He had made a mistake. He didn’t know the nature of the mistake, but he felt the weight of it, holding him down.
As he strained to keep his eyes open, every surface with a sheen became a surface with a shine, every shine a glare, every glossiness a blinding brilliance.
Bells. The bells foretold, and now the bells.
Tolling, tolling, tolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, a solemn monody of bells shook Ryan out of sleep.
He first thought they were dream bells, but the clamor persisted as he strove to find the strength to pull himself upright, both hands gripping the bed railing.
Darkness still owned the world beyond the window, and the male nurse stood on this side of the glass, looking out, gazing down, into waves of rising sound.
Huge heavy bells shook the night, as though they meant to shake it down, such melancholy menace in their tone.
Ryan spoke more than once before Wally Dunnaman heard him and glanced toward the bed, raising his voice to say, “There’s a church across the street.”
When first conducted to the room, Ryan had seen that house of worship in the next block. The bell tower rose above this fourth-floor window.
“They shouldn’t be ringing at this hour,” Wally said. “And not this much. No lights in the place.”
The strangely glossy shadows seemed to shiver with the tolling, such a moaning and a groaning, a hard insistent rolling.
The window-rattling, wall-strumming, bone-shivering clangor frightened Ryan, rang thickly in his blood, and made his heart pound like a hammer coming down. This swollen heart was still his own, so weak and so diseased, and he feared it might be tested to destruction by these thunderous peals.
He recalled his thought upon waking: Bells. The bells foretold, and now the bells.
Foretold when, by whom, and with what meaning?
If not for the sedative that fouled his blood and muddied his mind, he thought he would know the answer to at least two parts of that question.
But the drug not only lacquered every surface in the room, not only buffed a shine on every shadow, but also afflicted him with synesthesia, so he smelled the sound as well as heard it. The reek of ferric hydroxide, ferric oxide, call it rust, washed in bitter waves across the bed.
Interminable tolling, bells and bells and still more bells, knocked from Ryan all sense of time, and it seemed to him that soon it would knock sanity from him, as well.
Eventually raising his voice above the clangor, Wally Dunnaman said, “A police car down below. Ah, and another!”
Under the weight of the booming bells, Ryan fell back, his head once more upon the pillow.
He was helpless and at risk, risk, risk.
With a kind of fractured desperation that he could not focus to his benefit, he sorted through his broken thoughts, trying to piece them together like fragments of crockery. Something very wrong had happened that he still had time to rectify, if only he were able to understand what needed to be put right.
The bells began to toll less aggressively, their rage subsiding to anger, anger to sullenness, and sullenness to one final protracted groan that sounded like a great heavy door moaning closed on rusted hinges.
In the silence of the bells, as once more the sedative slowly drew over him its velvet thrall, Ryan felt tears on his cheeks and licked at the salt in the corner of his mouth. He did not have the strength to lift his hands and blot his face, and as he quietly wept his way into sleep, he no longer had the presence of mind either to be embarrassed by his tears or to wonder at them.
Shortly after dawn, when they rolled him on a gurney into the surgery, Ryan was alert, afraid, but resigned to the course that he had chosen.
The operating room, white porcelain tile and stainless steel, was drenched in light.
From the scrub room, Dr. Hobb arrived with his team, lacking only Wally Dunnaman, who had no role in the cutting. Besides Dougal Hobb, there were an anesthesiologist, three cardiology nurses, an assistant surgeon, and two others whose specialties and functions Ryan could not recall.
He had met them on the Medijet, and he had liked them all, so far as it was possible to like anyone who was going to saw you open and handle your internal organs as blithely as though they were the giblets in a Thanksgiving turkey. There was bound to be some social distance between the cutters and he who must be cut.
Except for Hobb, Ryan was not easily able to tell who was who in their hair-restraining caps, behind their masks, in their green scrubs. They might have all been ringers, the B team inserted after the A team had been approved and paid for.
As the anesthesiologist found a vein in Ryan’s right arm and inserted a cannula, Dr. Hobb told him that the donor’s heart had been successfully removed moments ago and waited now in a chilled saline solution.
Ryan had learned on the Medijet that he was to receive a woman’s heart, which only briefly surprised him. She had been twenty-six, a schoolteacher who had suffered massive head trauma in an automobile accident.
