A Rhythmic Pulse in Seven Parts
With a wavering finger, the stylus dropped from the cradle onto the vinyl with hisses, cracks and pops.
A sloshy whumpa whumpa whumpa pulsed from tinny speakers, sounding all too fast to new parents’ ears.
“It’s perfectly normal,” reassures the nurse. She needn’t ask if it’s their first because she can see it. She can tell from the goofy smiles, the clasped hands, the shuffling feet.
“It makes a good techno beat,” he says, bopping his head.
A grainy black and white sketch modulates on the monitor, an almost static display.
“It’s an explosion in a rice factory,” she says.
The rice concoction flurries as the sonographer squelches through conductive gel.
“Bladder press,” she giggles.
Toes, hands, head, spine emerge in the rice pattern. A pause. The smallest of movements of the grains of rice, off-centre.
“And there is your baby’s heart, beating perfectly.”
In the quiet hours of night, a small figure wearing pyjama pants that are too long, cries at imagined figures he sees in the shadows. His tears fall in blubbering sobs as the shadowy figures are held at bay in the fortress of his mother’s arms. In the crook of her arms he rests, soaking the shoulder of her pyjamas with his tears and snot. The bedside lamp banishes the shadows. Rocking gently she feels his little heart thumping a staccato march against her own, a peculiar poly-rhythmic ostinato. The frenetic pounding of his heart pushes adrenaline until it is consumed. His pulse returns to resting pace, and the whispered breaths of sleep.
Adrian’s bestest present on his eighth birthday was a stethoscope, a gift from Auntie Louise. The sounds of birthday chatter receded and amplified as he put the ear pieces in. The sound of his breathing echoed in his head. Pushing his t-shirt up and placing the bell of the stethoscope on his chest he heard da-dum da-dum, da-dum da-dum.
“I can hear my heartbeat,” he said.
“Too loud,” said his mother. “You have the stethoscope in your ears.”
All the young cousins came over and Adrian listened intently. The stethoscope passed from hand to hand and ear to ear as the new music of their hearts astounded them.
“Can I put it on your chest and listen to your heart? Adrian asked his cousin, Bella.
Bella crossed her arms across her seventeen-year-old bosom, blushing at her family’s laughter.
Adrian frowned as Bella strode into the kitchen. His mother, hiding a smirk behind parental duties, ushered him away and changed the topic.
Two hearts beating in unison. Two bodies of flesh made one. Sated and spent, clinging to each other in love’s embrace, gulping in mouthfuls of air, lest the “little death” claim them both.
She giggled as his whiskery stubble grazed her breast. He mumbled an apology and lay still, resting between her breasts.
In his ear he felt the blood rushing through her body; the pulse a subsonic rumble of a laden passing freight train.
Her nipple softened as the freight train faded into the distance. He eyed it greedily, waiting for the train to pass by again.
He awoke to the sound of elephants tap dancing to heavy metal blast beats. Shaking his head, he failed to dislodge them and bring down the curtain on their impromptu performance. Lying very still he found the ruckus more bearable.
He waved at the dislocated voice as his heart relocated itself in his head, thumping behind his eyes.
“Dad’s awake,” the voice yelled. The elephants resumed their limited repertoire.
“Good afternoon, darling,” said his wife. “It must have been some celebration.”
All he remembered was too many beers after the Wentworthville Magpies C Grade won the Grand Final. And then there was some illusory scrap of memory of karaoke. He was singing. He should never be singing.
The whumping of the pulse behind his eyes provided the bottom end bass tones for the elephant performance. He hoped the finale would be short lived.
The sun had only been up for a couple of hours, but his hands were already immersed in soil and mulch. Resting on a high stool he focused his attention on the bonsai Japanese maple tree. Before him lay small secateurs, copper wire, scissors.
His grandson shadowed his side. “You look like a giant with all these little trees, Grandpa. What are you doing?”
“Listening to the music of the spheres.”
The boy looked nonplussed.
“It’s the heartbeat of the universe, knowing when to plant and when to reap, based on the phases of the moon and the turning of the seasons. It helps me to see how to shape this little tree.”
“Does the universe have a heartbeat?”
“Yes. It’s in all living things. It takes a careful ear to listen to their rhythm.”
“Come on. Let’s water the fruit trees.”
The mechanical ping of the heart monitor chimed. The gathered family watched the machine pulse and then turned to the rhythm of his chest rising and falling.
Each person imagined his or her own heart rate falling into unison with the machine’s ping, a snare drum marking the beat of a sombre funeral march.
The pings grew further apart, registering the time slowing as springs unwind in a clock before coming to rest.
At the request of a nod, a nurse turned down the volume.
A final inhalation.
Cessation of rhythm and the ping changed to a single note, a pulse of finality.
The stylus returns to the cradle as the record spins to a stop.