We share our father’s heart, the one that exploded in his chest like an improvised explosive device when he was 45, and his face hit the pavement, warping the silver frame of his glasses, which Mom took out of a plastic case to show us the morning of his funeral. In your eulogy, you said he was a man of two countries, China and America. You gave all kinds of dry facts and exposition. But you never said that you loved him, and your voice never went shaky like mine did. 

We share our father’s heart,  a fact horrifically clear after you call to tell me you’re going to have cardiac bypass surgery, a few years shy of Dad’s age when he died. You ask me to take your son Aiden for a few days while Abbey stays with you at the hospital. He’ll sleep in my son’s room, and they can walk to elementary school together. They also share our father’s heart, but we won’t tell them that now. They don’t think about death, not the way I did when I was their age. Those times you said you would kill me. Sent my eyeball reeling backward into its socket with your fist, after I borrowed your REO Speedwagon records without asking. I understand it now, your wounds from Father’s detonations. You say how Father continues to screw you from his grave with the imploding DNA he gave to you, to us.

We share our father’s heart, and the filthy buildup inside my arteries is the same as yours, except seven years less of it. All this time I’ve hated you like you hated Dad. Secretly cheered inside when your first wife divorced you. Waited, still waiting, for Abbey to discover your true nature and leave you, too. Wondering if Aiden steps on IEDs in your house, with shrapnel under his tender skin. But it’s different this time, with your chest about to get cracked open. Maybe it’s because you’re holding a mirror with my gruesome future reflected in it. Or maybe it’s because I think about how you were the lightning rod that kept Father’s bony knuckles away from me.

You’re going to the cardiothoracic surgeon tomorrow for the pre-op check, and you want to call me afterward. You’ll be dropping Aiden off at my house the next day, with an Iron Man backpack, with his toothbrush and clothes and his favorite blue blanket inside. 

“I’m scared,” you say. “I’m a baby when it comes to pain, and I don’t want to die.”

“I’m here for you,” I say, having never said anything like it to you before. The sound of it shocks me, but I continue. “I’m pulling for you, bro.” 

After your call, I visit Father’s grave. I picture his bones under my feet, his ribcage, the heart that’s long rotted away.

I hear thumping, a sinister percussion from underneath the cemetery grass. Like the motor of a clock. Like the ticking of a bomb.

Eliot Li
Eliot Li

Eliot Li lives in California. His work appears or is forthcoming in CRAFT, Smokelong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, The Margins, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.