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Vincent F. Maher

Our Lady Of the Implantable Defibrillator

On the feast of San Giuseppe, sixty-six year old Giovanni whose heart was as big as a melon and as mushy as an overripe eggplant, received his implantable automatic cardiac defibrillator. He’d heard there were problems with them but it was that or a box and he wasn’t quite ready for the box, so he took the defibrillator.

He made an uneventful recovery, returned to his home in the family compound in the northern suburbs of New York City, enjoyed the ministrations and banter of his daughter, the adoration of his granddaughters, the tolerance of his son-in-law, the temporarily attenuated arrogance of his son-in-perpetual-therapy, and imbibed a decaf espresso without Sambuca because it was before noon and without a sugar-free biscotti because it was before lunch. He did not want to spoil his appetite.

Later that day and in the days that followed, he walked his garden inspecting trees and shrubs. He applauded the tenacious efforts of crocus and daffodils to push back the frozen vestiges of winter and to face the sun. He noticed while looking at the fresh spring greenery that he actually felt pretty good. He took a deep breath, relaxed, took another, shrugged, grinned, looked at the sky and whispered “Grazie a Dio.”

The days grew longer and the phone rang. His elderly Aunt Maria had passed. She’d almost made it to 100 he thought – close enough though. When you get to be that old, who’s counting except maybe the people at Social Security and Medicare?

Giovanni and his family piled into the Escalade hybrid and drove to the wake in the old neighborhood. They arrived to find what they’d expected – some gentrification, many of the old shops, delis and cafes defying the odds still in business, and a typical multi-day wake even though Aunt Maria had outlived all her friends and most of her neighbors. It was the right thing to do for her. It was tradition. He planned to be there every day.

On the third day of the wake in the late afternoon, just before the priest came to say the rosary, Giovanni took advantage of a lull in the conversation and walked up to the casket to have a final chat with his Aunt. He had to let her know that it was he who’d eaten the entire pizza rustica she’d made for Easter twenty years earlier before anyone else had seen it and, worse, had convinced her that she’d never even made it. He bent his head to her right ear, the one closest to him, adorned with an ebony earring, smelled the mixture of formaldehyde, pancake makeup and Evening in Paris, made his confession, stood up, felt relieved and light headed, which he attributed to his coming clean and to the various smells, realized that his heart pounded chaotically, grabbed his chest and hit the floor with a thud, eyes rolled back, pupils fixed and dilated, lips cyanotic, his tongue lolling to the left.

He saw only light.

He never heard his daughter’s scream or saw his immobilized son’s stare. He never felt the defibrillator, hot wired to his heart, jump-start him so fast that he had lifted right off the floor like Jesus at Easter. He flopped around, hands and feet shaking like a possessed believer at a faith healer’s summertime tent meeting, gurgled, lost the light, shuddered, gasped, groaned and opened his eyes slowly. They focused on the picture of the Madonna and the Angel on the wall in front of him over his Aunt Maria’s casket.

He did not hear his daughter yell “You SonofaBitch, you scared the shit outta me! Don’t ever do that to me again!”

Mary and the Angel. Today was March 25th. He remembered his Baltimore catechism – The Feast of the Annunciation. The same name as the church where his aunt would be buried from the following morning.

He sat up, rubbed his chest and promised the Madonna he’d get to church early and light a candle of thanksgiving in her honor.

But first, he’d skip the Rosary, go home, have a caffeinated espresso with Sambuca and a real chocolate and nut biscotti, before dinner, because it’s not every day that you live to tell the tale of a close call and walk away to attend your dead Aunt’s funeral.