The key to my heart
by Lynda Collins
When I offered her my heart, it was never meant to be taken literally.
But it was, and she did.
I woke up on the morning after the operation, dazed, confused and in tremendous pain. Explosions of pain radiated through my body as I tried to sit up, my body felt weak and tremulous. I found I was in a hospital bed, surrounded by a halo of diaphanous net curtains that were also so white that they seemed to glow. They were in stark contrast to the room on the other side of them, some sort of workshop, full of tools and nuts and bolts, with the smell of oil pervading everything, even into the sterile enclosure in which I found myself.
I managed to get myself into a sitting position, and then swing my legs over the side of the bed. Immediately the pain in my chest increased a hundredfold. Tugging at the neck of my hospital gown I could see that my chest was swathed in bandages, taped down to my skin so that I couldn’t quickly pull them away. In rising panic, I got my nails in under them and began to try and tear them off.
“Stop,” came a voice that I recognised well, “leave them alone.”
I looked up and saw my wife coming into the room. Her face was pale and tight in concern.
“Polly,” I said, and only then realised that I had tubes running down both my nostrils. I fought the urge to gag. “What’s going on?”
She parted the curtains and came and sat on the edge of my bed. “I’m so glad you’re awake. We have a lot to talk about.”
“Where the hell am I?” My head felt foggy, and although I wasn’t thinking straight, I knew that I wasn’t in a hospital.
She smiled, and it was the smile of a zealot; so assured, so calm. “I’ve saved your life.”
“What do you mean? Was I in an accident?”
“No, of course not. It was your heart, we had to replace it.”
My hand flew to my chest, trying to protect the organ that was no longer there. “I don’t understand, what was wrong with my heart? I’ve had a transplant?”
“There was nothing wrong with it exactly,” she said, “but someday in the future it would eventually fail. Your new heart though is perfect. With it, you’ll live for centuries.”
I shook my head, still not understanding what she was talking about. “You’ve swapped my heart for a machine?”
“Oh no, machinery breaks down, batteries run out, technology becomes obsolete. What you have has been built to last.” She left my bedside and walked out into the workshop, retrieving something from one of the shelves. It was something bright and shiny, held within a glass case. When she carried it to my bed I realised that it was a clockwork heart, ticking away, gears turning, metal beating. “I gave you one of these.”
My heart sunk in my chest; well, that’s the expression anyway, even if it was no longer apt. I felt as though I’d been violated. “How could you do this?”
I could tell that my words stung her from the look of hurt that crossed her face. “Don’t you see? I’ve extended your life by a hundred years or more. Don’t you love me? Don’t you want to spend that extra time with me? I did this for us.”
She calmly explained how with the artificial heart beating in my chest my body would run more efficiently, how I would never have to worry about heart attacks, or heart disease, how the heart could filter my blood to prevent build up of toxins, how the mechanical heart would relieve the pressure on the rest of my organs, muscles and bones meaning they would last longer too. “I did this for us,” she repeated, her eyes begging me to understand.
“But won’t it wear out? What if it breaks down?”
“It can’t break down,” she told me. “It’s perfectly made. It will, however, need to be wound every other day.”
“Wound... by who?”
“By me,” she pulled a golden key out from her pocket. “I have the key for your heart, and when I have the operation done, you can have the key to mine. That way we will always be together. Lie back, I’ll show you.”
She eased me back on my pillow and opened the front of my gown. I hadn’t noticed the hole in the gauze before, but there it was, right in the middle of my bandages. I watched with horrified fascination as the barrel of the key disappeared inside my chest and began to turn. It was the oddest of sensations as I felt the spring tighten inside my new heart.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“I feel... I feel fantastic,” I said in surprise, “like I could run a marathon.”
Polly smiled, “you could,” she said. “Perhaps not today, you still need to recover.” She’d pressed a button that delivered a dose of anaesthetic to my bloodstream via the IV in my arm. Immediately I began to feel sleepy.
She kissed me on my forehead, told me that she loved me and left me to sleep.
She never came back.
I was told that she’d been in an accident, hit by a car as she crossed the road. If the key had been on her body at the time they never found it. I didn’t even bother to look for it.
So now I’m sitting here in a morgue with my wife’s crumpled body, with my heart that should have beat forever, waiting for the last tick of the clockwork as it runs down, runs out. And I find that I don’t care. It may be made of metal, but my heart is broken.
Lynda Collins was born in 1986. She has been writing since the tender age of five and even has the school reports to prove it, though she would like to hope that she has improved a little since then.
In 2012 she decided that her writing wasn’t too terrible and starting submitting some short stories to various publishers. Since then she has a number of her short stories published in various anthologies, including ‘Undead Tales 2’ and ‘Grimm and Grimmer,’ where her story was selected as the lead story. Lynda has also contributed to and edited an anthology of supernatural stories with the Belfast Writers' Group, called ‘The Ghosts in the Glass’ to raise money for the charity, Action Cancer. Recently, she was commissioned to write for an anthology entitled ‘Her Dark Voice,’which includes two of her works that start and finish the book.
Whilst she had until recently focused on writing short stories, she has now decided to knuckle down and write something longer. She is currently working on the first of a series of four fantasy books, each inspired by one of the four classical elements; Earth, Water, Air and Fire.
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