The Heart


Emily was devastated when she received the call that Jonathan, the man she was going to marry in two weeks, had just been killed in a motorcycle accident. Holding the phone to her ear, she stood still, stunned, unable to speak or comprehend the words she heard. The call came from Jonathan’s mother, who had just been called by the police. “Oh no!” Emily gasped and clutched her hair. Sobs broke loose and tears rolled down her cheeks to her lips. “The police just called. It just happened. They said he was killed instantly.” “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.” Emily trembled. Her fingers gripped the phone. “Where is he?” “They took him to Memorial Hospital. They saw the tag that he’s an organ donor.” Emily remembered Jonathan signing up as a donor when he got his license and was not surprised when he mentioned it to her. It was just like him to want to donate his organs to someone who could use what he would no longer need. When she hung up, she collapsed on the kitchen chair, her body numb. Memories suddenly flashed through her mind, swirling like a kaleidoscope: how he looked into her eyes after taking her virginity, how they kissed when they took long walks late at night, how he looked in the apron when he cooked her delicious meals; his smile when he brought her flowers from his garden. She remembered his blue eyes when he spoke about his poetry and could see and feel his intensity while she watched him drawing in his sketchbook, or painting on his canvases or pieces of wood. She could see how tender he was, taking care of his mother after his father died of cancer when Jonathan was just sixteen. She remembered how he drove her to doctor’s appointments, took her shopping, made sure she took her medicine. He was the perfect son, the perfect lover, and Emily knew she was the luckiest girl alive to have a man like Jonathan love her and want to spend the rest of his life with her. And now he was suddenly gone. Dead. How could it be? Later, she found out from witnesses that a truck went through a stop sign and Jonathan crashed into its side and was thrown two hundred feet over the truck, landing on the sidewalk in front of Partridge’s Drug Store, ironically where he had picked up his mother’s prescriptions the night before. Emily worked as a waitress at Pete’s Diner and was supposed to be at work in an hour. She knew she couldn’t face the familiar customers she served breakfast and lunch to every day. Emily took pride in her job as a waitress. She knew all of her customers’ names and what they wanted before they ordered. She had worked there since graduating from high school and now, at twenty two, she liked how much Pete valued and depended on her to make his customers happy. He had often told Emily that she was the one who made his diner successful. Even with the pain of realizing Jonathan had been killed, she worried about Pete and wondered what he would do if she didn’t come to work. But after she called and heard his shock, he told her not to worry, that he would call Janice, the waitress who came in to help with the busy lunch crowd. Emily was relieved and wanted to go over to Jonathan’s house to be with his mother, but she couldn’t budge from the kitchen table. The invitations to the wedding had been sent out over a month ago. Everyone knew that Jonathan and Emily were the perfect couple and the thought of their marriage delighted everyone in Tomkinsville, the small Pennsylvania town on the Susquehanna River, forty miles from Philadelphia. She knew what a shock it would be when people realized there would be no wedding. Not able to sit any longer, Emily walked around the house. She looked at the dark green couch where she and Jonathan made out, then glanced at the old fifteen inch television where they watched basketball games and movies, then she went into the dining room and touched the chair where he sat when he came there for dinner. She slowly climbed the stairs to her bedroom, looking at the unmade bed and at her jeans on the floor where she’d thrown them the night before when they made mad, passionate love. She remembered the sound of his motorcycle when he left at one a.m. to go home because he had to get up early for his first class at Montgomery County Community College. She remembered him telling her how much he loved the art history class he was taking, how he loved painting and was determined to be the best artist he could be. That was how he did everything, and it was one of the things she loved most about him–his passion. It showed in his energy, his determination, how much he loved life, how he loved riding his motorcycle–his pampered motorcycle. She loved sitting behind him as they drove though the countryside, inevitably ending up at their special spot to make love by Grover’s Pond. He’d take his Indian style blanket from the leather saddlebag and place it on the soft grass. She loved his kissing and the thrilling ways he made her scream his name and want to give herself completely to him. She thought about how magical he was, how open and yet, mysterious. She knew it would take a lifetime of discovery to know the depth of his spirit. Emily cringed when she saw her wedding dress hanging on her closet door, then looked at the picture on her bureau of the two of them after the prom. She saw how stiff he looked in the tuxedo, but when she bursa