John Updike
Rabbit At Rest

'Charlie, I have a problem.'

'That's news?'

'A couple of 'em, actually. For one, I ought to do something about my heart. I just can't keep drifting along waiting for my next MI.'

'You're losing me, champ.'

'You know. Myocardial infarction. Heart attack. I was lucky to get away with the one I did have. The docs tell me I ought to have an open-heart, a multiple bypass.'

'Go for it.'

'Sure. Easy for you to say. People die having those things. I notice you never had one.'

'But I did. In '87. December, you were in Florida. They replaced two valves. Aortic and mitral. When you have rheumatic fever as a kid, it's the valves that go. They don't close right. That's what gives you the heart murmur, blood running the wrong way.'

Rabbit can hardly bear these images, all these details inside him, valves and slippages and crusts on the pipe. 'What'd they replace them with?'

'Pig heart valves. The choice is that or a mechanical valve, a trap with a ball. With the mechanical, you click all the time. I didn't want to click if I could help it. They say it keeps you awake.'

'Pig valves.' Rabbit tries to hide his revulsion.

'Was it terrible? They split your chest open and ran your blood through a machine?'

'Piece of cake. You're knocked out cold. What's wrong with running your blood through a machine? What else you think you are, champ?'

A God-made one-of-a-kind with an immortal soul breathed in. A vehicle of grace. A battlefield of good and evil. An apprentice angel. All those things they tried to teach you in Sunday school, or really didn't try very hard to teach you, just let them drift in out of the pamphlets, back there in that church basement buried deeper in his mind than an air-raid shelter.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.