The Missing Piece - Catherine Miller



On average, I take my pulse twenty-eight times a day. For accuracy’s sake, and I do have a penchant for accuracy, this week’s average is twenty-eight point seven.

It’s my preference to check my heart rate at least twice an hour while I’m awake and that increases when I’m stressed. Like when I’m on public transport or attending work meetings or when my housemate is cooking. It seems sensible to monitor it more closely when my day is in a greater state of flux or when Lucy is once again trying her hardest to set fire to our home. Peril never seems closer than when she is attempting to burn rice or dry boil noodles or cremate breaded chicken.

I know on days when my average number of pulse checks is over thirty that I need to take heed of how I’m doing. It’s funny that while the heart governs every function of my body, it’s not how many beats per minute that concerns me, but how many checks I’ve done. That’s what tells me about my state of mind. Anything above thirty, I need to pause and take stock of my life. Anything above thirty-five means I’m no longer in control and my anxiety is instead.

I hover my two fingers over the black outline of the floral heart on my left inner wrist. The tattoo is inked over my pulse point. It’s not there for the purpose of aesthetics as many think. It’s not a symbol of my life’s work in cardiology. It’s to make this moment quick. It means I can easily find the place to hold my fingers and trace what I need to feel.

As I press my skin towards the bone, I connect with the radial pulse. The surge of blood moving rhythmically under the skin provides instant reassurance.

I’m never sure why this is exactly. It’s without doubt that I know I’m alive. The action would be impossible if I’m not. So why does feeling that pulse, even though it’s an obvious fact that my heart is doing its job, make me relax?

Deep down, I know why. I know why the presence of a pulse is a reassurance against the memory where there isn’t one.

I glance at my pink leather Swatch watch, the colour so different to my skin tone, and wait for the second hand to meet twelve. It’s then that I count.

One. Two. Three.

The beat is steady as the hand drums around. It’s nearly the same as my heart rate, which is further reassurance.

At times when I’m not busy, I go for a whole minute to get an accurate read of my heart rate. But most of the time, like now, I can’t indulge in a full check and instead opt for fifteen or thirty seconds, multiplying it as appropriate.

I flick a look towards the door of my favourite café, knowing that the view is favourable from this, my usual seat. No sign yet. I’ll risk a thirty-second check.

Eighteen. Nineteen.

As I count, time slows down as my heart rate seems to pick up. It’s a momentary bubble of what should be calm, but is often panic. I’m attempting to appreciate the most carnal function of the human body. I’m assessing arguably the most major organ inside me. But with each pump of the heart that I record, I concern myself with how it is functioning. How is it coping under the stress I’m inducing? Is it really worth it? Why wouldn’t I protect my heart more by not putting it through this?

Resting heart rate: 68 bpm. Above my personal average, but not surprising given what is about to occur.

By my usual standards, this shouldn’t be my favourite café. It has far too much sparkle for starters. Tess, the owner, has a penchant for unicorns and adding shine. The entire décor is something that can only be described as candyfloss vomit. I’m not sure if the amount of pastel in here would kill or cure a migraine because the number of unicorn-shaped objects in here (salt cellars, plant pots, mirrors, frames, umbrella stand) keep multiplying, providing far too much distraction from that particular research project.

As I’m already here waiting, it’s too late to back out now, although I flirt with the idea every time I do this. Not that Tess will let me. This is the experiment over which our two worlds meet.

The café door dings, notifying Tess of a new customer. We’re both alert to the fact that this might be the person we’re waiting for.

Despite the