When Amy hears what her father has done, she thinks she is having
a heart attack.
“Are you sure?” she asks her mother, who is out of state in Amy’s
childhood home. Amy is talking loudly because of the din of the
lawnmower going at it next door.
Her mother screams “Goddamn it” and hangs up the phone on
Amy. That’s when Amy thinks she feels the heart attack give birth to
itself. Her whole left breast aches underneath where she suspects her
heart is. Amy tries calling her mother back but she will not answer
and the heart attack lightning-bolts her. It isn’t at all what she thinks
a heart attack will feel like.
“Let it be over quickly,” she says. When there is no response, Amy
answers herself: “Okay.”
Amy caresses her breast, since she can’t get to her heart, and it feels
good; no, it feels better, but good that she can take care of things
herself, with husband and children at school. She thinks about how
things could have been so different. She could have married that
rabbi, freshly ordained, he wanted to marry her, and then there was
that doctor, a heart doctor, now is that some shade of apropos or
what, but he dumped Amy for a famous actress person, thirty years
his senior. So Amy married Ralph instead and she hates him and
hates this marriage, and he is always screaming how he hates her, too,
40_Stories_Final.indd 9 6/18/12 5:38 PM
10 Sharon Goldner
and how that time she called 911 because he was screaming so badly
and they told her that they could only send someone out if he hit her
or threatened to hit her. She wondered if 911 would come out if she
thinks it is a heart attack but isn’t really sure. Or if they would tell her
mother to stop hanging up on her all the time.
Amy likes the word “tits” but only in private, and only when she is
by herself. She takes off her shirt to undo her bra and now that it is
undone, she lifts it up and off her shoulders. Sensing their immediate
release, Amy uses two hands to caress and cajole. Her breasts are
loopy and long, having stretched out beside themselves after years
of expensive but essentially nonsupport bras. She considers turning
some music on for mood but that would require the effort of getting
up and the only effort Amy wants is the one right now on her breasts.
She sings to herself instead, trying to drown out the mowers. Living
in a gated community in the suburbs the lawns and gardens of the big
expansive homes are always being fussed over.
Amy has all but forgotten about the pending heart attack. Her
fingers deftly follow the vein down the one breast that starts in the
middle of nowhere. The fingers have gone this route before. She is
feeling the rise of her chest and the boldness of her C-cups elongated
as they hang out with her since her mother hung up on her today. She
doesn’t care if Ralph wants her to have a boob job; he’s got enough
D-cups in his porn collection to start a new nation. “These girls are
not fixer-uppers,” Amy always says.
Amy goes from the middle of nowhere vein all the way down to the
nipple. When she was nursing her youngest many years ago—the swell
of time bruised and bloated—her older child asked about the breastfeeding.
He was precocious enough to be in a gifted-and-talented kindergarten
class where he was learning his colors in Español. As she
began to give him the beautiful explanation of the breast as nourisher,
he exhaled words as if they were mucous he wanted to get rid of. “No,
what’s THAT? That blue thing,” he snaked, “on your boob.” Amy
looked down at the vein. “It’s gross!” he screamed. “Mommy’s got
blue boobs.” She had to explain to Ralph that she didn’t show him her
boob, he looked.
The phone rings. When she hears her mother’s voice on the an-
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Amy Having a Heart Attack 11
swering machine, Amy’s fingers let go of the breasts. “Why did you
hang up on me?” Amy asks. Her bra looks funny, hanging half on
the kitchen chair. Half off. Which one is it really? “You know I don’t
like when you hang up on me.” The chair almost looks like it is wearing
the bra in a very revealing way. Amy’s daughter, the youngest,
recently wondered why nobody thought to dress up furniture beyond
the fabric of cushions or pillows. “It would be funny to see a sofa
wearing a dress. A love seat could wear a skirt and a pair of pants
because it’s a love seat and it could be a boy and a girl together. Of
course, it could be a girl and a girl or a boy and a boy, too,” referring
to her aunt, Amy’s sister, and her wife. This child was gifted and
“What do you mean asking me,” her mother snipped into the
phone, “am I sure? I’m right here. You’re not here. You’re all the way
there. Exactly what part do you think I am not sure about?”
“It’s just that . . . ,” Amy stutters.
“Your father embezzled from a client,” her mother says, reaching
pitches not previously thought possible. “He got caught. It doesn’t
matter to them that he was going to pay it back before they caught
him. He was going to make it right in his own time but they are
going to make him make it right faster than that.” Her mother exhales
the last few words in a stream.
“Oh my God. Are you smoking?” Amy asks. She is appalled, particularly
since her mother’s recent cancer diagnosis.
“I already have the cancer,” her mother says, “so what’s a cigarette
in the big picture? It helps me relax and Lord knows I need to relax.
It’s not like your father is going to take me on vacation anytime soon.
And if he gets convicted, well then, that’s really no vacation. And no
sex either. A double damnation. Oy.” Amy hears the tap-tap of the
cigarette into an ashtray.
