It spun only for a moment as the gears engaged in a flash of mechanical brilliance. Beautiful. Useful. Temporary. It was followed just as quickly by a sharp bang and a painful grinding noise as the starter struck the teeth of the flywheel and scraped into position.
Both the patient and the mechanic flinched. One in pain and the other in sympathy until the sound faded off and the parts whirred smoothly in place once more.
“You’re not going to last more than a year if you keep giving pieces of yourself to people who don’t give back,” he said. His tone was pragmatic. They’d had this conversation many times before.
“It’s just the way I’m built Rags. You know that.” Her smile was sweet but her eyes were discouraged.
“I know. I know! This stupid, ancient design is full of flaws! It’s going to kill you if you can’t fix the timing. There’s only so much I can do. It’s only going to get worse. The edges are already so damaged…the teeth are bent from the hammering they’re taking and I can only adjust the angle so much!” His voice rose in frustration and he turned his back on her, flinging one of his trademark red rags onto the workbench.
She replaced the compartment over her chest and adjusted her clothing and when he turned to face her again she looked like any other woman. No one would ever know that a piece of machinery was keeping her alive.
“I had no idea my heart would interfere with the system this way so how could you?” she asked as she touched his arm. “It’s not your fault Rags. I won’t be the first person to die of a broken heart.”
Rags ran his hand over his eyes and when he drew them back she could see his fingers were damp. Her heart skipped again and she felt a sharp, tearing pain in her chest and gasped. Her right hand rose to rub her breastbone as tears filled her own eyes.
“Not because of me, you idiot!” He was angry now. “Don’t you dare go to pieces because of me!”
“You know I can’t control it. I’ve tried. That stutter my heart feels when I see someone in pain? That rush when I fall in love? Or that slow painful pounding when they say goodbye for the last time? The worst is that dull, heavy misery that happens when someone you considered a friend doesn’t hold you in the same regard.” Her eyes were hard now but filled with pain. “You should have told me the truth. Did you think you were protecting me? That I wouldn’t find out?”
He was silent. “Who told you?”
“What difference does it make? You lied to me! I know! I know I don’t have a year! I might not even have six minutes! And you don’t deserve to share any of them with me. You shouldn’t have lied.” She stood up and strode toward the door. She could hear the tide coming in and see the sun going down in the distance. He didn’t follow her. She was glad. She didn’t want to spend the last moments of her life angry. She was tired.
She slipped off her shoes and struggled up the dunes. The loose sand caved beneath her feet and she was breathing hard when she finally took a seat. The sun was lowering and it shone upon the ocean in bright, beautiful colors and her heart gave a final, sharp crack.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, and tears streamed down her cheeks. She felt a momentary pang of guilt for picking a fight with him. She was as capable of telling lies as anyone else, though, and he didn’t need to see this. She could feel the grinding pain bloom in her heart. “I only wish I’d had a friend to share it with.”
Rags waited to follow her. She was angry. It would pass. It always did. Her heart was just that big. He found her there, on the high dunes, her head resting in her hand, eyes closed with still damp cheeks. And when he tried to rouse her she wouldn’t stir.