Jennifer A. Howard

Notes and Questions for the Doctor When Asked to Record My Symptoms and Activities While Wearing a 24-Hour Holter Heart Activity Monitor

Jennifer A. Howard

What counts as a symptom? What counts as an activity?

I made lunch. You want me to write that down? Do peanuts and cherries and coffee count as lunch?

I can’t feel these PVCs in my heart. I can’t sense a premature ventricular contraction, or the bigger beat my heart performs next to make up for coming in too early. Is that normal, to not even know what my heart is doing?

I let the cat in the window, even though the front door is open for him to come and go. Is this an activity?

I just read the gorgeous beginning of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. Whoa. You could see how much I loved that opening chapter in my heart data, couldn’t you? I must have prematurely ventricularly contracted there, over and over.

I put down the book and walked out to the mailbox. Activity? Is restlessness a symptom?

I let the cat in the window again. Is this an activity or a symptom?

Did you plan for the tech who strapped the wires around me to be quite so handsome? I’m glad you weren’t yet eavesdropping on my pulse when he taped me up, when he stood behind me and asked, “May I move your ponytail to the side?” and “Is it okay if I slide your”—here, his fingers under my bra strap—“this way a little?” like we were playing some sexy Antioch College consent game in 1993.

I just took a nap. Should I write that down? Should I apologize I can do that on a Thursday afternoon?

Is watching too much Criminal Minds something I should let you in on? And are you sure it’s not called a “holster” monitor? Come on, Supervisory Special Agent. Yes, yes, you may move my ponytail to the side.

Yogurt. Activity?

If the guy who sometimes comes over comes over, is that okay? You said to continue my regular activities, though I’d consider him more intermittent.

Started a load of laundry. Probably an activity.

If he comes over, and I kiss him, will you show me how tippy my heart looks in that moment on paper? Is wanting to text somebody a symptom? Is putting on mascara just in case?

I exercised! I feel confident I’ve just done an activity. My shirt is sweaty and I want to change it, but the handsome tech wired me into it. I can take it off my body, but it hangs connected to me on a loop of cable. What do I do?

Read this book with me, doctor. Everybody is gathered in the street, looking up in worry and buzz about a man on the ledge of the window of a skyscraper, a man they anticipate might jump to his death. The crowd: “Diamond merchants. Fish sellers. Sad-jeaned whores.” Don’t tell me your heart didn’t hop a little off track just now.

The cat wants out the window. Neither activity nor symptom, but the cat perhaps needs his own monitor, to know his own heart more clearly.

If the guy who comes over comes over, and I kiss him, and I get him to ask me if he can move my ponytail to the side, and my heart skips, is that safe for me?

Seriously, this chapter. The people wonder if the man way up high is advertising something: “Smoke more Parliaments, Spray more Lysol, Love more Jesus.” I can’t feel the PVC, the space where a beat should be but isn’t, from the inside, but I’d bet on it. Profile my heart the moment I read that sentence.

My sweaty shirt dried out and I put it back on, getting tangled only a little. Has anybody considered Bluetooth? All the techno on Criminal Minds is wireless. Just an idea.

If he comes over, and he moves my ponytail to the side, and we lie down and he tells me how he was thinking about me this morning, and he tells me and tells me until we are both naked except for all these wires, until my hair has loosed itself and snarled around the ribbons that secure the tiny monitor box against my chest, until I have fallen over the edge and maybe off the couch, is this good for my heart?

“The watchers below pulled their breath all at once. The air felt suddenly shared. The man above was a word they seemed to know, though they had not heard it before.” Lub-dub, lub-dub. “Out he went.” Dub. The man is not going to jump. He walks a tightrope! Oh, be safe, tightrope walker!

Working my heart is good for my heart, yes? Challenging it, putting it in harm’s way, exposing it to trouble? Which is more work for my heart: when the guy who comes over leaves, or when he never comes over?

A little walk around the neighborhood. Activity. More laundry, a quick dinner. The episode where SSA Hotchner goes on his first date with somebody new after his wife dies. Writing you this list. Activities. No symptoms to report, doc. I take it, covered in all these colored cables and with this hard box on my chest, I’m supposed to take out my ponytail altogether and go to bed on my back like a princess under a spell? Like a girl waiting for a body bag. Even the cat has conked out on the couch.

Maybe later, after I’ve been asleep a while, the door opens. Bootsteps up my stairs. Activity, symptoms. I’ll make notes for you in the morning. Dizziness, shortness of breath, a flip-flop in my belly. Though you’ll see this in my heart’s transcript: exquisite pain, sublime fluttering, tender ache and sweet fatigue and voltaic swelling. An alarming, glorious moment—maybe more than one—of tipping, of falling, of soaring down underneath a wave stronger than I am and eager to hold me under.

JENNIFER A. HOWARD directs the MFA Program and edits Passages North at Northern Michigan University in the snowy Upper Peninsula. Her collection of short-short fiction was published by New Delta Review.