Tick Tock

Robert McGuinness has lived a long, full life.

He stormed the beaches of Normandy and was honored with the Purple Heart for the bit of Nazi shrapnel he still has in his ass. He’s seen sixteen presidents serve his country, some rather poorly if you were to ask him. He’s lived through recessions, depressions and economic downfall. He can tell you exactly where he was when Martin Luther King, Jr., President Kennedy and his brother Bobby, and that one British fella that was in that band. You know, the ones with the long hair that all the teenagers went nuts for in the 60’s. He was never a fan of long hair on men and made his four sons keep short hair like proper gentlemen. He recalls with clarity the day the Challenger shuttle exploded and while a little difficult to recall since he was 83-years-old, the World Trade Center bombings.

Today, at age ninety-four, he is lying in a bed in the hospital with tubes coming out of his arms for medicine and out of his pecker so he can pee. He’s surrounded by his family, or what remains of them, anyway. His wife, Marjorie–may she rest in peace–has been gone for nearly ten years, and his second-born son, Peter–may he also rest in peace, for twenty years. The Cancer got both of them. Now who’s left are his three sons and their wives. All are crowded in the tiny room, waiting for Robert to be taken away to surgery. They have been assured the procedure will be simple and quite routine. Pacemakers are minimally invasive and he’ll be back to running around with the grandkids and great-grandkids in no time. Robert guesses he should be glad his ticker has held out for this long, but it is starting to show signs of wear-and-tear.

One day, he was out in the garden pruning back the rose bush Marjorie had planted years ago, and the next thing he knew, he was in the hospital and told he had passed out and his neighbor had found him. While in the ER and hooked up to an EKG machine, his heart beat had slowed to 23 beats a minute and that’s why he’s getting this little metal gadget in his chest. At first, he protested the idea; he’s 93-years-old, for chrissake and he’s made his peace with his Maker.

“Dad, please. We wish you’d think about this.”

“Son, I’ve lived my life.”

“Yes, but we’re not ready to have you out of ours…”

The doctor came into the room to speak with Robert and his sons. He was a tall, thin man in his mid-forties and his hair was peppered with strands of silver. He is soft-spoken and his deep baritone voice is somewhat of a comfort to the McGuinness family as he explained the surgery and what to expect after Robert was finished.

“We’re going to place two wires into your heart, Bob, and the device itself just goes under the skin right above that. You’ll have some weight bearing restrictions afterwards, so no Strong Man competitions for a while.”

Robert chuckled. He liked this kid.

The anesthesiologist came in next and injected some sort of medicine into his IV. His family left the room, but not without each giving Robert a hug, kiss, or hand squeeze and encouraging words.

“See you in a few hours, Pop.”

“Don’t give those nurses too much trouble, Dad. They have razors. I’m sure they won’t hesitate to shave your balls.”

And with that, Robert was wheeled down the corridor to the the surgical suite and prepped for surgery.

As the kind doctor said, the surgery was very routine and all went smoothly. The pacemaker was in place and beating his heart at an even 60 beats a minute.

Robert came to and looked around the room, blinking his eyes slowly. He heard the soft blips and beeps of the medical equipment around him. To his left was a tray with food on it and to his right were flowers, balloons and homemade cards from his grandchildren. He smiled at the crayon drawings and shut his eyes to get more rest.

The next day, he was released from hospital and taken home. His chest was sore, but he did have a chunk of metal in his chest. “”I’ve got metal in my ass and now in my chest. Just call me the Tin Man,” he laughed in spite of himself.

Days, weeks, and months passed. Robert celebrated his 95th birthday with much fanfare from his family. He saw two great-grandchildren graduate from college and one grandchild get married. During these happy occasions, he starts to think of Marjorie and misses her something terrible. He wants to join her in their Heavenly Kingdom so they can be together for all eternity. He regrets this lump in his chest for keeping him alive. He never should have agreed to getting the darn thing.

During his visit to cemetery to visit his wife and son, which he’s done every week since they both passed, he sits on the cement bench overlooking the cemetery and starts to think.

He decides he’s ready to die, pacemaker keeping him going be God damned. He plots his plan. He has six days to tie up loose ends, to prepare for his departure.

