The Understanding Heart

Entry by: Alex Fleet

21st April 2017
The timing was beautiful.

A lovely sunny day, the air warm, the road dry, visibility perfect, the roads clear of traffic, just the best conditions to have a turn out on your motorbike. The adrenalin kicks in; the scream of the motor coupled with the roar of the wind and the exhilaration of the countryside flying past in a blur is intoxicating.

The motorcyclist overtook the lorry on a right hand bend, wheels just inside the white line but bike, body and, most regrettably, head over the other, oncoming lane. The lorry coming the other direction got in the way of the biker’s head and the impact plucked the biker from his steed, spun him round a few times till he landed with a thud against the tarpaulin covering the first lorry’s soft part-load of plastic bubble wrap. He was found sitting up against it, his legs spread out in front of him, just sitting there as if he was enjoying the sun. Scarcely a mark there was on his body, scarcely a mark, but his head was missing.

Yvonne’s first coherent thought as she came round was the beeping of the monitor. A steady beep, beep, beep. Her heart. Well, not hers. Someone else’s. Her new heart, from someone who no longer needed it. Momentarily, she felt sad, greedy. Her life at the cost of someone else’s. She felt guilty, grieved at the other’s loss. But she knew that the other life could not have been saved; hers now was.

She recovered well from her operation, progress was unremarkable except for occasional spurts of activity from her new heart which we would find suddenly pounding, as if with excitement. She could not figure out why this should be and as it did not seem to cause any problems it was agreed she would just go with the flow and not worry about it.

Back home, she felt settled again, except strangely for the sudden heart-races. She started walking the short distance to the shops and found the heart-races would happen out in the street too. She quickly realised it was when the noise of a motorbike came flying past – she noticed she felt anxious, unsettled.

The third trip to the shops found her waiting at a zebra crossing with her little wheeled shopping basket. There was a pause in the traffic and she started across but a third of the way out there was the scream of a motor and she turned to find the black silhouette of a biker hurtling towards her. With a screech of brakes and tyres he skidded to a stop, the bike throbbing and rumbling between his legs like a live animal.

She was transfixed. Slowly, without noticing that she had abandoned her shopping, she circled the machine, staring at it, taking in its shining chromium, its deeply coloured shiny fuel tank, the strong black frame, the wide fat tyres, the throbbing exhaust. Without knowing, her hand felt the coolness of the headlamp, the sensual curve of the tank, then as she bent down, her skirt flapping in the breeze, she could feel the heat from the v-twin cylinders and the exhausts taking away the spent gases to make way for the clean spray of petrol vapour to flash the pistons up and down within the darkness of the engine’s interior.

Without being aware, she looked up at the pillion seat behind the rider, who remained still, watching her as she drank in the aroma, the atmosphere, the being of his machine. Her hand caressed the soft leather.

“You want a ride?” he asked her, with a crooked smile.

Yvonne looked at him silently. Would she like a ride. Without hesitation, without replying, she lifted her skirt and slid herself over the pillion behind him, snuggled herself in close to his leathers, her thighs gripping the leather of the seat. Her feet found the pegs and immediately the engine screamed, the machine bucked beneath her and they shot forward like a horse from its starting gate. The acceleration was too much, she was sliding off the seat, she hung on tighter, conscious of nothing behind her to stop her falling off. The thumping between her legs from the motor had turned into a blur of vibration, rising and falling as they screamed up through the gears and the wind blew her spectacles away. She couldn’t breathe. She didn’t want to breathe. Then, the acceleration slackened and she was left just with the scream of the motor and the roar of the wind. She took a gulp of air and she, in turn, screamed, with the joy and exhilaration. She screamed, and laughed and screamed again. The biker grinned to himself. Couldn’t believe the bizarreness of the situation. Just randomly picking up an old maid out for the shopping and taking her for a spin down the coast road. It was long and straight, with a sharp right angle bend inland at the end.

He tapped the woman’s leg, squeezed tight against his, turned his head towards her, pointed at the end of the road half a mile ahead. He could see her look far ahead, see the black and white arrows and the sea beyond. He grinned. Opened the throttle wide. The engine roared, the bike bucked again, the woman screamed again. They were hurtling towards the black and white boards. She had a fleeting moment of coherent thought: all this trouble the doctors had gone to, giving her life, was about to be wasted. And still the bike accelerated. This time she screamed with fear. Then suddenly she was thrown forward as the brakes slammed on, the same way they had slammed on seconds before she met this nemesis and they were slowing, slowing, but not fast enough. The black and white signs were large, larger, filling the sky and abruptly the bike was turning beneath her, turning a sharp circle to return the way it had come. The experience repeated – acceleration, wind in hair, screaming noise and throbbing heat.

Before she knew it, they were back at the zebra crossing, the traffic carefully manoeuvring past her abandoned wheeled shopping basket.

Then, she was standing by it, the motorcyclist zooming away, a black silhouette receding rapidly into the distance, the noise of the exhaust left hanging in the air.

A car tooted as she stood there, transfixed. Had she imagined it?

She pulled her trolley out the road and stood there. She’d never had a dream like that before, in the middle of the day. Going for a ride on a motorbike? Her? She didn’t even have a driving licence, let along any interest in motorbikes. This was new. How could she have imagined something so strongly? Her new heart was racing fit to burst. This simply would not do. She took deep breaths, calmed herself.

Back home she was dismayed to find exhaust smuts and oil stains over her dress. She gasped.

At the hospital for her follow up appointment she reluctantly spoke about her imagined experience and the marks on her skirt. She explained how whenever a motorbike was near, her heart would race and if she was not careful she would find herself going over to admire any bike she could get near to. To ride it. She had received many strange looks from the riders. Some she almost felt she had recognised, she could say hello to.

Her consultant smiled. “This sometimes happens. Were you not told about this?” Apparently a new heart will want to impose the character of its former owner on its new user. “You just have to be firm”, the consultant advised. “Show your new heart who’s boss. It will soon understand. Break it in, like a horse, gently but firmly.”

So, she did. She would let her heart take her over to a motorbike, feel the pulse race as she checked out the machine, but resist the urge to ride it. Then, she forced herself away, then stood at a distance, then finally the heart relented, accepted that this lady just was never going to ride a motorbike. Boring.

Yvonne admitted secretly that she had rather enjoyed her fantasy trip on the motorbike along the coast road. But she was glad she had an understanding heart.