By Bianca Stelian // Chicago
His heart it was in his chest it was in his chest it was his heart it was exploding it was a firework it was in his chest it was exploding it was happening this was it this was it it was happening in his chest it was exploding it was his heart.
He bolted up, the stench of sweat permeating the air, and gasped. The dampness of his pillow contrasted with the hot perspiration that decorated his scalp, he fumbled for the lamp switch to put an end to his darkness.
Light. That was better.
He squinted and found the pencil he kept on his bedside table. He scrawled a tick mark on the notebook page, the notebook he had bought with her just months before because she told him she wished he would write more. He had bought it to make her happy, to impress her, yet it remained on his nightstand, forever on the first page. The line he made sat perpendicular to the others, resembling some child’s attempt at Morse code, and he resisted the urge to fix it, as there was no use.
The three parallel marks seemed to be glaring at the fourth, pressing for it to conform, and he rubbed his temples in confusion. It was the fourth night that week he had had the night terrors.
It was barely sunrise, and he was usually reluctant to leave bed, but the doctor had said that he needed more exercise, and he was feeling unusually stimulated, so he decided to walk around his apartment. Baby steps, he told himself, as he dumped three or four eggs – he didn’t know, he didn’t know – in a pan and paced back and forth from the kitchen to the bedroom. Protein, the doctor had suggested, so while he craved his usual fare of a bagel or toast, he knew that the eggs would go further in rehabilitating his health. Eggs were good for your heart, right?
And the doctor had also said that the night terrors weren’t medical, there was nothing wrong with his heart, that it was all in his head, all a dream – but he felt it, increasingly so each night, or every other night for the most part since she left, unbearably so that he thought he was having palpitations or conniptions or whatever WebMD’s diagnosis of the day was. But WebMD wasn’t reliable, the doctor said, and he mustn’t believe everything he heard, because just as well as smoking could kill you, naiveté was the parent of worry, and worry could do anyone in.
He worried too often – about his rent, about the newly forming wrinkles on his face, about the amount of worrying itself that consumed him. She had told him to stop overthinking everything, to calm down, but he felt so caught off guard by his life that he was unable to disregard the what ifs and hypotheticals. He worried about his calcium intake, as he had recently heard that white spots on nails indicated a calcium deficiency, and God knew he had a multitude of those, so he had made a note somewhere to buy more milk – but of course the note had been strewn about among the other notes he had made and then subsequently forgotten.
He had the habit of forgetting things that weren’t pertinent to him. She had always pointed that out to him, that he would ask her the date multiple times in one sitting despite getting the same answer each time, that he would remind her to pick up the mail most afternoons even though she had already stacked it on his desk. Though this would pose an annoyance to the common person, she always said it was his idiosyncrasies that attracted her to him. She had left him two months earlier, and without a woman – a friend, a dog, a doorman even – to whom he could express his neurotic side, he had begun to act out in bizarre ways, hoping for someone to love him the same way she would, to appreciate his quirks and to hold him so he would feel like he was the only one, the only one who mattered.
But she was gone, and his eggs looked ready, so he took the pan to the kitchen table, ignoring the need for a plate, and smiled as the heat sizzled on the wood of his … The doctor would tell him he needed to slow down his eating, so he begrudgingly took to the cabinets to find any cutlery she had left behind instead of his typical method of pawing his food like a savage. The fork he used only when necessary was in the sink, totally submerged in the soup he had prepared the night before yet forgotten to eat, but he was able to find a clean spoon hiding behind a coffee mug, and he wondered why he hadn’t used that for the soup. Oh well, he thought, and took the spoon to the table, where he ladled each bite into his mouth with precision and care, making sure to chew ten times before swallowing, so to speed up the digestion process. The doctor would be pleased, yes he would, and he considered making a note of his new eating strategy so he could see the doctor’s reaction at his next checkup, but the pencil was in the bedroom, and he knew the note would become a lost cause anyhow.