Once everything is squared away and all is in order, he visits the cemetery once more, this time, with no plan on leaving.

He dressed in his finest suit, a dark grey wool number with thin maroon stripes. As he’s dressing himself, he looks at his reflection in the full length mirror behind the bedroom door. This suit has a lot of miles on it. Weddings, baptisms, graduations…funerals. He straightens his maroon tie and makes sure the knot is neat and tidy. This simple act makes him miss Marjorie even more, as this was usually her job.

“Soon, my love. We’ll be together once again.”

He places a handkerchief in his left breast pocket and his hand rests there for a moment, feeling the apparatus underneath his skin, tick-tocking away. Tick, tock, tick, tock…like his own personal metronome, keeping biological rhythm. When he got out of the shower this morning, he looked down at his once full and muscular chest, and saw the still angry red snake of scar from the surgery.

Dressed and ready, he made his way down to the giant old Cadillac in the driveway. He prided himself that he still had the mental capacity to operate a vehicle. Many of the guys at the Legion Club had be revoked of their privilege years ago and claimed their jealousy for Robert’s ability to drive. Sometimes, he’d round up a bunch of them and they’d cruise around town, much like they used to do when they were younger.

Robert turned the key in the ignition, gave a longing glance at the house he’s lived in for sixty years and backed out of the driveway onto the street and drove to the cemetary.

He liked it there. It’s quiet and peaceful and despite the death that lives there, the birds seem to take no notice to this and chirp away happily. He walks to the graves of his beloved and second-born child and painfully kneels down on his knees between them and rests his back against his own headstone. When Marjorie died, he went ahead and had his made up; one less thing for the family to worry about when his time came. All that needed to be done was have the date etched into the marble.

He opened up his suit jacket and reached for the small object he had placed in the inside pocket. He took off the jacket and neatly lay it across his headstone. He then started unbuttoning his dress shirt, his old arthritic fingers fumbling every now and again over the tiny pearl buttons. Once undone, he slipped it off and he sat bare-chested as the midday sun beat down upon him. He took the object and held it in his hands.

It was a Swiss Army knife he got when he enlisted in the Army some seventy-five years ago. The blade sparkled in the sun, momentarily blinding him. Robert reached up to feel the pacemaker under his skin. He ran his finger over the scar.

He brought the knife up and dug the blade into his skin, tracing the scar with the tip. He winced in pain and felt the blood start to trickle down his chest. A single drop landed on his trousers, leaving a dark spot.

Once the wound was made, Robert set the knife down on the grass and reached up with both hands and opened it wider, exposing the pacemaker underneath. He could feel it and was taken aback by how warm it was. He grasped on to it and with one swift motion, ripped it out of his chest, the wires along with it. They dripped with blood.

He wasn’t sure how long it would take him to die. At a recent doctor’s visit to check the device to make sure it was functioning properly, he was told he was dependent on his pacemaker.

“If this quits, so will you, Mr. McGuinness,” said the chubby brunette doing the test. He liked her because she looked like his Marjorie. They had the same kind grey eyes that lit up when she smiled.

“Well then, let’s keep this thing in tip-top shape then, young lady. This darn contraption will probably outlast me, I reckon.”

She smiled at him and his heart ached. My Marjorie…

Robert was oddly at peace, sitting against his grave, half-naked and bleeding.

A few minutes passed and he began to feel fuzzy and light-headed. He decided to lay down to ease the dizziness he felt. He could feel his heart beat hard every few seconds, it obviously struggling to work without the aid of the pacemaker. He closed his eyes to keep the world from spinning around him and his head was filled with visions of Marjorie. The first time they met…their wedding day…the births of all of their children.

His beautiful Marjorie was the last thing on Robert’s mind as he slipped out of consciousness and died.

He was found a few hours later by a maintenance man out to mow the grass. He let out a yell as he came closer, seeing Robert blood-soaked and lifeless on the plot. He got close to Robert to check for signs of life, but there were none. It had gotten eerily quiet in the cemetery, except for one sound:

The pacemaker, tick tock ticking away.


  1. Thomas Pluck · October 27, 2011

    Great story, Erin. I really liked this one.

    • polishsnausage · October 27, 2011

      Thanks, Pluckster.

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