The months following James’s procedure were no doubt difficult, but the man was made of good spirit and he demonstrated remarkable improvement, much to the happiness of his wife Grace. Certain elaborate (and not to mention expensive) modifications had to be made to their home, particularly the bedroom, but neither of the pair found them as perplexing or overwhelming as they did those first days after the installation. They were both in good financial standing, living in a sweetly polished London neighborhood where privacy was relatively easy to maintain if you could afford it. In fact, the sweet husband managed to gingerly convey—still bound to his wheelchair at that point— that his new heart might improve their already pleasant nighttime interactions. Grace readily approved this speculation.
The complex, mechanical steam valve device— the electroheart, as Dr. Miller called it— had saved her husband’s life and now resided in his chest. Given James’s medical history of father after father falling over at the dinner table while clutching their chests and turning blue in turn, he and Grace decided early in their marriage that caution was to be heeded in matters of his health. Regular visits to the physician and a generally healthy diet culminated in James clutching his chest at the dinner table at the age of 31 and a bed in the hospital.
When Dr. Miller asked what Grace wanted done— her husband pale, and in and out of consciousness— she simply said, “Everything. The best.”
In her great emotional distress this was the only answer that seemed suitable to her.
“I am not sure I understand your answer, Mrs. Langford,” Dr. Miller routinely replied.
“You see, there are a myriad of options,” he uttered boringly. “We could try putting him on medications and observing him for the next few weeks, we could also try—”
“I said I want the best,” she said with exasperated finality.
Dr. Miller’s expression shifted away from its monotonous, conservative gaze to one of curiosity. He stared into Grace’s resolute face and the expression changed again, now to a not-so-reserved one that reminded her slightly of a demented and happy interest. Before she could look away, he said a soft silky voice that promised to open a century of secrets: “Well… There is a more radical option.”
Grace shuddered slightly. “Go on…”
“It’s… a treatment, Mrs. Langford. One that has only been tried and tested on about two dozen patients, though I assure you it’s quite safe.”
“Is it a treatment of your own design?” she inquired.
“Oh heavens no!” he laughed. “Though I assure you I am practiced in its procedure. It’s through a government sponsored grant. Your husband would be the twenty-fifth case if he qualifies, and you choose to proceed. There are stipulations, of course. But it has a good success rate from what I’ve observed. The side effects are difficult to predict and it can be quite expensive… But you and Mr. Langford don’t have that little problem to consider, considering your well-heard-of and sizable inheritance. I would do the operation myself. You will not be disappointed, Mrs. Langford, certainly not.”
Grace did not need to hear any more. She read through the paperwork as well as she could in that short window of time, consulted an accountant and signed the documents for the procedure. James successfully underwent the operation. While he recovered at the hospital, Grace supervised the home installments that would allow her husband to live comfortably. After six weeks in bed, they went home together ready to adjust to their new life. They settled in like newlyweds.
He was, of course, still unaware of just how expensive the whole ordeal had been. But he was alive, healthy and just as cheeky as he had been when Grace fell in love with him five years ago— so she had no complaints. Not wanting to complicate his recovery with financial concerns, she simply explained to him that the procedure would be paid for on a monthly basis (which was true!) and did not go into the darker details of them now being in a spot of debt to the British government.
Six months went by pleasantly enough. Their friends and family, at first shocked and appalled at the tubing systems that crept overtly through the house so that William could charge his mechanical steam heart as needed, seemed relatively comfortable in their presence and continued to come over for afternoon tea. Dr. Miller checked in about once a week, but was polite and generally unobtrusive during his visits, asking the same questions and mumbling garbled answers to amicable questions about his own family. He did not trouble them with lengthy visits, and maintained a transfixed enthusiasm at how well James had adjusted to his heart. In short, it was perfect.
It was a hot July day when Grace decided she would work outside in the garden. She rummaged about, carefully pruning and managing the summer flowers.
“James, darling? Would you mind bringing me the small box where we keep the sharper shears?” she called into the house.
It took a few minutes to realize he might not have heard her.
This time she put her tools down and listened for him. When she heard nothing, she stood up and went into the house.
“Darling? Is everything alri—”
She had only to walk into their hallway to realize that something was very wrong. Her husband was standing alarmingly still, looking concentrated and pale, and holding a letter in both his hands. Their silence was stamped with the occasional sounds of his functional new heart, which he then touched gently with his right hand.
“Grace,” he started. “I don’t understand this.”
Wordlessly, she walked to him, her hand outstretched for the letter.
“You see, this letter says the British government would like to repossess me.”
She stopped short, clearly shocked by this ridiculous statement.
“What?!” she exclaimed.
“But… I don’t understand either! I’ve made all the payments on time, not a day late! Repossession? What do they think you are, a piece of overpriced furniture?”
They stared at each other a minute longer before she turned equally pale. James gently took her hand and led her to the nearest arm chair. After helping his wife into it, he pulled another chair for himself and faced her, tossing the letter on the table.
“Gracie, I am not angry; but I do need to you tell me if you know what’s going on.” He waited patiently for her to reply.
Grace looked at her healthy, loving husband.
