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The Heart Switch

by J. Jurout about a year ago in humanity · updated about a year ago
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By J. Jirout

https://www.dreamstime.com/love-heart-power-shutdown-switch-off-icon-romantic-love-heart-isolated-minimal-black-background-valentine-sign-symbol-image187349496

Olivia put down her tablet and gazed at the courtyard garden outside the cafe window. In the spring, the koi pond sparkled in the sunlight and petals from the flowering trees flew into the air, dropped into the water by the rocks, and floated under the wooden footbridge. Now in February, the branches were bare. Ice sheets covered the pond, and piles of frozen leaves cluttered the grass.

Olivia sighed, glancing at the specs on her tablet. The faulty FEB2041 model would complicate surgeries all week, she understood, warming her hands on the side of the bowl. The smell prompted her to pick up the spoon, and at her first taste, her shoulders relaxed. While biting into the buttery toast, her spirit lifted, and as the flavors and textures awakened her senses, she peeked over at Javier, the head chef, sitting at a table in the corner.

Olivia had planned to back away from the friendship that she was beginning with Javier. YRI, Yumon-Rahbot Inc, had a policy against employee fraternization, and she’d just been promoted. Focus on her career, Olivia wasn’t interested in dating. When Javier set down a plate of red-waxed cheeses, crispy grapes, and salty chips in front of her last Friday, the idea that she should distance herself from him vanished.

“Would you care to join me?” she asked, pulling her bag and tablet from the table.

Javier returned from the kitchen with an espresso and a plate for himself. “So, you’re a surgeon here?” he asked while taking a bite of pie.

“Chief of the Heart Switch Unit.”

“It’s hard to believe that people are turning their emotions on and off with this switch.”

Olivia checked that no board members were sitting nearby before continuing in a quieter voice. “When I first started here at YRI, heart switches were reserved for severely traumatized individuals. To be honest, this assembly line of device insertions wasn’t exactly what I had signed up for.”

“So, you’re not planning to have the procedure done.”

“They had me complete a B-EIR last week, but no, I’m not going to follow through with it.”

The frost covering the dry grass outside sparkled in the noon-day sun. As Olivia took another bite of the brioche, she glanced at Javier again. He was wearing the heart-shaped locket and chain that he wore on his wrist during their lunch last week. Olivia reminded herself about the policy against personal relationships while pulling her gaze away from his tanned, muscular arms.

Olivia spotted two board members entering the cafe. She finished the soup and packed up her lunch. While placing her tray in the cart by the door Olivia nodded at the Vice President and the company’s CEO. She exchanged smiles with a board member at the hot food station, and as she turned to exit, she found Javier at her side.

“Hey Olivia. I was hoping that I’d see you today.”

“Hi, Javier, I was just…”

“I wanted to ask you if you might be interested in going with me this Saturday to the opening of my friend’s restaurant.”

Olivia felt the eyes of the CEO on her as she faced Javier. “I’d really like to go, but I’m afraid that this might not be a great idea for me. I’ve just been promoted, and I’m pretty focused on my career right now. I’m sorry if I misled you, but I’m going to have to decline.” Olivia explained before rushing toward the elevator.

* * *

Olivia avoided the cafe over the weeks that followed. Javier’s food lost its flourish, and hoping to regain his creativity, he enrolled himself in the employee subsidization program for heart switch insertions. When Olivia spotted his name on a list of pre-ops one morning, she assigned herself to his case. Once she obtained his consent, she arranged for him to get a private room and to insert the more reliable FEB2040 model.

Javier hadn’t spoken with Olivia since the day that she rebuked him in the cafe, and when she entered the operating room for the procedure, he was lying on the table with a screen blocking his view of his chest. In a green cap, mask, and gown, Olivia sat at the computer table next to him. As she enabled the SDT, the surgeon’s directive tool, and lowered the MA from the ceiling, a sphere-shaped machine, a nurse administered a sedative into Javier’s IV.

Javier eyed the finger-like levers and hand-shaped holders on the underbelly of the Mechanical Assistant, and as the nurse brought gel-filled containers to the table, Olivia leaned over the blocking screen. Javier noticed that her bright, green mask made her blue eyes shine. As he answered questions that checked on the effects of the sedative, he saw reflections from the MA in her pupils.

Satisfied with his responses, Olivia turned back to the computer.

With a tap on the SDT, Olivia steered a lever on the MA toward the gel-filled containers, and with a lever, she attached the microscopic heart switch and camera to the end of a long needle-shaped tube. “There will just be a slight nick,” she explained, directing the scalpel on the MA to push through the skin on Javier’s wrist. While watching the video, she guided the catheter into Javier’s arm, across his chest, and into his left heart ventricle.

Olivia watched Javier’s heart pulsating on the screen and listened to the steady beeping from the heart monitor. While studying his BEIRs, baseline electromagnetic impulse readings, in the bar graph on the screen, she paused. The levels were within normal ranges, but there was something familiar in the numbers. Olivia pulled up another document, and making calculations in her mind, she stared at the data.

