My heart was on fire, or at least, it felt like it was on fire. I kept one hand over the middle of my chest to double check. A nurse noticed and came over to me.
“Inez, are you in pain again?”
I nodded. I still wasn’t any good at talking. Not on a consistent basis.
The nurse leaned in and squinted at the monitor behind me. “I can only give you one more increase,” she said, twisting something on my IV line. “The pain should start to subside soon.” She patted me gently on my shoulder and I resisted jerking away. I smiled at her in as small a fashion as possible, so I wouldn’t tear the corners of my mouth.
Later another nurse came by to take me to the rehab room, where I’d spent the last week. I braced myself as a trainer sat down across the table from me with his tray of hand-strengthening devices.
“Let’s start slower this time,” he said, remembering our last session. I nodded.
I fumbled with the spring, taking my time to get a good grip on it. I squeezed, grimacing as my metacarpals and phalanges strained against ligaments and my still-hydrating skin. My muscles were responding well for such a long period of inactivity. Muscle fibers wouldn’t ache until this evening.
He was handsome and a little intense, and I liked that. He urged me on but was gentle and took care to notice any potential for injury and setback. I was mesmerized by his white teeth and olive skin. He reminded me of home.
I can’t recall much more about my recovery time, but as my body rallied, I began recalling my time before my admission. That was what Dr. Hernandez said would come to me last: my memory.
Now I know why I did all of this, and now I understand why my heart still feels like a ball of flames.
I look at the screen again in my palm, content that I’m not able to implant it onto my body like the people I see around me. It works just as well. Checking the address for the third time, I get into the cab that the bank manager called for me. The driver is surprised at me—it seems he’s never had a woman on Rodeo Drive give him this address before, and he’s hesitant to leave me at the destination.
I tell him I’ll pay for him to wait and he agrees, always using his rear view mirror to look at me.
Inside it is dusty, and my skin responds with vague memory, like stumbling across a smell from decades ago. It’s dark in the pawn shop but I leave my sunglasses on. I walk straight up to the owner, who reeks of bad bourbon and pomade.
“Well, what can I do for you, madam?” He leers.
I point to what I want, and his overgrown eyebrows stand up.
“Uh, are you sure? I have other models here that would be more suited for you.” I don’t have time for his nervousness.
“I’m sure,” I say, wanting to raise a hand to my mouth but resisting the urge.
He doesn’t argue with me and pushes a clipboard over to me, leaving a pen for me on the counter. I would relish watching him evolve from hard-on to terrified but I’m pressed for time.
Well, I shouldn’t lie. I have all the time I need. I just want to get on with it.
I tuck my purchase into my clutch and head back to the taxi, who has waited for me. Of course the Sikh have integrity. A fine people. I give him my next address. If he is confused by my requests he doesn’t say it. Maybe he even knows what I am.
This time I wave on the cab driver when we arrive at the house, and I tip him generously. I have sixty years of compounded interest. I know I will enjoy this.
I press my finger to the doorbell, which buzzes just a few feet away on the other side of the threshold.
The door opens and I look at the old man. He smells a little of his own body functions, is bent over his cane, reminding me of the riddle of the Sphinx.
“What do you want,” he asks, looking up at me. I was once intimidated by him.
“Let me in,” I say. He steps aside. “You have not aged well, Mr. Chamberlain.”
A flash in his eyes and he recognizes me.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Still lying, I see.”
“Okay, you need to leave,” he says, but he knows I’m not going anywhere.
I open up my purse and take out two pictures of my family. One is of just us, one is of him and my late husband. I put them on the sideboard next to his door.
“Look, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t want you here.” He is backing away slowly, heading to the living room.
I take off my sunglasses and look at him. Hunched over, weak. Alone. Whatever he thought he’d inherit in my family’s death, it’s all departed him now.
“Sit down, Mr. Chamberlain.”
He does as I say. I fill my dead lungs with air out of habit. I haven’t felt like gasping since I woke up, but now I’m excited.
Taking the gun out of my purse makes him sputter out apologies and promises.
“I’m not going to shoot you.” He relaxes a little. “You’re going to shoot yourself,” I say. It will be preferable, I promise him. Before he can protest I open my mouth wide and let him see what’s inside of me. A spreading stain on his leg tells me I’m about to win. I hand him the gun.
“It’s time, Mr. Chamberlain,” I say.
I stand far enough away so I won’t get his blood spatter on my van Noten dress.