Healthy Hearts Never Die

Water Tower Place at Christmastime was a sight to behold. Green and red wreaths curled around every pillar. Shoppers glided down the escalators like greedy angels with halos of twinkling white stars that ascended all the way to Macy’s. The food court was louder than a high school cafeteria, and only slightly more respectful. Music, oh that unforgettable Christmas music, galloped from the speakers and infiltrated every corner of the building, weaving all these chaotic elements together in a symphony of joyous consumerism.

A man in his mid-thirties moved languidly through the  stream of people. A dim smile sat on his face, which was chapped and red from the cold Chicago wind, as if it had wandered there one day and, having lost its way, decided to stay. In the brightness and largesse of the central chamber of the mall, which spanned several floors, he was but a shadow.

A little girl in a striped jumper dragging a polka dot suitcase behind her and arguing in high-pitched tones with the imperious mother dragging her along passed closely by him. Her life flickered up against his like flame against an ice cube. Perturbed, her voice lowered to a hush, but he felt he could soar. The girl’s passion, her anger, they bubbled in the stagnant cesspool within him. Riding this wave, he entered the first store he encountered: Hollister.

The attractive store attendants laughed on cue and opened the doors for everyone. He flitted past the row of fathers and boyfriends slouched on stools and lingered at a group of teenagers deconstructing a manikin’s outfit. So many clothes, so much potential to change who you are, it’s not too late, she’ll like this sweater, didn’t you wear this last Saturday? He slowed as he breached the woman’s section, visibly labored by the effort of wading through scented memories of her. He spotted a knotted-yarn cardigan that suited her style, a flippantly bohemian evolution from a once-punk teenager. After a moment, he reached out to remove the stringy collar from the plastic hanger to which it clung; his grey-tinged fingers tumbled off like crumbling cubes of jello.

The smile fixed to his face suddenly remembered where it had to be and abandoned him. Delightful things always leave too quickly. Clutching his chest, he fled the store in terror, soon returning to the cold wind tunneling down Michigan Avenue. Pure, instinctive muscle memory guided his furious feet down rows of identical buildings till he arrived at his townhouse. His trembling hands struggled to open the door.

The gloom of the house proliferated unpierced by artificial light, barely kept at bay by the weak grey rays crawling they way in from the dusky sky outside. Stacks of books mingled with piles of sheets and clothes. Old furniture, accumulated from the neighbors who came and went, crowded in the entryway, elbowing each other and vying for air to breathe. He stepped into the kitchen and fell to his knees, a gasp strangled inside his throat.

He–the exact copy of him–lay stretched out on the carpet in front of the long-dead TV. The body’s thin frame was clothed in the same flannel, white shirt, and jeans that he now wore beneath his bulky coat. The supine body was stiff to the touch, the skin waxy and pale. Blood speckled the corners of his mouth and the edges of his unshaved face.

Fear made him stand again. Anxiety lured his gaze back to the body on the floor. He paced. The walls were lined with empty frames. Where’d the pictures gone? He found them quickly, torn from their frames and scattered on the floor besides crates of empty beer bottles. Beneath one lay a prescription for a trental-urso drug cocktail. Purpose: to treat liver disease. What treats a broken heart? Asked the ghost before he lay beside his body and said good night to the long-dead TV and paneled ceiling for the last time.

I dunno, but stay Healthy kids!

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