The Heart

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Emily Janson was devastated when she got the call that Jonathan, the man she was to marry in two weeks, was just killed in a motorcycle accident. Holding the phone to her ear, her breath leaving her, she stood still, unable to speak, unable to comprehend the words she heard. The call came from Jonathan’s mother, who had just been called by the police.

“Oh no,” she gasped before the sobs broke loose and tears filled her eyes. Clutching her hair, she could hear his mother crying as she held the phone to her ear, “Oh no, Oh no,” Emily repeated, tears rolling down her cheeks to her lips.

“The police just called,” Jonathan’s mother said through her sobs. “It just happened. They said he was killed instantly.”

“Oh my God, I can’t believe it,” Emily said, her body trembling, her fingers gripping the phone. Where is he?” Emily asked.

“They took him to Memorial Hospital. They saw the tag he’s an organ donor.”

Emily remembered Jonathan signing up as a donor when he got his license and was not surprised when he mentioned that to her. It was just like him to want to donate his organs to someone who needed what he would no longer need. When she hung up, staring at the phone, she collapsed on the kitchen chair, her mouth open, her body numb.

Memories suddenly flashed through her mind like a kaleidoscope, images of their walks, the night he took her virginity in her bed, his sweetness, his gentleness, how he looked in the apron when he cooked her delicious meals, his smile when he brought her flowers from the garden, his eyes when he spoke about his poetry, seeing and feeling his intensity while she watched him drawing in his sketch book or painting on canvases or pieces of wood. She could see how tender he was taking care of his mother after his father died of cancer when he was fourteen driving her to her doctor’s appointments, taking her shopping, making sure she took her medicine. He was the perfect son, the perfect lover and Emily knew she was the luckiest girl alive to have a man like Jonathan love her and want to spend the rest of his life with her and now he was suddenly gone. Dead, how could it be?

Later she found out from witnesses that a truck went through a stop sign and Jonathan crashed into its side and was thrown two hundred feet over the truck, landing on the sidewalk in front of Russell’s Drug Store, ironically where he picked up his mother’s prescriptions.

Emily worked as a waitress at Pete’s Diner and she was suppose to be at work in an hour after she got the call at seven am that morning but knew she couldn’t face the familiar customers she served breakfast and lunch to everyday. Emily took pride in her job as an efficient waitress who knew what most of the customers wanted before they ordered, how she knew their names. She had worked there since graduating high school and now at twenty two, liked how Pete valued her, depended on her to make his customers happy and he knew it was Emily who made his diner successful.

Even with the pain of realizing Jonathan had been killed, she worried about Pete and what he would do if she didn’t come to work, but after she heard his shock, he told her not to worry, he would call Janice, the waitress who came into help with the busy lunch crowd. Emily was relieved and wanted to go over to Jonathan’s house to be with his mother but couldn’t budge from the kitchen table.

The invitations to the wedding had been sent out over a month ago. Everyone knew that Jonathan and Emily were the perfect couple and the thought of their marriage delighted everyone in Tomkinsville, the small Pennsylvania town on the Susquehanna River forty miles from Philadelphia. She knew what a shock it would be when people realized there would be no wedding. Not able to sit any longer, Emily walked around the house, past the couch where she and Jonathan made out, past the old 15 inch television where they watched basketball games and movies, into the dining room glancing at the chair where he sat when he came there for dinner then slowly climbed the stairs to her bedroom, looking at the unmade bed, her jeans on the floor where she threw them the night before when Jonathan and she made mad passionate love and remembered the sound of his motorcycle when he left at one am to go home because he had to get up early for his first class at Montgomery County Community College.

She remembered him telling her how much he loved the art history class he was taking, how he loved painting and was determined to be the best artist he could be. That was how he did everything and it was one of the things she loved most about him–his passion, his energy, how much he loved life and how he loved riding his motorcycle, his pampered motorcycle, how she loved sitting behind him as they drove though the countryside, inevitably ending at their special spot to make love by Grover’s Pond, taking the Indian style blanket from the leather saddlebag, laying it on the soft grass in a clearing, then kissing, touching and thrilling her in ways that made her scream his name and want to give herself completely to him. She thought how magical he was, how open and yet, mysterious, Ataşehir Escort making her know it would take a lifetime of discovery to know the depth of his spirit.