Her heart had been deemed of suitable size for Ryan. And every criterion of an immune-system match had been met, greatly increasing the chances that all would go well not merely during surgery but also afterward, when his body would be less likely to aggressively reject the new organ.
Nevertheless, to prevent rejection and other complications, he would be taking a battery of twenty-eight drugs for a significant length of time following surgery, some for the rest of his life.
As they readied Ryan, Dr. Hobb explained to him the purpose of each procedure, but Ryan did not need to be gentled toward the moment. He could not turn back now. The wanted heart was free, the donor dead, and a single path to the future lay before him.
He closed his eyes, tuned out the murmured conversations of the members of the team, and pictured Samantha Reach. Throughout his adolescence and adult life, he had sought perfection, and had found it only once-in her.
He hoped that she could be perfectly forgiving, too, although he knew he should start conceiving now his opening line for his first phone call to her, when he was strong and clearheaded enough to speak.
Closing his eyes, he saw her on the beach, blond hair and golden form, a quiver of light, an alluring oasis on the wide slope of sun-seared sand.
As the induced sleep came over him, he drifted down as if into a sea, and the darkness darkled into something darker than mere dark.
Now comes the evening of the mind.
Here are the fireflies twitching in the blood.
-Donald Justice, “The Evening of the Mind”
On the one-year anniversary of his heart transplant, Ryan Perry made no plans for a celebration. Being alive was celebration enough.
During the morning, he worked alone in the garage, performing routine maintenance on a fully sparkled ‘32 five-window deuce coupe that he had bought at auction.
In the afternoon, ensconced in an armchair with a footstool, in the smaller of the two living rooms, he continued reading Samantha’s first book.
Styled as a solarium, the chamber provided an atmosphere to match that in the novel. Tall windows revealed a down sky, a limp pillow stuffed with the soft wet feathers of gray geese. Needles of rain knitted together scattered scarves of thin fog, which then unraveled through whatever tree or shrub next snagged them.
The room’s collection of palms and ferns webbed the limestone floor with spidery shadows. The air had a green and fertile scent, for the most part pleasing, although from time to time there arose a faint fetid odor of what might have been decomposing moss or root rot, which seemed always, curiously, to be detectable only when he read passages that in particular disturbed him.
She had infused the novel with quiet humor, and one of her central subjects proved to be love, as he had intuited when he’d left the long message on her voice mail, before his transplant surgery. Yet in the weave of the narrative were solemn threads, somber threads, and the entire garment she had sewn seemed darker than the materials from which she had made it.
The story enthralled Ryan, and though the prose was luminous and swift, he resisted rushing through the pages, but instead savoured the sentences. This was his second reading of the novel in four days.
Winston Amory wheeled to Ryan’s chair a serving cart on which stood a sterling-silver coffeepot with candle-burner to keep the contents warm, and a small plate of almond cookies.
“Sir, I took the liberty of assuming, as you are not at a table, you might prefer a mug to a cup.”
“Perfect, Winston. Thank you.”
After pouring a mug of coffee, Winston placed a coaster on the table beside the armchair, and then the mug upon the coaster.
Referring to his wife, Winston said, “Penelope wonders if you would like dinner at seven, as usual.”
“A little later tonight. Eight would be ideal.”
“Eight it is, sir.” He nodded once, his customary abbreviated bow, before departing stiff-backed and straight-shouldered.
Although Winston managed the estate and marshaled the household staff to its duties with consummate grace and professionalism, Ryan suspected that he and Penelope exaggerated their Englishness, from their accents to their mannerisms, to their obsession with propriety and protocol, because they had learned, in previous positions, that this was what enchanted Americans who employed their services. This performance occasionally annoyed him, more often amused him, and in sum was worth enduring because they did a fine job and because he had complete trust in them.
Before returning home for further recuperation after receiving his new heart, he had dismissed Lee and Kay Ting, as well as their assistants. Each had been given two years of severance pay, about which none complained, plus a strong letter of recommendation, but no explanation.
He had no evidence of treachery in their case, but he had no proof that would exonerate them, either. He had wanted to come home to a sense of security and peace.
