed the stethoscope.
Looking up at Cordis, Lydia swooned: a woman knows the face of love as an astrologer knows the stars by night. She imagined his life as a physician: forever at the brink of mortality, sorrow, long hours, disease, healing, responsibility, human drama, paperwork: monotonous, bittersweet and miraculous at once. That Cordis would forever haunt her thoughts troubled yet delighted Lydia. Dreaming is not doing, so it wasn’t adultery, not really, and, anyway, her husband Lawrence would never know.
She began making love to Dr. Cordis in her mind and experienced that special flutter between her legs.
Lydia knew it was only a matter of time, several years down the road, that she’d be entering a new phase of life: menopause. It would hit like a clap of monsoon thunder. She didn’t buy into the nonsense that forty-five is the new thirty-five. No denial for Lydia. But she did not relish the fact that her size D breasts drooped, and, all too soon, her neck would hang, her eyes would sag, her skin would wrinkle, and her coffin would open in wait. Aging wasn’t some kind of punishment, she understood that much, rather it was a cycle. Natural, like sex. Lydia was tormented by the blossoming desire and the inevitability of death. It caused a tightness in her chest. When she informed her primary care physician of the affliction, she was referred to Dr. Cordis.
After reviewing the images from the echocardiogram, Dr. Cordis proceeded to explain that the results showed some concern for potential pulmonary hypertension. No fluid was present, however, which boded well. But there was no way to know for certain.
To Lydia, it sounded like double-speak, as if the lawyers had gotten into medicine, and, in a nutshell, the doctor could no longer afford candor to his patients. Possibility trumped probability in the conjuring of diagnosis. And who could blame the poor man? People are not to be trusted. She couldn’t even trust herself.
Coming back to her senses, Lydia found herself enchanted by Dr. Cordis’ smile. Lasting love, she surmised, always began with a smile. Sensing he had been her lover in a former life, Lydia slipped back into a daze. She had an urge to reach out and touch the doctor’s manicured hand.
Dr. Cordis studied the test results. He said, “Your heart beats too fast,” and ordered a two-week ambulatory cardiac monitor with a scribble on a pad.
And then he sent Lydia away.
At the follow-up appointment, Dr. Cordis had shaved his beard. His eyes were fatigued behind the rimless glasses. He did not smile. All at once she loathed the fact that for two weeks she had fantasized about taboo doctor-patient love. She craved a glass of Barolo wine.
In the examination room, Dr. Cordis and Lydia sat on either side of a desk, eye-level, the chairs facing one another. Cordis had a difficult time meeting her champagne-colored eyes. His dark gaze traveled over her face and locked onto her pink lips, which he must have found full for a woman in her mid-forties. He kept his attention trained there as he spoke.
His stare ignited her arousal, and her disappointment gave way to lust.
“I have some good news,” said the doctor. He slapped papers on the desk, his handsome hand framed by a pastel-yellow shirt cuff. “Your chest pain isn’t cardiac related.” He looked her in the eye, “You don’t need a cardiologist.”
Dr. Cordis returned to looking at Lydia’s mouth. She wet her lips, the urge to hop in his lap squashed by the news.
“Well, that’s great news,” said Lydia, her voice flat.
“Do you have any questions?” asked the doctor.
“No,” she hesitated. “I guess not.”
Lydia stood. She gripped her large crimson purse, swung it over her shoulder, and turned her back on Cordis. She opened the door of the exam room.
“Take care,” came his voice from behind.
She thought about turning around and blowing a kiss, but his glowing, high-cheeked assistant, who was the sister of her husband’s co-worker, loomed in the hall. Walking toward the receptionist’s desk, Lydia caught a scent of plum, rose and spice. She entered the waiting room where her neighbor, a gray lady, Bonnie Belle, was seated. Embarrassed, Lydia looked at the beige carpet passing under her feet. At the front desk, Dr. Cordis’ wife, about Lydia’s age, shot a would-be vixen grin. To Lydia she looked tired and deprived.
Lydia paid the co-pay, exited the office, and then the building.
Outside the red brick office, juniper-scented rain pervaded the rolling hills. It was the end of the New Mexico summer.
Lydia stepped into a bar of sunshine breaking between the clouds, her hair scrambling in the breeze. She clutched at her chest and fell to her knees.
About the author:
Wendy Gist has had her poetry and fiction featured or forthcoming in Amsterdam Quarterly, Glint Literary Journal, Grey Sparrow Journal, Juked, New Plains Review, Oyez Review, Poetry Pacific, Soundings Review, The Fourth River, Toad Suck Review, Yellow Medicine Review and many other fine journals. A native Arizonan, she now lives in New Mexico where she serves as managing editor of Red Savina Review.