Emily cringed when she saw her wedding dress hanging on her closet door then the picture of Jonathan and her after the prom on her bureau, how stiff he looked in the tuxedo but that smile, that radiant smile made her choke back tears. So many thoughts and feelings swirled through her as she stood in her room not sure what to do, how to tell her parents, how upset the whole town would be as the news spread. How would she hold up at the funeral, how could she survive without the love of her life. The thoughts and feelings were unbearable and she knew there was no way she would ever be the same. She knew he was special and it would take a miracle for her to find another man like him.

Months passed. Emily filled her days with work at Pete’s Diner, spending as much time as possible with Jonathan’s mother, knowing how impossibly difficult it must be to lose her only child and be alone in the world. Being with Jonathan’s mother was a way of being as close to him as she could, but it was painful to see how lost she was, how desolate and noticed she began drinking wine every afternoon, sometimes finishing a bottle before the dinner she made but rarely finished. The house was often dark when Emily arrived and she always opened the curtains to let the sunlight in.

She spent as little time as possible at home and then a month or so after Jonathan’s death, moved into a small apartment over Tony’s Pizza Shop which was two blocks from the diner. She and her mother had never gotten along and her father was passive and distant. Her parents didn’t seem to like each other so being around them was something she avoided. They grieved for her loss of Jonathan and worried about her, but the communication with her parents was superficial at best. She couldn’t confide in her mother because she was so judgmental and already had opinions before Emily finished speaking. She felt her mother never really heard what she was saying so she decided it was best to keep things to herself rather than be lectured to with her mother’s opinions, knowing she would never feel the compassion and acceptance she craved.

It felt right for her to move out and fix up her own place with furniture, dishes and a few appliances from the Good Will. Still grieving her loss of Jonathan, she imagined him with her, seeing him painting the walls, or sketching, but she would shake those painful thoughts away and try to read, or try out new recipes. She did have her favorite photo of him on the table next to her bed and several pictures of them on her refrigerator. It was hard for her to believe he wasn’t in her life. His absence would come to her like a thump in her heart, bringing a burning ache to her throat from holding back the tears that wanted to burst out.

One day, six or so months after Jonathan’s death, an older man walked into the diner. She noticed him lean his bicycle up against the railing on the steps to the entrance. She had never seen him before. He was probably in his late forties or early fifties she thought and always ordered the same thing, black coffee and a slice of apple pie. He always came in at one-thirty, just after the lunch crowd left when the diner was slow. Emily usually worked from eight in the morning until two or two thirty depending how much she needed to do to get ready for the next day. The diner closed at three but served dinner on the weekends. She made sure the sugar packets were on each table, the salt and pepper shakers refilled, ketchup bottles and syrup containers topped off, the knives, forks and spoons wrapped in napkins ready to put on the tables when customers sat down.

After seeing him come in every afternoon, she was curious about the stranger, knowing he wasn’t from their town. He always wore a denim jacket and faded jeans. His long graying hair curled up at the collar, his blue eyes twinkled behind wire rimmed glasses. Sometimes he shaved but most days, she could see the stubble on his cheeks and chin. He sometimes read the newspaper or a book but mostly he wrote in a black covered notebook and she wondered what he was writing about so intently. He always had two or three cups of coffee while he wrote, shoving the empty apple pie plate aside. Emily chuckled when she noticed he wiped the pie crumbs from his mouth with the back of his hand rather than a napkin and remembered Jonathan did that.

He was quiet and somewhat shy, but she asked his name so she could greet him when he came in. She liked how he smiled and looked at her when he ordered his pie and coffee, which he eventually didn’t need to do because Emily just said, “Hi Walter. Let me guess–apple pie and coffee” which made him laugh.

After that she didn’t pay much attention to him as she worked busily to finish her setting up for the next day. He would write in his journal, eat his pie, sip his coffee, occasionally glancing up at Emily and their eyes would meet, smiling then both would go back to what they were doing. The diner was usually Kadıköy Escort empty at that time with an occasional customer coming in to take out coffee, but she was always delighted to see Walter riding his bicycle down the street then come in every afternoon and sit at the counter, always on the same stool, take out his journal to write, thanking Emily for serving him his mug of coffee and the apple pie. She noticed his shy smile as he looked at her then took a sip of the black coffee, opened his journal, picked up the pen and started writing.