Knowing her mother, it’s probably a soup can or a soda bottle.
The china ashtrays of her childhood were considered part of the set—
valuable pieces not to be desecrated in any way.
Amy holds the phone a little ways from her ear during the cancer
talk, convinced that maybe cigarette smoke has so advanced itself that it
can travel through the phone lines right into her ear, settling in for the
40_Stories_Final.indd 11 6/18/12 5:38 PM
12 Sharon Goldner
night before making the pilgrimage into her brain and any other body
part it damn well pleases. “What about Meg and Bob? Do they know?”
While her mother extols the virtues of her siblings, Amy thinks
back to a particular teenage memory with Meg and Bob. It’s the one
where they were all in one of the bedrooms looking at record albums.
They could hear, in the next room, their parents making love. Meg
and Bob paused for a moment to listen to their parents. They had been
looking at a Grand Funk Railroad album, saying “fuck, fuck, fuck”
out loud a million times, which led to an argument about whether
or not it had been a million times. They decided to take another hit
of the joint they had been passing around before counting the million
out again, and that is when they were stopped in mid-syllable
by the grunting and alternate groaning of their parents in bed. Meg
and Bob smiled and rolled their eyes, or for them being high, it was
more like they rolled and smiled their eyes. They were lucky, they felt,
luckier than all of their friends to have such cool parents.
“Mom had like six abortions you know,” Meg said. “A few after
Bob and then some before me. We were her chosen ones, Bob! You
were supposed to do a drum roll or something.”
Bob, picking brownie crumbs off his lap and eating them, declared,
“What we just did to those brownies is downright savage. Brownies
have feelings too, you know. Amy, you should have stopped us. When
the brownie police come, we’re going to say it’s your fault, okay?”
Amy, against the wall, heard her parents, louder than her siblings;
and found their sex sounds comforting in a way—that her parents
still wanted to be together like this. Amy is thinking on this, the
sounds of comfort, and doesn’t hear her mother until she hears the
“Goddamn it, of course Bob and Meg know. Who do you think
posted bail? Jesus Christ, Amy. As if I don’t have enough going on.
Sometimes I think being a preemie affected you in ways the doctors
have yet to discover.”
Amy heard all the stories about how her mother had to trek back
and forth to the hospital with baby Bob in tow to bond with preemie
Amy. “Well, maybe if you hadn’t smoked and drank during pregnancy
. . . ,” Amy says. She sits down, her breasts jostled by the
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Amy Having a Heart Attack 13
“Nobody said that was bad for the baby. Everyone did it back then.
Your brother and sister turned out fine.”
“Mom—I’m just saying,” Amy just says.
The phone clicks. Amy has been hung up on again. In the old
days, before the wireless technology, a hang-up was really a hang-up.
It had power. It had oomph. It had drama. It required a physicality—the
holding hand removing the phone from the ear, whooshing
it through the air on its way to being slammed down. Now the effect
of the hang-up was not quite the same. And the mowers outside seem
angrier, chopping blades of grass with, ironically, blades of sharpened
steel. Everything gets cut down in life, Amy thinks, drumming her
fingers on the kitchen table. Her father was a respected man in their
community. Everyone loved him.
He gave out sage advice. He volunteered. He served on committees.
He went to fund-raisers and galas. He hosted dinner parties
where he shamed friends into giving hefty sums for charities. He was
stable. A righteous man. Of all the labels you could pitch on a man,
embezzler was not one of them. Of all the labels he wore for this
meeting and that event, who would ever dream he would wear ones
that said arrest? Police? Bail? Trial? This was unfathomable, and the
more Amy sat on the pier inside her mind fishing for explanations,
she realized that maybe anything was possible because really, how
well do you know anyone at all?
The heart attack feeling starts again, rolling in punches of pain,
threatening to explode her rib cage apart. She crosses her arms over
her chest in an effort to straitjacket everything in. The last thing Amy
wants on top of, under, and in between everything else is a mess. The
maid isn’t coming until the following week. Still hugging herself,
Amy’s crossed arms send a message up to her brain that goes something
like this: “Hey, don’t you see what’s happening here? Hello—
remember the breasts?,” and then the rest of her goes, “Remember
the breasts,” and then it occurs to Amy that she can make everything
feel so much better like before.
So Amy uncrosses herself and starts with the breast massaging
again, vigorously and joyfully.
Once the heart attack subsides, Amy finds ecstasy in her breasts,
rolling and folding them. She works efficiently, as does a farmer who
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14 Sharon Goldner
knows the lay of his own land, except that Amy can close her eyes
for brief intervals because she is not working with dangerous farm
equipment. There is a new pattern to her breathing, and sometimes
her chest stays filled with air for longer than it heaves the air out.
Amy thinks that, as long as she is one with her breasts, the heart
attack can always be averted. She feels full, the way she used to when
she was breastfeeding her children, seemingly long ago. Taking out
the small compact mirror Amy keeps in her pocket, she looks at parts
of herself—it is not the right size for a full view of face or body, and
so she moves it around slowly, glancing at her hair, her eyes, mouth,
Just as she moves the mirror down to her chest, intending on one
breast at a time, the phone rings.
