Heart Sounds

short essay by Cassie Keller Cole 

            I have two heartbeats. One is bass, steady, practiced in its fist-sized rhythm. The other scampers excitedly with the newness of music, creating a melody that dances across the deep background chant. If I listen to silence patiently, I eventually hear the thud of my own familiar percussion, but I cannot pick out the melody on my own—I need it amplified, recorded, and replayed. Many days I wonder if that tiny heartbeat is even there: pattering: pattering on top of my own.

            I thought that hearing my baby’s heart for the first time would be a spiritual experience. I anticipated being awestruck for days, telling my family about the second beat within me. The efficient doctor, however, had heard new songs rising for over forty years. All that mattered to him was that the pumping rhythm was there—not the pitch or sway of its sound. For less than twenty seconds he moved the microphone across my abdomen: “Your heartbeat. Baby’s heartbeat. Yours. Okay looks good.” He wiped the gel off my belly, paused briefly for questions, then walked out of the room as I tried to catch strands of the distant music I had heard far away in another language, in an underwater world so close to me it was foreign.

            Hearts are life markers, delicate butterfly-shaped drums. Although I only heard a phrase—less than a measure of my baby’s heart—in those few notes I knew a separate music existed and would develop beyond me.

            I have two heartbeats, but one does not belong to me: it simply plays off my tune, riffing on my life, expanding to full sound—these soft taps are just hints of what is to come in five, eighteen, sixty years. By then, perhaps I will recognize the heartbeat, its specific pattern, after feeling it pump in a little chest so much like my own. Perhaps, someday, that heart will beat strong and watch the monitors of my slowing slowing peaks and valleys until the tune of my body fades. Will the newer heart speed up at the sight? Will it pause, miss a note in shock? Or will it continue its life-song with the surrounding players—as it must.

Cassie Keller Cole is an MFA student at Brigham Young University in Utah. She has had essays published in Inscape, Juicebox, and Hotel Amerika.

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