Clint Margrave is the author of Salute the Wreckage (2016) and The Early Death of Men (2012), both published by NYQ Books. His stories and poems have also appeared in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, Cimarron Review, Word Riot, 3:AM, Bartleby Snopes, and Ambit (UK), among others. His short story “Acrobats” will be featured in the forthcoming Red Hen Press release, LA Fiction Anthology: Southland Stories by Southland Writers. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.
We all meet at Colm’s house, this mutual friend of Seth’s, a guy I’ve known since high school. The whole reason for being here is because Seth had a heart attack. He’s gathered us to ceremoniously and metaphorically raid his liquor cabinet.
“I won’t be needing any of this,” he says, as he spreads all the booze out on Colm’s dining room table.
Seth’s heart was only pumping at 20 percent. I had visited him in the hospital at the beginning of summer, but we didn’t talk too much about specifics with his wife and boys there. Most of the guys here tonight (and there are only guys, their wives staying home to watch the kids) live in the same neighborhood and hang out with Seth more regularly than I do, since I don’t have a wife and I don’t have kids. They go see municipal bands in the park together on weekends, have Fourth of July barbecues, pay about the same mortgage.
Seth stands in front of the dining room table, a circle of guys gathered around him, as if he were on display for everyone. He shows us his vest.
“I look like a suicide bomber,” he says.
“What does it do?” someone asks.
“It’s supposed to shock me if my heart goes off,” Seth says.
Strapped to the vest is something that resembles a fanny pack.
“The battery,” he says.
And on the end of the fanny pack he shows us the little vial of Nitroglycerin.
“You’re supposed to put it on your tongue before you dial 911,” he says. “Up to three of them.”
I notice a half-empty bottle of Grey Goose on the table, and some St. Germain, a liqueur he bought his wife recently, before she decided to quit too. Each of us draws a number and chooses in that order. I get number three and end up with a brand new bottle of Hendrick’s (“I’d just bought that one,” Seth says), and later, when it’s time for another round, I pick a bottle of some kind of Cabernet.
Seth explains how one of the doctors, he calls him “Dr. Death,” told him he “might not make it” just as he stuck a tube into his neck.
“Way to give a guy a heart attack,” someone jokes.
Seth talks about how much his wife has taken care of him and how his two boys stayed tough during the toughest moments.
“Maybe I should get a wife,” I tell him.
“Like Nitroglycerin,” he jokes, “you can only have up to three of them.”
Seth eats walnuts while the rest of us snack on chips and guacamole. Because of the heart attack, he’s also learned he’s diabetic.
“So it’s not all lifestyle choices,” says a worried friend. “It’s DNA.”
“Dr. Death says this is something I’ve been working at for a long time.”
He explains how he’s vegan now. Tells us how he bought a scale to measure out his portions.
I must admit, Seth does look thin.
“In the hospital for lunch one day,” he says, “they served me a hamburger. I couldn’t believe it.”
It’s a lean one, the nurse had said.
After a while, Seth yawns, tired of being the center of attention, and checks the time on his phone. I look at my phone too because I’ve still got to pack for my flight tomorrow. It’s only nine o’clock, but Seth’s ready to go.
“Not forever,” he jokes.
Though he does admit: his wife will kill him if he stays out much later.
“She worries more now,” he says. “Obviously.”
Since he’s not allowed to drive and everyone else needs to get back to their families, I collect my rewards and offer him a ride.
“It’s only a couple blocks,” Seth says.
With one arm free, I shake hands with all his friends and they each give Seth a manly half-hug.
“I’m glad you’re alive,” I tell Seth on the way home.
“Thanks, friend,” he says. “So what’s next for you?”
“I’m going to Istanbul,” I tell him.
“Really?” he says, as we pull up to his house. “What’s in Istanbul?”
I smile and give him the same half-hug as his other friends, careful not to set off his heart attack vest. I watch as he wanders up the steps to the front door where his wife is waiting.
What’s in Istanbul? I think, as I pull away, then light a cigarette before the first stop sign, feel its effects on my heart as my pulse begins to race, two bottles clanking in the backseat.