HEARTS AND MINDS

BY JACK PETRUBI

They are always busy.

Every morning over coffee—his head sore from gin and tonics the night before—he watches Samantha line up her pills, taking her temperature and her folic acid. She ticks off each day on the menstrual calendar she spent a whole week of evenings drawing with a ruler and different coloured pens: snatched moments between dinner reservations, visits from friends, emergency on-calls.

The way she licks her teeth as she scribbles is infantile. The two of them have no real power, but at least Sam has something to focus on, right down to the colour of the lines. He’s envious. He has no idea what it feels like to want something so badly. To do all this preparation for a gift that might never come.

They have a comfortable life. A baby will change all that. They wouldn’t have nearly as much freedom. She understands, doesn’t she?

Of course she understands, she says, looking up briefly from the calendar, pens clutched—as it seems to him—like a handful of short straws.

*

Cardiology | kɑːdɪˈɒlədʒi | noun

The branch of medicine dealing with diseases and abnormalities of the heart.

Neurology | ˌnjʊəˈrɒlədʒi | noun

The branch of medicine dealing with the anatomy, functions, and organic disorders of the nerves and the nervous system.

Samantha chose the heart. She performs surgeries, puts in pacemakers, identifies palpitation-causing medication, changes it. She saves people’s lives. Patients shower her with gifts. Bottles of champagne, chocolates and brioche, fancy soaps in wicker baskets. One man she treated for myocardial infarction even tried to buy her a car but, of course she refused. She takes it all in her stride.

He chose the brain. So many things can go wrong with a brain, it’s almost impossible to fix. He should have gone into gastroenterology, or better yet, psychiatry. That’s where the really interesting stuff lies. But he didn’t, so there’s no use crying over it. Instead, he prescribes experimental medications and gives bad news. Tries to answer ‘The Question’. The one he dreads: What now, doctor?

There’s no answer to this. And he should know; he’s tried every trick in the book. Give it to them straight, that’s the best medicine. He’s good at it, too. Sometimes his patients even thank him when he breaks the news. Actually thank him. It’s a pretty horrible measure of competence. His colleague Kevin (also a neurologist) calls him Dr. Death. That sums it up.

Samantha saves lives.

He ends them.

*

Miscarriage | mɪsˈkarɪdʒ, | noun

The spontaneous or unplanned expulsion of a fetus from the womb before it is able to survive independently.

It wasn’t hot enough last time, she says; make it piping hot, this time. He fills up the hot water bottle straight from the kettle. Bulging plastic scorches his fingers. Sam presses the molten rubber to her bare, white belly, loose hair spread across the pillows. Besides a small wince, she doesn’t flinch. She reminds him of that woman from that famous painting, the one floating in water. He can’t remember what it’s called now, or who it’s by. Either way, he knows it must burn.

But Samantha is strong.

He climbs onto the bed to stroke her hair, something it feels like a supportive husband should do. But when he raises his hand, he can’t quite manage it. “We don’t have to try again,” he says instead, giving shape to the unspeakable. “Not if you don’t want to.” Her face sours, so he quickly adds: “I mean, we could always try IVF. Or look into adoption?”

“No,” she says, flashing live-wire eyes. “That won’t work.”

He knows it won’t. It’s why he suggested it. Sam’s already forty. A part of him hoped the menopause might slip by, unnoticed. Not because he doesn’t want children but because he can’t bear seeing Sam suffer. But like a star flaring on its final fuel, Sam’s hormones annihilate all resistance: it’s their baby or nothing.

“I want my own,” she says. “I want to carry it inside me. That’s what being a mother is.”

He doesn’t understand this, so he doesn’t speak.

Read more https://theshortstory.co.uk/short-story-hearts-and-minds-by-jack-petrubi/

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