“I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” Amy’s
mother says. “Your father could do jail time for this. Can you imagine
Daddy in jail? Your father an inmate? Wearing the same exact
clothes as everyone else? That alone will kill him. You know how
much he relishes style. And living with a roommate? I don’t think
they are even called that. They’re cell mates. I mean, they can’t leave
you with something nicer to call it? I have been your father’s roommate
for some forty-five years now. Did I tell you we were living
together before it was in style? We were pioneers, I tell you. Sharing
living expenses and pleasurable expenses—that’s how he put it. Way
back when they talk about the good old days, well, they really were,
before anything else.”
Amy tugs the phone away from her ear just a little. While her
mother continues to reminisce. Amy closes her eyes, taking herself
back in time to her father coming home from work—she never knew
exactly what he did, but he did have so many clients, and all of those
clients paid for all of the nice things they did have. “Daddy-o’s home,”
he would sing in the doorway, and Amy, faster than Meg and Bob,
would leap down the stairs and into his arms. “You’re too heavy for
me to pick you up, baby,” he would eventually say, but oh how he
would let her wrap herself around him into his cologne and pinstripes.
“He’s going to have to pay back everything, plus lawyer fees,” her
mother says. Amy can hear the grinding of the pottery wheel as she
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Amy Having a Heart Attack 15
talks. Her mother is known in town for her colorful, if not impractical,
ashtrays, mugs, vases, and things that had not been tablewareinvented
quite yet. “You know we’re going to have to sell Sunny.”
Amy’s jaw drops. She feels it slip away from the top part of her
mouth, wide open. Her tongue, wet with that elixir of life, spit,
having nowhere to unload its product allows it to sluice out of her
in beads, down her chin. “No, not Sunny!” The expansive home of
Amy’s childhood. Amy loves that house. It has always been there.
Strong, reliable, safe—what a childhood home should be.
Amy loves the breezy modern decor throughout, the theme of
sunflowers in every room, even in her brother’s room, where they
were hand-painted by their mother, camouflage, hanging over his
bed. The real outdoor picnic table in the kitchen, with the umbrella
that really worked. The formal dining room, with the real knotted
tree bark that twisted up from the floor, flattening itself into the expanse
of a table . . . how oddly divine the table looked when it was
set for one of the many elegant dinner parties, as regular a feature of
their lives as the four-tier hand-carved chandelier that drove flecked
shimmers of light onto the room. The hiding annex Amy had discovered
in her father’s study where she would sit and think and imagine.
The grand entryway with the winding stairwell where Amy would
pretend to be a famous megawatt movie star waving to her fans.
“You can’t do this to me,” Amy says. “You can’t. That’s my life
in there.” She places the phone down, turning it on to speaker. She
holds her breasts up, her face down, and begins sobbing into herself.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” her mother’s voice goes, coming through
crackly on speaker. It fills up the kitchen like a noxious gas seeping
into every space, sending its rebel forces all out with threats of overthrow
down every path. “You’re an adult woman, for God’s sake,
blubbering over a house you left long ago. When’s the last time you
visited? Do you ever make it in for the holidays? Practically every
month of the calendar there’s a goddamn holiday that you avoid
coming home for. Your father and I beg . . . they’re our only grandchildren.
And NOW you’re crying. Boo hoo for Amy.”
Amy knows there’s a lot more anger in her mother’s hang-up than
the click will allow. She turns the phone back on, waiting for the
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16 Sharon Goldner
dial tone to die, followed by the recorded operator voice that says,
“If you would like to make a call, hang up and dial again,” followed
by the blast of beeps reminding Amy that the phone is still off the
hook, before going completely dead. Determined to make the day go
the way she wants it to, Amy starts back up with her breasts, fingers
cooing on the skin freckled with perspiration, hips rocking in the
vinyl kitchen chair. She reaches one hand down inside the waist of
her jeans. They pop open, and her fingers scramble inside the dark
Outside, the edger guy on the path next door motions up and
down to the lawn guy on the mower. The mower smiles, the space
in between his front teeth holding a toothpick captive. He shakes his
head, pushing his baseball cap firmly down, squashing bits of hair
this way and that.
He knows what the edger is gesturing about, and he’s interested,
but no, not really. His wife at home has some really great chest. This
missus here, well, hers are middle-aged and old.
The edger guy mows up as close as he can to the window without
seeming intrusive. He’s a professional, after all. Say what you will
about their line of work, but how many jobs can boast of a little
breast sightseeing on the side? A doctor, for sure. The edger guy
shakes his head—too much school required for that. All he had to do
was read a mower-and-edger manual.
He swipes a look in Amy’s window, baseball cap pulled low over
his eyes, just in case he has to say he wasn’t looking at anything—
nothing at all—and it would seem like it was true.
Thank you for reading!
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