Though she wasn’t attracted to him physically, he must have been twenty or so years older than Emily, still there was something about him she liked, something in the way he smiled when she said, “Hi Walter,” the warm twinkle in his eyes, how intensely he wrote, taking sips of coffee, running his hands through his graying long hair, how he looked up at her when she refilled his mug, but there was something in the way he said, “Thank you Emily,” that touched her, made her curious about him but also reluctant to ask him any questions, sensing by his quiet shyness that he would not want to share much about his life.

Still, she wondered what he was writing so intensely about, how he filled pages, rarely looking up, except for his occasional glances at Emily. There was something in the way their eyes met, something strange that she couldn’t articulate but liked. She found herself thinking about Walter when she was walking home or washing dishes in her small apartment and she wondered why she was so fascinated by him.

One summer day, several months after Walter started coming to the diner, while Emily poured him his second mug of coffee, he looked up at her and out of the blue said, “You seem sad. Even though you always smile, you seem sad.”

Emily was stunned by the statement. They had never conversed, never said anything other than the trivial greetings, but his sudden words surprised her. She just looked at him, trying to swallow her surprise before responding. “What makes you think I’m sad? I’m not sad,” she said.

Walter shrugged his shoulders, looking into Emily’s eyes. “I don’t know why I said that. I just feel your sadness.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Emily answered. “No, I’m fine, really, I’m not sad.”

“Sorry,” Walter said. “I guess I shouldn’t have said that. I mean, we never really speak and I know nothing about you, but when I look at you, I feel your sadness.”

“Are you an empathic person?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know,” Walter answered, chuckling. “I never thought of myself like that but lately, I seem to feel things I’ve never felt before. I can’t explain it.”

Emily nodded, listening to Walter, glancing down at his journal, the pen now lying on the page while they spoke for the first time, surprised that the first thing he would say to her was so intimate.

“Are you sad?” Emily asked, “Maybe it’s your sadness you’re talking about, not mine.” She paused, looking into Walter’s eyes, “Are you sad?” she repeated.

Walter shrugged his shoulders again. “I don’t know. It’s just strange that we’ve never really said much to each other and we’re talking about sadness. That’s kind of weird, don’t you think?”

“Yes, very,” Emily said and sighed deeply. “Well, I better get back to work. Let me know if you want more coffee,” she added then put the coffee pot back on the burner before going back to wrapping the silverware in napkins.

Walter then finished his coffee, closed his notebook and left the five dollar bill on the counter, the amount he left everyday which included Emily’s tip, glanced over at her, and waved goodbye, “See you tomorrow,” he said, smiling, as he opened the door and left.

When the door closed, Emily just looked at Walter walking away, watched him get on his bike, wobble a moment before picking up speed, watched him riding down Main Street, baffled by his question about sadness and now was more curious then ever about him, thinking what a strange encounter they just had, especially after never really speaking to each other before.

The next day when he walked in, Emily greeted him as usual, “Let me guess–apple pie and coffee” and they both laughed. When she served him, he said thank you and Emily decided to say, “So how are you today, Walter?”

“Well, that’s a personal question,” he answered and laughed.

“I didn’t mean anything personal,” Emily responded, smiling. “But after you asking me yesterday if I’m sad, I thought I’d take a chance and pry into your life. You don’t have to tell me how you are if it’s too personal,” she said, teasing him then laughed.

“Well, if you really must know,” Walter said. “I’m fine, really.”

“Cool,” Emily said and laughed again. “I’m glad to hear you’re fine,” she added, enjoying their playful banter and feeling relaxed with him, glad that after months of never really speaking to each other, a barrier had been broken.

Walter took a sip of his coffee, opened his notebook, glanced up at Emily, sighed, “Well, I need to get back to work.”

“Work,” Emily asked. “What are you working on?”

“Poetry,” Bostancı Escort Walter said.

“Really, are you a poet?” Emily asked. “Sorry, I’m prying.”

