When Naomi first touched him, he was already rigid and blueby Alison MacLeod / December 18, 2004 / Leave a comment
In a lifetime it will beat some three billion times, yet it is capable of more than twice this. Unravaged, the human heart would beat for two hundred years.
Naomi does not know this. She is nineteen. She knows only that the man beside her on the bench was blue when she turned to him – blue, a colour which up to now was no more than an idea for the sea and the sky. Blue and bloating. A party balloon for a face. An ECG flat line for a mouth. He didn’t belong – not there under the horse chestnut outside the High School for Girls. Hadn’t she been there every day this week with her lunch, her magazine and the bench all to herself?
He was already rigid, she explains, when she lifted his hand. Now he’s so stiff they can’t unfold his arms to clear the way to his heart, or even lie him flat on the bench because his knees are swollen and locked. He’s a human seesaw from an old-fashioned comedy routine and still, still, they’re getting a heartbeat, irregular and remote, unreal as an echo, but a heartbeat nonetheless. Somewhere in the cold meat locker of his chest, under the brown tweed jacket, below the faded shirt he had buttoned to the neck, he’s clamouring for release. A man who looked at her only the once, moving over only slightly as she sat down with her plastic lunchbox and the women’s magazine she has been buying each month to know what it is to feel like a woman. He’s in there now running from death, knocking to be let out, to please God be let back into the world again. Only fifty-one, breathes the paramedic, fumbling with a driving licence, but fifty-one seems not unreasonable to her. And the corner of her new bias-cut skirt is wet because something was seeping from him, that’s what made her turn and in this moment she can still feel the chill of his hand branded on her palm where she touched him. Even the hairs of his knuckles, starched as they were with the cold of him, go on bristling at her fingertips. And she wants him dead, she wants him still, like she wants old people sexless, so disgusted is she by the force of the human heart.
The smell of him trails her on…