By Roberto Adauto III
“So,” the dying man said, “you’re Peter. I’m Andrew Webb. I wish this were…under different…,” he searched for the words, “different…circumstances. I have something to share.” The man shifted and leaned over so they could face each other. He looked at Peter and didn’t speak for a few moments. He didn’t look sad. Not one bit. It was just a matter of fact he was going to die today, in less than an hour. Probably less. Peter wasn’t sure if he had heard this somewhere, but it made good common sense: Let a dying man do the talking. Andrew breathed deep, “I hoped…I could help…someone…do you know what….grace is?” His eyes were steadily looking into Peter. “You’re receiving a gift….and…you…don’t owe me…a thing.” He took a deeper, but weak breath. “I’m giving…you more…more than this,” he pointed at his heart. Peter was unsure of what that meant. He continued to listen. “I…we have…these memories…but they’re not in…here,” he tried to reach up to his bandaged head, “they’re…”, he pointed to his heart. “I’m going to give you…. a few new memories. Going…to take you to her….so she’s not alone.” Another very weak, deep breath. “Going to… give…give you,” he breathed again, this time a much more shallow breath. He pointed to his heart again, but the machines alarmed. Andrew Webb stopped breathing. Pandemonium erupted. It’s his wife, Peter thought to himself and then a plastic mask snapped over his face and Peter woke up from the dream. He rubbed where he felt the elastic snap against his skin. It was so real! His looked up at the clock and it was time to go to work.
Of course, he had never met the donor as it was against hospital policy. But he had this reoccurring dream consistently since the operation. It was the same every time. He felt the cool, cotton sheets draped over him. Heard the beeps and hum of hospital machinery. The sharp smell of antiseptic filled his nose. His weak beating heart thumping against his chest. And now he had someone else’s beating heart. He really just wanted to get on with his life. But something or someone wanted to take him for a ride down the yellow brick road. He wanted nothing to do with it. He was the cowardly lion.
It had been weeks since the operation when Peter began experiencing short visions. The first time it happened he was at the ATM, getting cash. While tapping in his PIN, he saw a woman with fair skin and autumn colored hair, coupled with intense aromas of cinnamon rolls and coffee. A feeling of complete happiness washed over him. It took him so unexpectedly and so completely, he stood there forever. All while staring at the small screen. The woman was pretty and her smile friendly. But Peter had never seen this woman. And part of him didn’t want to. He wasn’t interested in any new adventures. He wanted to stay on the beaten path, where life was familiar. His life had been hard and change even harder. He was sure he couldn’t trust another woman after his fiancé cheated on him.
He also discovered words would pop into his head and it was usually the exact same phrase. Only Peter knew beyond a doubt these weren’t his words. He was no romantic. Not any more. Somehow, he knew these words were associated with this woman. The woman with the fiery, gold hair. He had never seen this woman before his operation. Now, he couldn’t stop thinking of her. Months had gone by. Months. The dreams, the visions, the words rained on him and he couldn’t find shelter.
One night he found himself in a diner. The old kind with white laminate counters, chrome barstools and bad coffee. But it was clean and quiet and Peter wanted the quiet. He sat looking at his black coffee, but saw only the woman he had never seen. An older black gentleman sat down next to him.
“How’s it going,” he asked Peter.
“Fine, could be better.” He answered. He set his coffee down and hoped the guy wouldn’t start talking. He did, of course.
“Are you having those scenes in your head?” he asked, “The ones that don’t make no sense. Like a video playing over and over again.” He sipped his coffee and Peter froze. He felt like answering, but he didn’t know what to say. He listened. “They won’t stop either. They won’t stop.” He said and took another sip. And then he smiled. “Not until you move forward. See, you on pause right now. You ain’t movin’. You stuck and you want to stay stuck, I guess. If you want to stay on pause, well, those scenes, they won’t go way. They jess keep playin and playin. Hell, they play the res of the life you got left. Up to you.” He stirred some sugar into the white cup. He stirred it slowly and looked at Peter. “Up to you.” He repeated. Peter sat there and looked deep into his brown stained cup, past the fears. Past the unknown. Past the beaten, familiar path.
“Walking’s hard when you,” Peter said, he started to feel heavy in his chest. “When you’re alone. When you don’t trust anyone. Anymore.” The guy next to him poured more sugar and stirred.
“So that’s where you at,” he said, “That’s where you at. Stuck. Alone. It’s all up to you, boss.”
Peter became upset at this truth. He got up and walked out without looking back. This truth hurt, poked at him. Dared him to move. As he walked block after block his mind turned. He began to wonder if it was time to move forward.
Over the next week, he sat and thought about the woman with autumn-gold hair. He wondered what her voice sounded like. He wondered if she liked funny movies or scary movies. He wondered if she liked cats or dogs. He had to know. He practiced his lines, the ones he heard in his sleep. He knew Andrew Webb had an intense passion for this woman, his wife, but he wasn’t sure he would. This wasn’t his wife, she was Andrew’s. Or used to be anyway. But he had to try. He had to move forward.
Not too long after the diner, he remembered a strip mall that had a bakery. But of course, he had never been down the road with the strip mall. He had had the sensation of driving down that unfamiliar road before and chose to ignore it. One crisp weekend morning, he changed his mind and drove.
Almost immediately cinnamon buns and coffee and the woman filled his mind as he pulled into the parking lot. He stopped in a nearby stall and sat there. Doubt came knocking. What if I’m wrong? He thought. What if there’s no woman in there? What if she thinks I’m demented? What if. What if. Peter set the gear into reverse. He wanted to leave. He wanted to go where it was safe, familiar. No challenges. No pain. “Up to you.” Said the stranger over their coffee. Peter stopped and looked back up to the bakery. He made his decision.
He stepped into the small confectionary. His feet felt like cement. His pulse quickened. His hands felt damp. He took a deep breath. Cinnamon, fresh baked bread, coffee. A woman popped up from behind the counter and greeted him. She had gold and auburn hair. His heart pounded. He wiped his hands on his pants.
“I’m short on money,” Peter said, “But, I’ll take a hug, if it’s free.” The words flowed effortlessly because he had practiced. She dropped a tray. Peter was sure he was blushing, but he also felt Andrew’s intense love for his wife. Looking at her, he could immediately tell why. She was more than beautiful. She was perfect.
“Andrew,” She said, “He would say that when he came in to see me.” They looked into each other’s eyes. Peter hoped he wouldn’t be rejected. As he stood there, he knew he was way off the beaten path and about to start down the yellow brick road. He felt warm and his hands tingled. He reached out his hand.
“I’m Peter”, he said and smiled.
“I’m Grace,” she said, smiling back and shook his hand. And then the visions stopped.