Wilson Mott’s report on Winston and Penelope Amory-and on the other new employees-was so exhaustive that Ryan felt as if he knew them all as well as he knew himself. He was not suspicious of them, and they gave him no reason to wonder about their loyalty; and the year had gone by without a single strange incident.
Now, with coffee and cookies at hand, Ryan again became so absorbed in Sam’s novel that he lost track of the passage of time, and looked up from a chapter’s end to find that the early-winter twilight had begun to drain from the day what light the rain and fog had not already drowned.
Had he raised his eyes only a few minutes later, he might not have been able to see the figure on the south lawn.
Initially he thought this visitor must be a shadow shaped by plumes of fog, because it appeared to be a monk in hooded habit far from any monastery.
A moment’s consideration remade the habit into a black raincoat. The hood, the fading light, and a distance of forty feet hid all but the palest impression of a face.
The visitor-intruder began to seem a better word-appeared to be staring at that floor-to-ceiling window providing the most direct view of Ryan in his armchair.
As he put aside his book and rose to approach the window, the figure moved. By the time he reached the glass, he saw no sign of an intruder.
Through the drizzling rain, nothing moved on the broad south lawn except slowly writhing anacondas of fog.
After a year that had flowed by in the most ordinary currents, Ryan was prepared to dismiss the brief vision as a trick of twilight.
But the figure reappeared from among three deodar cedars that, with their drooping boughs, seemed themselves like giant monks in attendance at a solemn ceremony. Slowly the figure moved into view and then stopped, once again facing the solarium.
Dimming by the minute, the dying day exposed less of the face than before, although the intruder had ventured ten feet closer to the house.
Just as Ryan realized that it might not be wise to stand exposed at a lighted window, the figure turned and retreated across the lawn. It seemed not to step away but to glide, as if it too were merely fog, but of a dark variety.
The murk of dusk and mist and rain soon folded into night. The intruder did not reappear.
The landscaping staff received full pay for rain days but did not report to work; however, Henry Sorne, the head landscaper, might have paid a visit to check the lawn drains, a few of which, clogged with leaves, had overflowed in past storms.
Not Henry Sorne. The stature of the figure, the gracefulness with which it moved in the cumbersome coat, as well as something about the attitude in which it stood facing the window, convinced Ryan that this intruder had been a woman.
Penelope Amory and her assistant, Jordana, were the only women on the household staff. Neither of them had reason to be inspecting the lawns, and neither seemed to be the type to fancy a rainy-day walk.
The grounds were walled. The motorized bronze gates locked automatically when you passed through them and could not be left unlatched accidentally. Neither the walls nor the gates could be easily scaled.
Although the two walk-in gates featured electronic locks that could be released either from within the house or by the inputting of a code in the exterior keypads, the driveway gate could be opened also with a remote control. Only one person, other than staff, had ever possessed a remote.
Standing at the solarium window, now seeing nothing but his reflection painted on the night-blackened glass, Ryan whispered, “Samantha?”
After dinner, Ryan took Sam’s novel upstairs, intending to read another chapter or two in bed, perhaps until he fell asleep, although he doubted that even on a second reading her words would lull him into slumber.
As usual, Penelope had earlier removed the quilted spread and turned down the covers of his bed for the night. A lamp had been left on, as he liked.
Atop his stack of plumped pillows stood a small cellophane bag, the neck twisted shut and tied securely with a red ribbon. Penelope did not leave bedtime candy, which was what the bag contained.
This was not the traditional mint or the two-piece sample of Godiva often left on hotel pillows by the night maids. The bag held tiny white candy hearts with brief romantic declarations printed in red on one side of them, a confection sold only during the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, which was less than a month away.
Bemused, Ryan turned the crackling bag over in his hand. He noticed that all of the candy messages visible to him were the same: BE MINE.
As he recalled from adolescence, in the original bags in which these treats were sold, several messages were included: LOVE YOU, TOO SWEET, KISS ME, and others.
To obtain a full collection that asked only BE MINE, you would have to purchase several bags and cull from them the hearts with the wanted message.
In the bathroom, sitting at the vanity, he untied the ribbon, opened the bag, and spilled the hearts on the black-granite counter. Those that were faceup revealed the identical message.
One by one, he turned over those that lay with their blank sides exposed, and in every case, the entreaty was the same: BE MINE.
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