The heat of the eggs caused him to have momentary déjà vu of the night terrors, and his chest burned in response, as if his heart was bouncing around his torso searching for an escape route. How poetic, he thought, as he violently threw open the fridge and chugged a bottle of Aquafina he had always ignored. He sat on the ground, his convulsions subsiding, and hunched over, meticulously tracing the geometric pattern on the linoleum floor with his fingernail. He had always found beauty in the most unusual places, a trait which she had said was delightful but a bit tiresome at times, as when she just wanted to lay and look at the sky he would comment on how the grass felt on his skin, how his toes tingled when he lay next to her, how her hand fit perfectly in his and he wanted to ask the doctor if it was humanly possible for two beings to come together in such astonishing unity. You don’t need to rely on the doctor for everything, she would say, and he would tell her that he would find a new doctor if she wanted him to, as long as he had a doctor to help him, but that she was of paramount importance to the doctor, that her desires would drive whatever he did.
It was this unending devotion to her that eventually drove her away, and his passion for life and the pursuit of love had withered considerably since her departure, so much so that for a while he had thought about moving away from the apartment just to get rid of the constant reminders of her former presence there, be it the drapes she had bought to brighten up the place or the wine chutes she insisted on having available in case they threw a dinner party, which they never did. He pictured her with some new, more refined, more well-spoken man, throwing a dinner party in their lavish penthouse, but for some reason it made him smile, because he knew she would be wearing that long blue dress she wore on special occasions, the one that made her look like royalty of some sort, and he knew she would smell like lilacs, and her skin would be soft and her eyes round and her mind pure, as usual.
He lay down on the floor, his back popping with the effort, and quickly remembered the doctor’s warning about cracking his joints. It wasn’t on purpose, he thought, it wasn’t his fault, but he felt guilty nonetheless, and resolved to resist the urge to crack something the next time it came about. He leapt up, eager to move about so that the urge would arise, so that he could conquer what small demons he faced regularly. While resuming his parade around the apartment, he made a mental list of everything he had done that was good for his health, and at whim decided to drop in today to pay the doctor a visit. Oh, how impressed he would be, hearing of his goals to drink more milk and exercise more often! The doctor surely would make note of his improvements, and this note wouldn’t be lost – it would be read up the ranks, and the doctor would speak to the practitioners, who would speak to the managers, who would speak to the director himself who would certainly advise for his release from the program, for a declaration of his sanity. She would be so proud, as she had always known he was a stable human being, and she would take him back, yes she would, she would shower him with affection and adoration upon the medical confirmation of his mental health.
A sudden surge of adrenaline coursed through him, and he dressed himself and washed himself and gathered his pills to show the doctor proof that he was taking his meds regularly, despite missing the occasional dosage out of sheer forgetfulness. But the doctor didn’t need to know that – he just needed to know he was doing well, doing better, making advances towards achieving a steady conscience. Thus, he strode out the door optimistically, hardly able to contain his excitement to greet the usual receptionist and put on the crisp blue gown he wore when they weighed him. They would be so proud of him for coming two days in a row, for facing his issues head on and being so willing to work towards getting better. His joy continued to bubble inside of him until, halfway down the block, he realized it was a Sunday, and the doctor wasn’t available today, for reasons undisclosed to him but accepted by the other employees. A bout of rage overpowered the adrenaline he had felt, and he slammed his body against the wall of his building, his shoulders heaving with anger. He tried to scream, but the words wouldn’t come to him – a monosyllabic wail would suffice. And so he stood, for five or fifty minutes (he didn’t know, he didn’t know), attempting to calm himself, to control the sudden hate he felt towards the doctor, to quell any possibility of having another heart spasm, as three in one day would certainly be bad for his health. But what did he care about his health now? The doctor was unavailable, and his health would have to wait until Monday.
Fuck the doctor. He was going back to bed.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org // Thanks for your submission.