Clear

Kak waited for the lightning to strike. For the cosmic penalty that levied against those who skipped the steps and broke the rules. But the gods were silent.

Philip plucked the magnificent stone from the box and slipped it onto her finger. Scrambling to his feet, he pulled her off the table into a hug and swung her in circles until her heels clipped the corner of the crash cart.

“Ouch,” she mumbled in his ear.

He let her slide down his tall frame onto the examining table again. Hopping up beside her, he landed with a heavy thump, grabbing his cell phone from the table that held the pens and note pads advertising pharmaceuticals and the thing doctors stuck in patients’ ears.

“Your parents or mine?” he asked.

“I just have the. One.” Damn. Why did she always sound like her mother when she was stressed out?

“Right,” he said. “Mine.”

It began to happen as Philip pulled up his parents’ number. She felt it in her hand resting on her thigh. A hand that, though connected to her arm, didn’t belong to her anymore. Now that she’d given it away it was someone else’s. She lifted it before her. Pale. Lifeless. The hand of a corpse. She sat in silent amazement, watching the ring catch the light, marveling that such a small object could make the hand so heavy. She tried to focus on the diamond, the normal thing to do, but she already felt herself drifting into that rare state of detachment, enlightenment and self-judgment that both enthralled and shamed her at the same time.

The change was upon her. Fatigue. Lightheadedness. Quivering. Perspiration. Shortness of breath. Weakness. All coming now. And finally, a rapid, irregular, fluttering heartbeat.

Did it start this way for Temple women? Had they all been like her? Young, hopeful, but unsure of themselves? Did self-doubt creep in and bring them all to the same threshold of rationalization where they compromised in favor of the smart choice? And had it killed their hearts?

Well. Not her.

Kak dropped down from the edge of the examining table onto the cool tile and crossed the short distance to the crash cart. To the defibrillator. Would it even charge? She twisted the knob to Manual On. The ECG monitor lit up and the pixels in the battery icon at the upper left corner of the screen quickly filled with white light. She selected the Defib option and pondered the energy level. Joules, joules, how many joules? The maximum was 360. There. You couldn’t be too careful. Whatever joules were, you’d stop the devil’s heart with that many. She released the paddles from each side of the unit and held them to her torso. One inside her right shoulder. The other down low on her left ribcage. Just like Philip showed her. The pads were cold against her bare skin. 

Philip was so engrossed in his phone conversation he hadn’t noticed. But he’d admire her process. Because she didn’t yell it like on television. She said it, in a smooth even voice, the way Philip told her they did it.

“I’m clear. You’re clear. We’re all—“

She looked up from the paddles to see Philip, frozen in surprise. He shouldn’t be, Kak told herself. Of all people, he should understand what needed to be done. When a heart was so confused and erratic you couldn’t detect a clear beat it would kill its host. It had to be stopped so it could start again correctly. 

It was simple. Logical. It was all suddenly—

“Clear,” she said, simultaneously pressing the thumb button on each paddle.

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