I placed my ear to my wife’s chest and heard her heart beating her warm soft skin throbing against my cheek and ear. Her heart beat so regularly and strongly against my ear. And I loved her so.
Sometimes the beating speeded up a bit, marking three beats in the time normally meant for two; sometimes it skipped a beat, slowing either the muscle expansion or contraction, I couldn’t really tell, to cover the time meant for two beats with one and a terrifying silence in between.
No sound coming from her chest, no deep sound at least. Just shallow breathing, scratchiness in her windpipe, but no heart beat; nothing.
And I fell into the vacuum of that silence as if falling through space asleep. When her heart again beat I would crash out of the terror and reach up to touch her face.
It is said that if you have that falling-though-space dream and don’t wake up with a violent thud like hitting the bottom of the damn Grand Canyon after falling for that whole mile or however deep it is, if you kept falling, never striking anything at all, or if you hit and never wake up, you were dead.
I listened to my wife’s heart beat still with my ear on her chest. I listened.
I had fallen asleep once she told me with my head in a position like this one_and woke to find her smiling at me and stroking my hair like a mother and a child.
I listened.
When I read that story in the newspaper about the two Australians being sentenced to be hanged in Malasyia a shock I don’t fully understand except that it is the shock of facing sudden death ran through me. They had to stand there and listen to some judge say that they would be hanged until dead. They would be taken to some to some remote, cold room and with great ceremony of finality, have a thick coil of rope draped over their heads and tightened against their throbing windpipes, then some dark, odd smelling cloth hood wrapped over their faces, a hood that muted all sounds even the fleeing footsteps of the executioner until they were left standing in a swelling silence interrupted only by the slightest crack as the floor beneath them opened and they fell for what seemed forever and then jerked to a stop as the rope tightened, their necks snapped and all sense vanished and they were dead.
Their bodies hit bottom, their bodies falling the mile or whatever it is to the bottom of the damn Grand Canyon, but they did not waken. Their souls flew on into the early morning, never stopping, ever sailing.
It is better it seems to die in an instant than to live halfway in between, to know the wall is coming and there is no way to avoid the flash of pain, then nothing, than it is to miss the wall and sail over the cliff into an unending fall-like dream that has you just missing the wall, just missing the wall, and then screaming when you know what happened. Just missing the wall and screaming.
I listened to my wife’s heart still.
The police said there was little chance the rock would have missed the car. The speed of the truck, the speed of the car, the angle.
There was no chance it would have bounced at an angle. It was a large rock, and round, no edges to deflect it. It bounced like a basketball; it was that size.
There was no chance it would have bounced extremely high that last time and passed over the car, or angled away and hit the side, or maybe landed on the roof and not crashed through the windshield where the driver had no chance to duck or swerve or slow the car down, or speed up.
The police said it was a freak accident. A one in a million chance.
But still the large rock loosened by the vibration of the rattling old truck and directed by the speed and angle of the corner and the slight shifting of the sandy load causing a slow slide down the pile in the back of the dump truck, and maybe the truck slowed down, or a tire ran through a pothole or the driver oversteered as he took the sharp corner maybe too fast. Whatever …it…was…
The rock hurtled over the side of the truck and like a meteor crashing through the atmosphere to bury itself in the desert, broke through the windshield of the approaching car.
The rock rolled down the side of the sand pile as the truck rolled on, bounced on the hard surface of the road and smashed through the windshield of the approaching car, striking the driver in the head, before passing through the rear window of the car and bouncing on the road a couple of times before stopping.
The driver was killed instantly.
Or at least the doctor said so. Still, they tried.
They used needles filled with chemicals and pounded on the bloody chest, leaning heavily over the heart with both hands and leaned with their full weight.
I listened. The driver was killed instantly.
And I in the opposite seat wished I had been driving.
But it was her new car and she wanted to get used to it. In reality, she alone wanted to drive it. She was so proud. It was her brand new car. All those terrible years of having nothing vanished when she sat behind the wheel. Hers. No one else’s. Hers.
I saw the rock falling from the truck as she did, too, I’m sure.
“What the….” Was all she had time to say.

I grabbed for the wheel and flung myself across the seat all in one motion. I think the car had begun to turn.
I thought that if I could change the angle only slightly the rock would miss the car, or hit something harmless, or me. There was a scream and then a crash. Or a crash and a scream. I’m not sure.
Then the car began to spin. When I woke up the light had changed and was alternately red or slashed with blue. There were voices shouting things I could not understand.
They came running, two or three, and yanked on the door and pulled at me, but my arms were around her and I heard her heart beating.
They came running and shouting and pulling. But the driver had died instantly.
They came too late and tried , but the canyon fall had not ended.

I listened to my wife’s heart beating inside her small chest.
They pulled me away. I listened to my wife’s heart still.
I walked to the end of the road. I listened to my wife’s heart. Still.

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I am the author of the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series. "The Swamps of Jersey (2014); "A Game Called Dead" (2016) -- a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Author Contest; and "The Weight of Living" (2017) -- First Place winner for Mysteries in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Contest.
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