escort saw his smile, that radiant smile, she choked back tears. So many thoughts and feelings swirled through her as she stood in her room, not sure what to do, or how to tell her parents. She thought how upset the whole town would be when the news spread. How would she hold up at the funeral? How could she survive without the love of her life? The thoughts and feelings were unbearable, and she knew there was no way she would ever be the same. She knew he was special, and it would take a miracle for her to find another man like him. Months passed and Emily filled her days with work at Pete’s Diner, spending as much time as possible with Jonathan’s mother, knowing how impossibly difficult it must be to lose her only child and be alone in the world. Being with Jonathan’s mother was a way of being as close to him as she could, but it was painful to see how lost she was, how desolate. She noticed how his mother began drinking wine every afternoon, sometimes finishing a whole bottle before the dinner she made but rarely finished. The house was often dark when Emily arrived, and she always opened the curtains to let the sunlight in. Emily spent as little time as possible at home. She needed a change and so, a month after Jonathan’s death, she moved into a small apartment over Tony’s Pizza Shop, two blocks from the diner. She and her mother had never gotten along and her father was passive and distant. Her parents didn’t seem to like each other, so being around them was something she avoided. They grieved for her loss of Jonathan and worried about her, but the communication with her parents was superficial at best. She couldn’t confide in her mother because she was so judgmental and ready to give her opinions before Emily finished speaking. She felt her mother never really heard what she was saying, so she decided it was best to keep things to herself rather than be lectured. She knew she would never feel the compassion and acceptance she craved. It felt right for her to move out and fix up her own place with furniture, dishes and a few appliances from the Goodwill. Still grieving her loss of Jonathan, she imagined him with her, seeing him painting the walls, or sketching, but she would shake away those painful thoughts and try to read, or try out new recipes. She had her favorite photo of him on the table next to her bed and several pictures of them on her refrigerator door. It was hard for her to believe he wasn’t in her life. His absence would come to her like a thud and bring a burning ache to the back of her throat where she held back the tears that wanted to burst out. One day, six or so months after Jonathan’s death, a stranger walked into the diner. She noticed him lean his bicycle up against the railing on the steps to the entrance. He was probably in his late forties, she thought, and wondered what his story was. He started coming in every afternoon at one-thirty and always ordered the same thing, black coffee and a slice of apple pie. He was quiet and somewhat shy, but, after the second day, Emily asked his name so she could greet him when he came in. She liked the way he smiled and looked at her when he ordered his pie and coffee, which after a few days, he didn’t need to do because Emily just said, “Hi Walter. Let me guess–apple pie and coffee?” Emily usually worked from eight in the morning until two or two-thirty, depending on how much she needed to do to get ready for the next day. The diner closed at three, but they served dinner on the weekends. She made sure the sugar packets were on each table, the salt and pepper shakers refilled, ketchup bottles and syrup containers topped off, and the knives, forks and spoons were wrapped in napkins ready to put on the tables when customers sat down. After seeing him come in every afternoon, Emily was curious about the stranger. He always wore a denim jacket and faded jeans. His long graying hair curled up at the collar, his blue eyes twinkled behind-wire rimmed glasses. Sometimes he shaved but most days, she could see the stubble on his cheeks and chin. He sometimes read the newspaper or a book, but most days he wrote in a black covered notebook and she wondered what he was writing about so intensely. He always had two or three cups of coffee while he wrote, shoving the empty apple pie plate aside. Emily chuckled when she noticed how he wiped the pie crumbs from his mouth with the back of his hand rather than a napkin and remembered how Jonathan did that. For some reason, she was delighted when he walked in and their eyes would greet each other with a nod and smile, then she would bring him his pie and coffee. After that she didn’t pay much attention to him as she worked busily to finish her setting up for the next day. He would write in his journal, eat his pie, sip his coffee, occasionally glance up at Emily and their eyes would meet, then both would go back to what they were doing. Though, at first, she wasn’t attracted to him physically, he must have been twenty or so years older than Emily, there was something about him she liked, something in the way he smiled when she said, “Hi Walter,” the warm twinkle in his eyes, how intensely he wrote, taking sips of coffee and running his hands through his long hair, how he looked bursa escort bayan up at her and smiled when she refilled his mug. There was something in the way he said, “Thank