Francis Fitzgerald, Medical Examiner

The heart drops to her shoes.

“Damn it!,” Francis Fitzgerald curses out loud. The heart she holds fell to the floor, skidding under the cold, metal exam table. It comes to rest by her left foot. She nearly kicks it further reaching down to pick it up in her purple latex hands. Straining to bend down to pick up the dropped organ, it slips a bit in her gloves before she could get a firm grip on it.

“Good thing you’re dead,” she quips to the body on the table. She stares with a blank expression at the deceased man in front of her. Mid-forties, bald, morbidly obese. No wonder she is clumsy with his heart; the thing is nearly twice the size it should be, something called cardiomegaly. No wonder this guy is on her table and not watching the Red Sox on t.v. tonight. A massive myocardial infarction killed him while he was on the toilet, just like Elvis. She places the heart on a scale to weigh it, and speaks out loud to no one but the voice-activated dictation microphone located near her.

“The deceased’s heart weighs sixteen ounces,” she places the heart back into the man’s chest cavity and in a dry tone says, “thank you, thank you very much.”

Franny hears the heavy morgue door open and then vacuum itself shut. She tries not to smile to herself, but she can’t help it. Her assistant, Scott, returns with their lunch. Her own heart starts fluttering. She realizes at long last how much she liked Scott. He is damn near perfect, or at least to Franny he is.

“Hey,” he says as he walks into the room. He holds two white paper bags with grease spots soaking the bottom. “I got us some gyros and fries.” He is eyeballing the body on the table, his eyes linger on the dead man’s torso, grossly extended due to his enormous size. Scott looks down at the bags he’s holding, to Franny, then back at the body. “Maybe I should have gotten us salads instead. We’re gonna end up like fatty on the table over there. Anyway, grub’s on when you’re at a stopping point.”

“Thank you,” Franny says quietly. “I’ll join you in a second.” She pulls off her gloves and pushes her face guard up on her forehead. She hates wearing the thing, but after the incident with Mrs. Hemmy Way, who had died due to peritonitis and sepsis from appendicitis. She had just made the Y incision on the abdomen and fluids exploded in her face. It was like someone had taken a shotgun to the poor woman’s torso. Ever since then, she looks like an extra in the movie Outbreak–full mask with face shield, a long white gown, and gloves midway up her forearms. Better safe than covered in body fluids…and not the good kind, either.

Franny walks into her and Scott’s shared office just off the side of the exam room. He’s chowing down on the gyro, a bit of tztziki sauce on the corner of his mouth. He’s oblivious to it and Franny is trying very hard to not reach out and wipe his face for him. She knows if she does that, she’ll want to touch his face more and that leads to other parts. Instead, she looks at him and gestures on her own face to remove the bit of cucumber sauce from his. Scott grabs a napkin and does so. “Thanks,” he says around a mouthful of food. Normally, such poor manners would gross Franny out, but it is funny; with Scott, she doesn’t care.

Franny wants to tell Scott how she feels about him, but he can never know. He moved her on such a deep, chemical level, much more than any man had ever done before. Why can’t she tell him? Because they are co-workers and she couldn’t bear to look at him if things didn’t work out between them. There’s a quote about that sort of thing, though: “It is a risk to love. What if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does.” She’s had too many failed relationships in the past to put herself out there again. Her guts were ripped out, stomped on, and set on fire, all while she watched helplessly. She doesn’t think she’s capable of loving again. But Scott…Scott isn’t like the other men. Scott pales in comparison to them all.

She is unaware she’s been staring because Scott waves his hand in front of her face. “Earth to Franny, come in Franny. You’re a million miles away. Old Mr. Bates in there got you?” he asks. Scott has more sauce on the corner of his mouth again. This time, she reaches forward and wipes it away. Scott blushes. Francis smiles at him, a smile like she has a wonderful secret to tell him, like she knows something he doesn’t. He blushes more, his cheeks the color of ripe cherries.

Ah, but what if it does.

 

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