A Change of Heart
A heart transplant can have some unexpected outcomes for the recipient.
I was thirteen before I realised what an utterly selfish, attention-seeking woman my mother was. My father was her opposite, a gentle, mild-mannered soul who avoided all confrontation. If mother were opposed, she’d have a ‘funny turn’ and dad would acquiesce.
Traditionally, we spent Christmas at Grandma’s house. On our final visit, grandma greeted us lovingly then mother pulled her usual stunt ‘I’ll have to rest Reginald’ she whined, ‘my head’s killing me.’ She disappeared upstairs leaving dad and me to help grandma with the preparations. Hard work complete, mother re-joined us then commandeered grandma’s armchair and the TV remote. She channel-hopped, complaining loudly about the rubbish they put on at Christmas.
Dad saw my irritation and mouthed, ‘shush, Elizabeth, she’ll have a turn.’ Then grandma called from the kitchen ‘dinner’s ready.’
‘I’ll just nip to the loo.’ mother said.
We sat; minutes ticked by Grandma called upstairs ‘You alright Cynthia?’
After another five minutes Grandma sighed ‘Elizabeth, would you please go and see what’s keeping her?’ Mother was leisurely applying makeup. ‘I’ll be down in a minute’ she snapped.
Eventually, mother appeared, beamed a crocodilian smile and sat down without a word. We ate our congealing dinner in silence.
Meal over, mother crassly quipped ‘what a lovely dinner, Mary, shame it was cold.’
Grandma exploded. On cue, mother had a funny turn. Dad loaded the car and we departed never to return.
Four years passed; mother’s constant carping began affecting dad’s health. One day he collapsed with a major heart attack, his heart was seriously damaged, and he was listed for a transplant. To my great relief they found a suitable donor.
Whilst dad was recovering, mother started going to bingo twice a week, often coming home late. I became suspicious and followed her to the bus stop one evening. A car stopped and mother got in, kissing the driver. I was distraught but held my peace not telling dad or confronting mother lest her inevitable histrionics affected dad’s health.
God, I hated her, speaking to her as little as possible. She called it my teenage sulks.
As he recovered, dad began watching televised football something he’d never done before. One evening there was a big match on, dad was looking forward to it. Coincidentally, mother’s ‘bingo’ had been cancelled and her mood was vile. She changed channels with a curt ‘why are you watching that rubbish?’
Father snatched the remote back, his face puce. ‘Piss off and watch the one upstairs you selfish bitch’ he bawled. Dad had never even raised his voice to her before let alone swear. Mother was so shocked she forgot to have a turn.
After that dad slept in the spare room.
The change in my father’s personality became so pronounced I Googled heart transplants. I discovered that it was not uncommon for a heart recipient to acquire some of the character traits of the donor.
Oh, how I blessed that donor.
I went to university the following year but came home most weekends. Mother hadn’t changed and father looked miserable, often bickering with her.
One weekend, overcome with pity and guilt I said, ‘she’s having an affair, you know.’
He just nodded. ‘Since I can’t work, Elizabeth, I can’t afford to divorce her without selling the house. I’m utterly trapped.’
Two weeks later dad rang with the joyous news that mother had run off to Canada with her lover. That weekend I went home, there was a new light in dad’s eyes. I was delighted for him, but my delight was to be short-lived.
The following spring father’s body began to reject his heart. The doctors did all they could, but he died before another organ could be found. I was devastated.
I finished university despite feeling hollow inside; it’s what dad would have wanted.
I inherited the house and a large insurance policy, but the place held too many unhappy memories. I called in an estate agent. She advised me the place lacked kerb appeal, so I had the exterior painted and the gardens landscaped.
That’s when they found mother.