“That’s okay. I don’t know if I’m a poet or not but since my operation I’ve been writing poetry and drawing. I was never interested in poetry, in fact hated it in high school and hardly ever read books. So this is new for me.”

“That’s good, that’s cool,” she said, “well, I won’t bother you. Enjoy the pie,” she added and walked away, returning to the ketchup bottles she was refilling, occasionally glancing back at Walter writing intensely, curious about what he is writing, “What a strange man he is,” she thought, her fascination with him growing and she wondered about his operation. “What was that about?” she wondered. He looked so healthy, his twinkly blue eyes, his ruddy complexion, his mostly dark hair turning slightly grey and she remembered the spry way he hopped off his bicycle and entered the diner every day. Though he was an older man, there was something youthful about him that she found appealing.

When she came over to refill his coffee, she glanced down at his writing, “How’s the writing going?” she asked, “Oh, sorry to interrupt you.”

He looked up at her, surprised to hear her words and looked like he had just come out of trance. “Fine, it’s hard but I think its going fine. I never know,” he said, and smiled.

When Walter looked up at her, she thought it seemed he was coming back from someplace faraway and felt a pang, a strange feeling that swelled up in her then left but somehow thrilled her. There was something familiar in the way he spoke, the way their eyes met when he said, “I never know.”

“Well, I’ll let you get back to your work,” Emily said. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“No problem,” Walter said. “I didn’t mind. I’m kind of glad you’re curious.”

“Oh thank you. I like watching how you concentrate on your writing. It’s interesting. It makes me wonder what you’re writing about.”

“Well, maybe one day you will find out,” he said, taking a sip of his coffee then glancing down at his journal then back at Emily.

“I’d like that,” she answered. “Well, back to the salt shakers,” she said.

“Right,” Walter said. “I need to get back to this poem before I lose where I was.”

Emily turned and walked away while Walter continued writing and Emily continued working at her mindless work but thinking about him, wanting to know more about him, how he suddenly showed up on his bicycle several months ago and started coming in every afternoon at the same time for his apple pie and coffee, how quiet he was until recently when they started having little conversations. She thought how interesting it was that he started writing poetry and drawing after his operation. She remembered his saying it was new, something he had never had an interest in doing before but now he loved it.

The next day, Walter didn’t come in for his coffee and apple pie and Emily kept looking at the door, surprised that she missed him and wondered if something was wrong, maybe her probing bothered him, maybe he decided to leave town. It wasn’t unusual for Emily to be concerned about her customers. After so many years of serving the same people, she knew their stories. Sometimes, she would even sit down with them for a few minutes if she wasn’t busy and they would confide in her. She prided herself in being a good listener, unlike her mother, and was careful not to give advice but to ask questions, helping them express what they were feeling often nodding and they could feel her genuine interest and caring. They always said, “You’re so easy to talk to.”

“I wonder what happened to Walter,” she said, glancing up at the clock, her work almost finished. “Maybe something came up,” she thought and took off her apron, stepped into the kitchen to say goodbye to Pete and Gary, the dishwasher and walked the two blocks to her apartment. Her door was on the side of the Tony’s Pizza shop and the whiff of various odors hit her as she entered, but fortunately, would disappear once in her second floor apartment. She liked that Pete didn’t require a waitress uniform and she could wear jeans or a skirt and in summer, Bermuda shorts. Her feet were usually sore when she got home and the first thing she would do was take off her sneakers, sit on the side of her bed and rub her feet then go barefooted into the tiny kitchen to see if Gabby, her cat had water and food in her bowl. Her friend, Susan’s cat had kittens a few months ago and so needed to find a home and Emma liked the idea of having a kitten to take care of.

Lying down on her bed, she glanced at the photo of Jonathan on her bedside table, thinking about his smile and how much she missed him then picked up the paper back book she had been reading, “Wuthering Heights” for the third time, touching the worn cover, staring at the picture of two lovers, opened the book to where she had an old envelope used as a marker, but when she started to read, her mind drifted and she found herself thinking about Walter, wondering why after months of coming into the diner every afternoon at the same time for the past four months, he didn’t come in and hoped it wasn’t because of her prying or he wasn’t well. She then wondered about the operation he said had changed him. What did he mean? What was he like before the operation? What was his story?

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