Let Your Sick Heart Sing
By Timothy C. Phillips
“Hey, honey, it’s me.”
He could hear her intake of breath. She knew something was wrong; he had left their small apartment
barely fifteen minutes before.
“Why aren’t you at the interview?”
“It’s my old car again, hon. It conked out at the stoplight over here near the hospital.
Sure is cold out here.”
“Oh, no. How long until you have to be at the interview?”
“Another thirty minutes.”
“Well, I’ll come to pick you up, then. We want you to get that job.”
His face reddened in the cold. They had moved to Atlanta, six months after they had graduated college.
They had decided to move in together, over the objections of her old-fashioned parents. Things had not
gone well. Their only furniture was two straight-backed chairs and a small table.
They slept on a mattress. Cheap sheets from the dollar store. When he could bear to admit it to
himself, he knew she couldn’t be happy.
Nothing seemed to be going well for him; she had gotten a job the first month. She worked as a teller
in a branch bank. She didn’t like the job, but it was currently the only income they had. He didn’t
know what he wanted to do, and it frightened him. For the past few weeks, he had told her that he was
going to look for a job, and instead had had gone to the public library and loitered in the lobby,
reading newspapers from cities he’d never visited.
“I’m sorry, babe. I know that this is the last thing that we needed.”
“Just hang on. We have to get you to that interview.”
“Okay. Be careful. I’m in the parking lot, right at the corner, you can’t miss the car.”
He hung up and ran his fingers through his hair. Maybe he should just call and postpone the inter-
view. Just go home. No; he couldn’t disappoint her. He had to go.
“Wow, things have changed.” He said aloud, to no one.
He couldn’t believe that he had ended up here, his prospects so dim. Just a few months before,
he had been a big man on campus, respected by the other guys in the fraternity, the source of fun at
parties, the center of attention wherever he went. Now, he was standing on a cold Birmingham street
corner, his only worldly possession a broken-down automobile, his only prospect an interview at a
wholesale firm, the last place on earth that he wanted to work. He stepped away from the telephone
booth and out onto the sidewalk, so that she could spot him easily. He saw a well-dressed young couple
drive by in a shiny new car, and averted his eyes. Look cool, he told himself. They probably have rich
moms and dads. They don’t know what it’s like to have bad luck. Screw them.
After a few minutes, he saw her, although she didn’t see him yet. Her eyes weren’t so good.
She probably needed glasses, which they couldn’t afford right away. She pulled in to the hospital
parking lot, jumping the curb slightly. She always did that. He heard the engine of her car running,
labored. Her parents had bought that car for her high school graduation, he remembered. I
t wasn’t running so well these days, though it was much newer than his bomb. He wondered how much
longer before her car broke down, too. She looked pale in the early winter air, as she stepped out of
the car. He smiled and shrugged.
“The old car conked out on me, babe. Hell of a time for it to die.”
She smiled weakly. “Well, don’t worry, now. We want you to get that job, today.”
“Yeah. Hey, look, don’t worry about my car. We’ll just leave it. I gotta get going.”
“But what if it gets towed away? You know we don’t have the money to get it out of impound.”
“It should be okay for a little while. The job is more important, right?”
“Right. I guess you should get going..”
“What do you mean, I should?”
“My mom called just after you that she was on her way over. She wants me to go shopping with her.
I told her how important this interview was for you. So you just take my car, and she’ll pick me up
here in a few minutes.”
Her mother didn’t like him never had. He remembered fights they had early in their relationship,
when her mother had tried to break them up. He had won those arguments, but now he knew he
couldn’t argue. He swallowed a lump that had come up. He found that he just wanted to be gone
before the woman showed up with a superior smirk on her face.
“Oh. Okay. Wow, I love you, babe. This is really great of you.”
She leaned over and kissed him. Her lips were cold from the wind.
“Good luck at your interview.”
“Thanks. I’ll knock ‘em dead, dead, for you, babe.”
She smiled that weak smile that turned his guts to jelly, the one he’d been seeing more and more
lately, and he got inside her warm car and left her standing there, this small fragile person who
rescued him day after day. A song on the radio took him back to a frat party, two years before.
That had been a great time, the best of times. He sang absently along, as he pulled out of the
parking lot. As he drove away, he looked back at her. She looked even smaller, somehow, and he
had a feeling for a second that he would never see her again. He wanted to turn around then,
to tell her that he was sorry that things had turned out so badly; instead, he drove on.
And, as he watched her grow smaller in the mirror, he was overcome by a strange feeling,
as though he had somehow betrayed her.