Some Stages Near the End
The front room of the house was blown off. Like from a bomb, or a collection of gas from the furnace, though not. There was no fire, no flame. He knew it was going to happen, and when it did he was worried, but not surprised.
He came down from his room, out the back door, along the alley, and to the front of his house. Beneath the front porch roof was a large and reddened scar, a fireless, smokeless wound.
“What happened?” said his neighbor. She stood at the front gate sipping coffee from a paper cup.
“Well,” he answered, “I think my heart exploded.”
“Oh, John,” she said, “I’m so sorry.”
He nodded. “I’m not sure why my heart was downstairs while I was up, but it does tend to wander, get misplaced, these days.”
“It’s so sad,” she said. She peered into the frayed skin of his house and finished her coffee with a gulp. “If you need anything, John….”
He went back around the block, along the alley, and inside. For a moment, his pulse quickened, thinking his laptop had been in the room during the explosion. But it was on the couch, just beneath a pillow, as inert and intact as always.
Mr. Morgan, he wrote, I’m writing to tell you that the front of the house blew up. It’s 80% gone and the cool air is blowing in. I suppose it will need to be repaired. Sorry. I’m a bad tenant these days. My rent check is in the mail.
He went upstairs and lay down in his bed. His palms sweated and his blood raced but his heart, gone, was quiet. It was like a sleeping in his chest he hadn’t felt for months and months. He too was soon asleep.
The next day the fire marshal arrived, who happened to be his aunt.
“John,” she said, “what can you tell me about this?” The orange flame embroidered on her hat was as incongruous to the situation as she was.
“It just burst, my heart. It had filled too much and had to go.”
She frowned. “Your mother never told me there was trouble at home.”
He blushed. “I didn’t tell her. I couldn’t. She’d be so disappointed.”
The fire marshal opened her arms as if to hug him and then dropped them to her sides. “But that’s what family is for.” Her own disappointment wrapped her voice in gauze.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know that, but I had to carry it myself. I had to wheel it around as it swelled and ached. And then, of course, it blew up.”
She wrote her report and had him sign it. It noted that the cause of the explosion was lawful, though imprudent, neglect.
“Call your mother,” she said. “When I tell her about this, her own heart will want some explanation.”
He told his aunt goodbye and went to sit on the couch. He opened the laptop, the absence in his ribs an echo. Dear Maggie, he wrote, I miss you so much.
The cool air came through the front of the house, smelling of roses and soot. This day, like the others, was coming to a close.