Henry’s Heart

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 90

 
Photo by Jair Lázaro on UNSPLASH.
 

Again, the hooded figure beside me raises his right hand, spins his index finger furiously fast, and reality goes away for several seconds. I can feel myself sliding sideways through space and time.

I am like Ebeneezer. But, unlike Dickens’s curmudgeon, my sin hadn’t been greed. No, my biggest weakness had always been fear. I’d had big dreams, but for the most part, I lived my life in notes jotted down in journals, scribbled on napkins, index cards, anything that might absorb the ink from my pen.

The spinning sensation stops. The world comes slowly into focus.

 

 

It takes me a few seconds to realize where I am. I’m standing in my second-grade classroom.

I feel like a solid entity, not like a ghost or a spirit. The only thing I notice that is different is that I’m not in any pain. No low back pain, no aching joints, my thumbs feel fine, and, most of all, my heart isn’t hurting like it was earlier.

I remember looking at the team of doctors busy with the enterprise of saving ‘Henry’s life.’ I want to tell them to stop, to let me go. I’m okay with this transition. They all seem so serious. Yet, I feel unburdened, light, and strong.

 

 

In the classroom, we are handing in the posters we had created for some national campaign.

I remember distinctly a half a century later how it had felt when I saw the other students’ efforts. I felt shame. My cheeks burned hot with the feeling as I compared my rather sloppy efforts with theirs. I could not, would not submit it. Mine had no stenciled lettering, no bold ink titles with pithy messages of encouragement and good health; it had been drawn in pencil!

I see my younger self shove the rolled-up poster back into a brown paper shopping bag, bury it in his locker. It was as I remembered it.

It’s even more disorienting to see your younger self. When you see yourself in real-time, it’s easy to think maybe it’s a video or a mirror. But when you’re looking at a seven-year-old toe-headed boy, and you realize that he IS you, that he is, in a sense, your father, then things get way more Twilight-Zoney.

I want to grab him and hug him. Then gently help him turn in our poster.

It was a pattern of avoidance, a habit of not trying, that was growing in my younger self.

But before I reach the boy who is me, the figure next to me spins his finger, and we are sliding again.

 

 

The next stop we make, I’m seeing high-school me shove the letter I had intended to give to Carole deep in my Geometry book the instant she entered the room. This version of me I want to shake and slap.

But the finger is spinning, and we are sliding.

 

 

As we slide, I study the figure; he’s wearing jeans and a black hoodie. He’s slender and above average in height. I have no idea who he is.

When he appeared next to me as I gawked at the miracle of seeing not only myself but into my chest cavity as they tried to restart my heart, he laid a gentle hand on my back.

It’s cliche, but I saw the bright light appear, a tunnel. I looked to the hooded figure; the figure wagged an index finger at me, took me by the hand, and led me out of the room. Then we were slip-sliding through time, and that was a new and disorienting experience. If I wasn’t moving toward the light tunnel, then was this the way to hell? I ask the figure, but Mister Hoodie isn’t feeling talkative today.

 

 

He spins, we slide, and I get to relive all my moments of holding myself back, of not trying.

I’m left saddened by my small and squandered life. And I wonder why bother? If I’m dying, why bother with any of this?

 

 

A spin and a slide, then I get to relive another moment of fear. It feels like we’ve been gone from the hospital for hours, but I intuit that time is very different here.

 

 

A spin and a slide – this time, when reality settles, things are different. It’s dark. My eyes are closed, and I can’t open them. And the pain is back. Oh boy, is it ever! And I welcome it because I know what it means.

“Well done, Doctor Crenshaw. He’s going to make it,” someone says.

The mood in the room is lighter, and there is a palpable sense of hope in the voices.

My eyes open. Bright light and a circle of blue masked strangers look down at me. They start to speak, but sleep takes me, and I dream.

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