After I See Her Heart by Rebecca Entel

After I See Her Heart

Recurring Stress Dreams

I insult the appearance of a beautiful person, who in response screams all the things about me I am most afraid of someone saying, thinking. Too much light blinds me, and I can’t find where I need to go; I spend hours trying to find my way down empty hallways of uniform orange lockers. Some sex dreams are weirdly the same as childhood dreams of missing classes or tests: hours of interruptions, trying to find places to be alone, never getting where I’m trying to go. Each house has a secret room that’s been waiting for me. My first dream about not finishing my homework is in fifth grade; when I tell a friend this, in our 20s, his eyebrows lift in a way that tells me something about who I have always been.

Four Hospitals, 2001

In the first, after the appointment in which I find out there’s something wrong I didn’t know could be wrong, I bypass the elevator and fall down the stairs. In the second, I tremble-beg him not to use the speculum while the nurse looks at me with a concern-crushed face. In the third, they accidentally schedule me during the surgeon’s pediatric shift, and the cheerful nurses tell me to follow the blue stars on the floor. In the fourth, my best friend flashes her med student ID in the outpatient surgical ward to come find me, pocked with tiny holes from all the piercings I had to remove, twelve days before what we think will be just the second Tuesday of September.

Fourteen Months Inside My House

During Covid, all my dreams are travel dreams. So many missing boarding passes and running-down clocks, gates or bags I can’t find, or an exit I walk toward and toward. I’m flying to China and put the least reliable person I know in charge of everything. I left her detailed instructions for taking care of my goldfish (which I don’t have outside of the dream) but, I realize at the gate, no instructions for caring for my dying dog (which I do).

I Was Less Than 12½

I know, because we move when I am 12½, and this happens in our old house: I sob silently inside the pink-tiled powder room that is always so cold because it’s by the front door. At Hebrew School that afternoon, a teacher spoke of being a toddler twin, discovered with her sister under her grandmother’s skirt, at Auschwitz, by Mengele. Dinner is fish sticks, and I see her fingers smashed by a hammer after she’d hit him, when he’d come to remove her sister’s body from the cage. Instead of eating, I run to the pink bathroom to vomit.

Grandma’s Life/My Not-life

There must be more Holocaust dreams, because I have known my grandparents’ stories since I was so little I couldn’t see over the table. But the only ones I remember are about hiding. I dream my grandma and I are desperately trying to keep my sister’s baby quiet inside a car. My brother-in-law, a convert, is allowed to escape to the country of his birth (at the falling-off toe of a continent I’ve never been to) in a train that looks like an Amtrak from my life, not the cattle cars of a black-and-white world. We are trying to get the baby to him. Daylight offers no cover. In the backseat, we duck into the position of elementary-school tornado drills, my nephew gurgling happy baby noises. I let my eye dart to the window, and a woman standing nearby turns toward us, hearing him, laughing at us for thinking we could hide.

Pearl Harbor Day, 2020

My dog coughs through a December night, stretching her tiny neck to breathe, and the vet lets me inside the curbside-only clinic to show me the x-ray in the dark. The glowing border of her heart, his fingers marking out how much bigger it is than it should be. It’s compressing both her trachea and her lungs, which look like squished hamantaschen – a metaphor I know my Iowa vet wouldn’t understand if I spoke it out loud into my mask that says VOTE. After I see her heart, she’ll only eat her goopy food if I lie down next to her with a spoon. Globs drip to the floor, and she licks them up, leaving stains the color of dust that sometimes I clean and sometimes I don’t.

Rebecca Entel is the author of a novel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, as well as stories and essays in such journals as Guernica, Catapult, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, Joyland, and Cleaver. She teaches creative writing, U.S. and Caribbean literature, and the literature of social justice at Cornell College. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @rebeccaentel.

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Image (cropped): Giorgio di Chirico (Gandalf’s Gallery) CC2.0

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