Rosa’s heart is a dummy. Rosa’s heart: it never learns. Rosa has no idea what she’s doing to the little pump inside her chest, all the moves she’s played wrong. At 36, Rosa is far too old to keep on treating it like an organ plump with youth.
She knows the family history and believes she takes good care, but really, Rosa is a dummy, too. Widowed aunts and grannies are signposts directing the family’s surviving men to sidestep bacon and eggs, eschew smoking and drinking. In place of delicious fatty vices, they crunch pills and monitor cholesterol like the gadget at an earthquake centre, the doctor’s pen a tiny stylus scratching out the tension between this minute and the last minute of their lives. Ignore the cautionary aunties, pay for it in years off your life, like pay docked for sneaking too much beef.
The men in Rosa’s family drop dead in grocery stores, tumbling to the floor alongside net bags of oranges and dropped pickle jars. They collapse on golf greens, crumple to the sidewalk still gripping dog leashes, go quietly in the night. Their wives wake to cold feet against their calves; an inversion of the winter nights when they crept their toes across the bed to steal their husbands’ heat. Ever since an uncle passed at the wheel during rush hour, there is an unspoken rule that after seventy, the men don’t drive. They claim to have had one too many and relinquish the driver’s seat to wives and women-friends, or build “not driving” into their heart-health mythology, pretending they prefer to walk.
The women, their hearts, they have troubles too. Hovering over the details of others’ lives, they neglect to tend their own and as their hips plump out of last season’s pants, their hearts exceed the limits of their breastcage and slowly smother behind the interlaced bones.
Rosa has always prided herself on staying fit, focused, quiet, trim. Each morning, she runs a mile, drains a smoothie, folds extra fibre into her cereal and pretends not to mind the way it skates atop the milk. What Rosa doesn’t know is that love will be her silent killer. Her appetite for romance will take her out. If only there were a medical chart like the ones that track her uncles, ticking off risk boxes and producing annual stats, devising a maintenance program and warning that if she keeps this up, she’s going to end up with a stent in an artery and a rider on her life insurance.
“You were lucky this time, but next time don’t count on getting out clean. You’re not a young woman anymore—the next one could be the big one. Rosa, you’ve just got to keep an eye on who you invite into your heart.”
Instead, she carries on loading her days with the emotional equivalent of pork rinds and poultry skin and extra pats of butter. Rosa salts her love heavily and washes it down with wine and scotch. They say wine has protective qualities, but in matters of the heart, this does not apply. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Half a bottle of merlot and Rosa’s risk of heartbreak trebles.
“Rosa,” a friend asks, “have you seen yourself lately? This has really got to stop.”
Rosa pauses then continues to drink pork rind dust from the bottom of the bag. Taps the corner to knock the last bit of salty cracklin’ into her mouth then lowers her hands, gathers the empty cellophane into a tight ball.
“I know,” she says. “You’re right. But, did you see his eyes?”