I.
Names With Hearts Between Them

Where am I?

A hospital? Must be - four white walls, frosted glass window, TV in ceiling bracket. I'm sitting on the bed like I just woke up, but I'm not tired or groggy. I just ... am.

Gogogo

Whisper in my head. Go where?

Getupgo

It's breathing, tugging, leading. Where?

I'm sitting naked on the bed. Strange, I don't feel naked.I feel at peace, as if everything is going to be okay. I stand up, move to the door. It opens to a hallway, and I step out. Standing in a hall, people walking past, not looking, not seeing.

Invisible.

Am I dead?

Moving down the hallway, being moved seems more like it, tugged, prodded gently along by something all around me, something sentient but docile.

Down the hall, clean white floors cool beneath bare feet. Walking naked, out of place. Why don't they see me? I round a corner, not sure where I'm going, but it's somewhere must, somewhere needed.

In the main lobby now, waiting room, overstuffed chairs, Reader's Digest Condensed Books no one reads. What a waste. Receptionist at her desk, phones beeping in the background. Sheshould look up, but no, she doesn't see me. Her face seems familiar maybe.

Maybe. What do I know? I'm lost and out of place, but that's okay.

Keepmoving moving

I'm leaving now, barefoot steps silent on polished marble floors, approaching automated doors. They slide open. That makes the secretary look up. She's far behind me, but I watch her stare at doors that whrrr apart for no apparent reason.

Freaky, huh?

Outside now, drifting down empty sidewalks. No, not drifting. Moving. Purpose, felt but not understood. Not yet.

Another turn, this time onto a residential street, tall, tall trees on either side, branches stretching out, spanning the street. An arboreal arch, a sylvan tunnel - somebody's poetry, not mine - sun shining bright at the other end.

Light at the end of the tunnel.

How cliché. No, this is something else.

Sidewalk again, this one cracked, ornamented with hopscotch squares and names with hearts between them.

Move past guy walking dog, mutt spins midstep and barks like he sees me at the last second. The guy tugs at the leash impatiently.

Good dog, I think, you tell the dumb man I'm here.

Walking. Three blocks. Four. Breeze rustles leaves, scrapes them across asphalt, concrete.

Stop.

Turn to face the house, one-story, dark wood, patio, a house I've never seen before.No car in the driveway. Move up the narrow stone path, climb the steps to the door.

One good deed deserves another

Porch swing creaks, swaying slightly on rusted chains. I reach for the door, but it swings open. Not like it's ajar, likethe breeze pushed it open. No, I see the handle turn.

Step inside. Dark, no lights on. Pictures hanging on entryway walls, family portraits. Man, woman, teenage girl. I stare at the faces for a while, sensing something familiar,then onward, treading carefully, quietly down the hallway. Dining room to the right, no, keep going, living room up ahead.

There gothere

Step across the threshold. Freeze.

Man, sitting in chair. Waiting. Gun in hand, waiting. Staring at nothing, looking at air, gun in hand.

I step closer and he moves suddenly.

I jump back. Does he see me? Christ, I'm naked!

No. He props his free hand against his forehead. Waiting.

One bad deed deserves another

He shouldn't be here. I wait for the whisper, for the gentle pushpull to show me what to do.

Nothing.

I turn, look out the window. Back yard, in-ground pool, blue water. Sunlight plays over its surface, shadows of leaves and branches.

The aperature widens, blows everything out of focus. The pool a white-hot mirror, pouring bleachlight into the living room, illuminating the whole house like somebody tore the roof off and the sun is inches above. I squint, raise a hand to shield against the spotlight searing my eyes.

The man in the chair doesn't move, doesn't flinch or burn or sweat. He just sits. How can he not see it?I'm boiling in the light brightlight light.

---

Him. The man in the picture, his face sideways, filling my vision.

"Hey," he says, "You feel okay?"

I don't feel anything, and then, pain.

He sees it. "I'll get you a new IV drip. Everything's okay. Your body accepted the new heart one-hundred percent. You're gonna be fine."

My chest my heart,bulging huge, throbbing twice its size. My mouth is desert dry, lips thick rubber.

One good deed deserves another

"Doctor," I manage to gasp. "Home, you...tell your family. Whatever you did, he's waiting for you there."