“Oh James. Darling… I really don’t know. When you were in the hospital and Dr. Miller asked what I wanted done, I simply said I wanted the best for you. I’ve told you that. And it’s worked so well… You see, the doctor explained that procedure was experimental, through a government grant. When I read through the contract there was nothing about repossession, I promise you. I even had a copy made, I’ll find it for us.”
She looked frantic now but continued, “I spoke to an accountant about the expense and we figured that with our savings, the house and regular payments from the shop we could afford it. I mean… we are in a bit of debt now, but it’s manageable. I didn’t want to concern you with the finances. I didn’t want them to hinder your recovery… But I should have told you. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”
He pulled his chair in a little closer and reached out for her hands. When they were securely in his, he replied, “I would have done the same for you.”
She sighed in slight relief, but her concern lingered heavily.
“Let me look at the letter.”
He picked it back up from the table and handed it to her. She read it several times before putting it back down and looking at him straightforwardly.
“I don’t understand this. They’re implying that because of a new suspicion of war, they maintain a right to call you to the military for some sort of government research. By God, James… Do they think they can just take you away and turn you into some sort of walking government experiment?!”
“Or weapon…” he added quietly.
“Oh my God.”
They stared solemnly at one another as a sickening wave of suspicion and realization washed over them.
“Grace,” he said to her as panic set into her normally delicate features. “Gracie, you must not worry. Dr. Miller will be coming by the house in two days’ time, we can demand he give us more details regarding the situation. No one is going to repossess me. Alright?”
He smiled at her warmly and picked up her hands again as her eyes welled with tears.
“This is my fault,” she confessed.
He held her hands tighter until she looked back into his eyes. “I told you. I would have done the same for you. This is not your fault. We are going to figure this out together, all right?”
She smiled back and brushed away her tears. After all, she thought him to be quite right.
The next day was spent in hurried anticipation, and she was glad when it was over. She woke early the day of Dr. Miller’s scheduled visit and set about to keep herself busy.
As she scrambled about, trying to control her nervous energy, James walked into the kitchen looking calm and confident. She took a minute to admire his serene demeanor before he came up to hug her.
“You’re in an awfully good mood,” she mentioned as she straightened his waistcoat.
“Yes well, I thought it might do us both some good to anticipate the best for today.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” she laughed, feeling normal for the first time in days.
“I don’t either darling,” he laughed back. “Did you want to go to the market today? Dr. Miller doesn’t arrive until 11am; that should be plenty of time if you need the fresh air.”
“No, I couldn’t possibly!” she started. “What if he gets here early and—”
“Then I shall reprimand him and bid him wait until you get home!” James said. “You’ve been pacing since 6 this morning. You don’t have to go, Grace, I just thought you might want the time to collect your thoughts.”
She considered this, and her mental exhaustion, for a moment and concluded, “Well. It is only 9. I can be back around 10:30. If he gets here any earlier than that, the man has no manners.”
“That’s right!” her husband replied, then he leaned in and gave her a kiss.
Grace gathered her basket and set off for the short path that led to the market. The hour seemed to fly before her, and soon she was walking briskly back to their home with fresh fruits in hand. She turned the corner to their garden when she noticed the gate had been left rudely open. As she got closer, though, she noted it was not merely open, but hanging limply to one side where it slowly came off its hinges.
A slow terror crept through her body before she shut it still. She put down the basket and looked ahead, into the house, where she now saw the door hanging in a similar state.
“James?” she called out softly. She knew, cold and horrible in her chest, that there would be no reply.
She steeled herself against the hopelessness she felt and walked into the house. The ground level was completely overturned– broken furniture littered the floor along with glass and wood from demolished frames. She looked at the walls and noticed the elaborate system of tubing that was being used to keep James alive had broken and missing pieces. She did not know how she had gotten to the floor, how long she had been there or how many tears she had spilled before she heard the footsteps.
She stood up slowly and quietly, no longer feeling hopeless or afraid. All she felt now was a raging need for answers, and luckily for her the man who could give them to her had arrived at her door.
Dr. Miller walked in unabashedly, as if the house were in its normal state. He took off his hat and looked at Grace in an eerily calm way.
“Mrs. Langford,” he began. “I’m glad the men followed their instructions and left you unharmed. I wanted to le–”
“I wasn’t home when they took him,” she interrupted.
“A lucky coincidence!” chirped the demented physician. “Then this won’t take long. Your husband will be returned to you in a year’s time. That’s about how long this war is rumored to last. I assure you he will be safe. Just make sure the payments are being met each month and all will be well.”
In her shock at the abruptness of his words, she did not notice that he had already turned to walk back out the door. Then, without so much as a spare thought, she quietly picked up a piece of the copper piping that littered the floor of her once happy home, took three long strides toward the doctor, and swung the pipe with enough might to send him sprawling to the ground. As he sputtered in shock and mumbled what sounded like threats, Grace rolled him over with her foot and brandished the pipe at him once more.
“Good Dr. Miller,” Grace invoked. “You have made a mistake. For now, all I have to say to you is that if my husband is harmed, I’m going to make you hurt in a variety of interesting ways. Sit down. You’re going to be here a long time.”
She looked at him in disgust as he squirmed on her floor, bleeding slightly on her carpet, then went to the door and closed it to the outside world.