you, Emily,” that touched her, made her curious about him, but also reluctant to ask him any questions. She sensed by his quiet shyness that he would not want to share much about his life. Still, she wondered what he was writing so intensely about, rarely looking up, except for his occasional glances at her before going back to his writing. There was something strange in the way their eyes met, something she couldn’t articulate, but liked. She found herself thinking about Walter when she was walking home, or washing dishes in her small apartment and she wondered why she was so fascinated by him. One summer day, several months after Walter started coming to the diner, Emily poured him his second mug of coffee and he looked up at her and out of the blue said, “You seem sad. Even though you always smile, you seem sad.” Emily was stunned by the statement. They had never conversed, never said anything other than the trivial greetings, but his sudden words surprised her. She just looked at him and tried to swallow her surprise before responding. “What makes you think I’m sad? I’m not sad.” “I don’t know why I said that. I just feel your sadness.” Walter looked into Emily’s eyes. “Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have said that. I mean, we never really speak and I know nothing about you, but when I look at you, I feel your sadness.” “Are you an empathetic person?” Emily asked. “I don’t know,” he answered, chuckling. “I never thought of myself like that, but lately I seem to feel things I’ve never felt before. I can’t explain it.” Emily nodded and glanced down at his journal and saw the pen now lying on the page, still surprised that the first thing he would say to her was so intimate. “Are you sad?” Emily asked. “Maybe it’s your sadness you’re talking about, not mine.” She paused and gazed into Walter’s eyes. Walter shrugged his shoulders again. “I don’t know. It’s just strange that we’ve never really said much to each other and now we’re talking about sadness. That’s kind of weird, don’t you think?” “Yes, very.” Emily sighed deeply. “Well, I better get back to work. Let me know if you want more coffee.” She put the coffee pot back on the burner before going back to wrapping the silverware in napkins. Walter finished his coffee, closed his notebook and left the five dollar bill on the counter. It was the amount he left everyday and included Emily’s tip. “See you tomorrow.” He lifted his hand slightly, waving goodbye, then opened the door and left. When the door closed, Emily watched Walter walking away, get on his bike, and then, after wobbling for a moment, watched him continue riding down Main Street, still baffled by his question about sadness, especially since they had never really spoken to each other before. The next day when he walked in, Emily greeted him as usual, “Let me guess–apple pie and coffee” and they both laughed. When she served him, he thanked her. “So how are you today, Walter?” Emily smiled at him. “Well, that’s a personal question,” he answered and laughed. “I didn’t mean anything personal, but after you asked me yesterday if I’m sad, I thought I’d take a chance and pry into your life. You don’t have to tell me how you are if it’s too personal.” She laughed. “I’m just teasing.” “Well, if you really must know, I’m fine, really.” “Cool.” Emily laughed again. “I’m so glad to hear you’re fine,” she added, enjoying their playful banter and feeling more relaxed with him and glad that after months of never really speaking to each other, a barrier had been broken. Walter took a sip of his coffee, opened his notebook and glanced up at Emily. “Well, I need to get back to work.” “Work?” Emily asked. “What are you working on?” “Poetry,” he answered, taking a pen from the pocket of his denim jacket. “Really? Are you a poet?” Emily asked. “Oops, sorry, I’m prying.” “That’s okay. I don’t know if I’m a poet or not, but since my operation I’ve been writing poetry and drawing. I was never interested in poetry. In fact I hated it in high school and hardly ever read books. So this is new for me.” “That’s good, that’s cool. Well, I won’t bother you. Enjoy the pie.” She glanced down at his notebook then walked away and returned to the ketchup bottles she was refilling. Occasionally she looked at Walter writing intensely, curious about what he was writing. What a strange man she thought and felt her fascination growing, then she wondered about his operation. What was that about? To Emily, he looked so healthy, his twinkly blue eyes, his ruddy complexion, his mostly dark hair turning slightly gray. She remembered the spry way he hopped off his bicycle and entered the diner everyday. Though he was an older man, there was something youthful about him that she found appealing. When she came over to refill his coffee, she glanced down at his writing. “How’s the writing going?” she asked. “Oh, sorry to interrupt you.” He looked up at her, surprised to hear her words and looked like he had just come out of trance. “Fine, it’s hard. I think it’s going fine but I never know.” Looking at him, Emily thought he looked like he was coming back from someplace faraway, but there was something escort bursa familiar in the way he spoke, the way their eyes met when he said, “I never know,” and suddenly, a strange, breathless feeling swelled up in her, a slight tingle that somehow thrilled her. “Well, I’ll let you get back to your work,” Emily said. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.” “No problem. I didn’t mind. I’m kind of glad you’re curious.” He smiled. “Oh thank you. I like watching how you concentrate on your writing. It’s interesting. It makes me wonder what you’re writing about.” “Well, maybe one day you’ll find out.” He glanced down at his journal then smiled back at Emily. “I’d like that,” she answered. “Well, back to the saltshakers.” “Right and I need to get back to this poem before I lose where I was.” Emily walked away while Walter continued writing. While she filled the salt and pepper shakers she thought about Walter and wanted to know more about him. She remembered how he suddenly showed up on his bicycle several months ago and started coming in every afternoon at the same time for his apple pie and coffee. She thought how quiet and shy he was until recently when they started having little conversations. She found it interesting that he started writing poetry and drawing after his operation. She remembered his saying it was new, something he had no interest in doing before, but now he loved it. The next day, Walter didn’t come in for his coffee and apple pie, and Emily kept looking at the door, surprised that she missed him and wondered if something was wrong. Maybe her probing bothered him; maybe he decided to leave town. It wasn’t unusual for Emily to be concerned about her customers. After so many years of serving the same people, she knew their stories. Sometimes, she would even sit down with them for a few minutes if she wasn’t busy, and they would confide in her. She prided herself in being a good listener, unlike her mother, and was careful not to give advice but to ask probing questions, helping them express what they were feeling and nodding as she listened. They always said, “You’re so easy to talk to.” I wonder what happened to Walter, she said to herself, thinking about his absence. She glanced up at the clock, her work almost finished. Maybe something came up, she thought, then took off her apron and stepped into the kitchen to say goodbye to Pete and Gary, the dishwasher, before she walked the two blocks to her apartment. Her door was on the side of Tony’s Pizza Shop and the whiff of various odors hit her as she entered, but fortunately, the smell would disappear once she was in her second floor apartment. She liked that Pete didn’t require a waitress’ uniform and she could wear a casual top with jeans or a skirt and in summer, Bermuda shorts. Her feet were usually sore when she got home, and the first thing she would do was take off her sneakers, sit on the side of her bed and rub her feet, then go barefooted into the tiny kitchen to see if Gabby, her cat, had water and food in her bowl. Her friend Susan’s cat had kittens a few months ago that needed to find homes and Emily liked the idea of having a kitten to take care of. Lying down on her bed, she glanced at the photo of Jonathan on her bedside table and thought about his smile and how much she missed him. She picked up the paperback book, Wuthering Heights, which she was reading for the third time and touched the worn cover, then stared at the picture of two lovers, then opened the book to where she had an old envelope used as a marker, but when she started to read, her mind drifted and she found herself thinking about Walter and wondering why, after months of coming into the diner every afternoon at the same time for the past three months, he hadn’t come in. Again, she hoped it wasn’t because of her prying and then wonder about the operation he said had changed him. What did he mean? What was he like before the operation? What’s his story? When Walter came in the next day, she was glad to see him. “Hi Walter, let me guess—apple pie and coffee.” “How did you know?” He laughed. “Guess I’m psychic.” She chuckled, poured his coffee and brought him a slice of pie, then paused and held the coffee pot out to the side. “Missed you yesterday.” “Yeah, I had to go into Philadelphia for a checkup yesterday. I had to take the bus and didn’t get back until last night.” “Oh, I wondered. Is everything okay?” “Yep, things look good, they said.” Walter sipped his coffee and opened his notebook, reading over what he had recently written. “Well, I’ll leave you be,” Emily said and went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a tray filled with white coffee mugs. She glanced over at Walter, but didn’t say anything. He was looking up at the ceiling, concentrating, as if the words he needed were coming from someplace above him. After a few minutes, he started writing and Emily was fascinated by the speed and intensity of his pen going across the page. He stopped for a sip of coffee and had only taken a few bites of his pie, but there was something familiar about the intense way he was writing that fascinated her. It made her watch him and want to know what he was writing. Emily finished stacking the mugs, then picked up the coffee pot and came over to top off Walter’s coffee. “Read something to me!” she suddenly blurted out, surprising herself. “What?” Walter said, startled out of his trance and looking up at Emily. “Sorry to interrupt, but I want you to read something to me. What were you just writing?” Stunned by Emily’s question, he stared at her.

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