Javier’s 20% reading on frequency #10197 and his 83% on frequency #82361 were perfectly mirroring her 80% and 17% levels. Javier had a measurement of 77% in the third criteria, which perfectly fulfilled her 23%. Gazing at the matching numbers in the fourth, fifth, and sixth measurements, Olivia wondered at the odds. She would have thought it impossible for two people to have complimenting electromagnetic impulse readings, and yet, there, they did.

Olivia remembered the lightness that she’d felt in Javier's company and their effortless conversations. Bumping into him at the hot food station last Friday, she’d felt a rush at the smell of his aftershave. When he stopped her from falling by touching her waist, a sensation like the upward motion on a swing moved from her belly to her heart. Olivia leaned over the blocking screen, and while peering into Javier’s eyes, she searched for a sign that he was her match, her other, her true love.

Expecting to interact with Olivia, the surgeon, Javier blinked in surprise when he met the tender gaze of his lovely friend. Throughout the past week, he told himself that she didn’t return his feelings. Again and again, he tried to convince himself that he didn’t feel what he felt. Staring into her eyes and seeing her there for him, his heart swelled with love. As he remembered how Olivia had disregarded him altogether, he clenched his teeth and looked away.

Olivia thought that Javier’s frustration meant that he wanted her to continue the procedure, and she inhaled sharply, and the SDT in her hand jumped slightly. The tip of the catheter inside of Javier’s heart moved to the side. Olivia exhaled slowly, and intent upon following Javier’s wishes, she prepared herself to move forward, and with her own hand, to sever her and Javier’s connection forever.

“Javier, can you focus on TMA, Target Memory A,” she instructed.

Javier’s target memory, the source of his emotional difficulties, was the moment that he first met Olivia. The memory of her standing at the food station in her long, white coat had brought him happiness. When she turned away from him, that joy turned to pain. Meeting Olivia’s gaze during the procedure, he felt that happiness return. Torn between the loss that he had felt and the hope that he now had, his electromagnetic impulse readings wavered.

Unable to distinguish his B-EIRs from his TMA-EIRs or to locate his HHRP, heart’s highest response placement, Olivia furrowed her brow. To check on him, she leaned back. At that moment, Javier wanted to tell her that he changed his mind and that wanted her to stop the procedure, but his dry throat prevented him from speaking. Just as she turned to him, he reached toward her, and as they collided, the SDT in her hand plunged the catheter through the wall of his heart.

Javier gasped. The monitor beeped frantically. Olivia initiated emergency procedures. A second nurse ran into the room, and as she administered a medicine into Javier’s IV, the first nurse sterilized Javier’s chest. Javier lost consciousness. The cardiac emergency surgeon rushed into the room. As he sat at the computer and directed the MA to initiate open heart surgery, blood splattered across the metal levers of the machine.

While standing by the door, Olivia watched Javier’s face turn blue. When an unbroken note from the monitor filled the room, both nurses backed away from the table. The doctor pulled the catheter from Javier’s wrist, checked the readings, and initiated the defibrillator. The MA jerked upward, and Javier’s body sprung up and fell back. The long pause continued. The MA initiated the shock again, and Javier’s chest heaved and then relaxed. At the third spark, Javier arched and dropped to the table, and the steady beat of the monitor returned.

* * *

Olivia tried to enter Javier’s hospital room that morning, but seeing his family members gathered in the hallway, she backed away and took the stairwell to her office on the third floor. When she spotted two orderlies wheeling him out of the room for tests that afternoon, she ducked down another corridor. Upper management enabled the procedures associated with emergency inquiries that evening. When her keycard in the elevator prevented her from accessing the second floor, she ducked out of the building.

Olivia followed a group of interns onto the second floor during the shift change the next morning. After sneaking past the nurse’s station, she finally made it to Javier’s room. The window’s bright light shone on the white sheets of an empty bed. The tray over the mattress was clean of plates, and Javier’s heart-shaped locket and chain lay on the side table by the bathroom door. The hollow spot in the charging station on the wall caused Olivia to gasp. Nurses removed tablet records from charging stations only after patients passed away.

The light that flooded the room blinded Olivia, and she believed that the figure emerging from the corner was Javier’s spirit, moving to the next world. As the illumination widened, Olivia’s knees buckled. When the bathroom door closed and when Olivia saw Javier, standing in the doorway in pajamas and with shaving-cream splotched on his face, she hung to the metal bars of the bed.

“You okay, Olivia? Maybe you should sit down.” Javier guided her to the chair by the window.

Olivia stared down at the flowering trees in the courtyard garden. “You woke up?”

“I woke up. I’m going to be fine.”

The white petals flying in the air were dropping into the pond and drifting under the wooden footbridge by the rocks. “You woke up.”

“I’m going to be fine, and you and I - we’re going out, right? For dinner - maybe next Saturday?”

Olivia nodded. The haze outside lifted, and the warmth of the sun on her face and arms seeped into her soul and soothed the ragged tears of her broken heart.

humanity

About the author

J. Jurout

When Julie Jirout isn't experimenting with new recipes, reading, or watching PBS documentaries, she's exploring the first-person voice in a new character or discussing fiction and language in her blog at Joe's Writers' Club.

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