Cover image for Taking heart
Taking heart
Doumani, Carol.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Venice, Calif. : Wave Pub., [1999]

Physical Description:
382 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her fourth novel to be published by the company she founded in 1994, Doumani (Indiscretions) provides a well-meaning, strong argument for the organ-donor program. On his way to play golf one morning, Jack Barnes collides with a 16-wheeler while trying to avoid hitting a dog. While his wife, Emily, waits for news of his condition in the hospital. she runs across a patient the staff calls the Tin Man because of his wry, courageous humor. He's a desperately ill 34-year-old drummer, waiting for a new heart. When Jack is pronounced brain dead, Emily agrees to give his body to an organ donor agency, and the Tin Man (aka Sam Sampson) is the recipient of Jack's heart, though neither he nor Emily is initially aware of their connection. Emily's mourning is bitter and confused, and after the transplant, life is full of questions for Sam as well. Once he learns the identity of his heart donor, he becomes obsessed with Emily, feeling that she needs his help. The new widow, coping with Jonah, her troubled 13-year-old son from a previous marriage, and life on her own, discovers she is pregnant with Jack's child. Eventually, she and Sam are drawn together, but their relationship is threatened when his new heart proves to be unstable. Doumani drafts a valuable blueprint of both the emotional and physical challenges confronting transplant patients and the woeful lottery of donor waiting lists. By turns wrenching and life-affirming, this story of symbiosis climaxes with a string of circumstances that readers may find manipulative. The novel's most powerful message is that while we can't choose what happens to us, we can always choose how we react. (Jan.) FYI: Wave Publishing will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Taking Heart to the Heart Transplantation Center at UCLA Medical Center. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Later she remembered hearing the scream of brakes, the urgent thud of impact -- metal to flesh. But at the time she was so absorbed in her pre-workout routine that it had only registered as distant music, one instrument in a symphony of neighborhood sounds.     Still, maternal instinct is triggered to respond to such warnings, so unconsciously she took stock of her family: Jonah was at school. He had called an hour before from the dorm phone at Oceancrest, his voice splintered with teenage angst as he made lame excuses why he couldn't come home for the weekend (she had ultimately wormed the truth out of him -- his father, her ex-husband Matt, had proposed a camping trip in the Sierras, the first Emily had heard of it); Jack, husband number two, had left thirty minutes before to go golfing with his foursome at Palm Ridge Country Club, so he was probably on the first green. The spice of his aftershave still clung to the air, and she breathed great comforting gulps of it as she stretched; Fiber, their adored Wheaten Terrier mix, rescued from the pound as a puppy, was lying on the window seat, basking in the first warming rays of winter sun, which filtered in past the branches of the great coral tree in the front yard; her parents were a thousand miles away in a retirement home in Boulder, Colorado; Jack's parents were on a Princess Cruise to, of all places, Belize.     Satisfied that her loved ones were safe in their respective lives, Emily dismissed the sound and concentrated on her stretches. The six-mile run on Saturday morning was not only a matter of exercise but of self-discipline, her personal imperative to start the day in control of herself, since there were so many other things she couldn't control.     Like the fact that her young marriage to Jack seemed to be stagnating, and nothing she said or did seemed to help. Oh, they loved each other, of that she was certain. But their relationship had stopped growing, the initial heat turned tepid. They seemed to be going through the motions, mimicking the passion they'd felt during their courtship in an unconscious attempt to reignite the spark that had issued between them in those first months.     The truth was, they were opposites, and their idiosyncrasies, which had seemed endearing in the beginning, had become annoyances. Jack was impulsive, competitive, volatile; she required orderliness and routine and was prudent in the nurture of body, mind, and spirit. Jack played sports for the sheer exhilaration of the game and watched them obsessively on TV; she exercised for fitness, not for fun, and tuned out whenever Jack tuned in to the NBA, the NFL, or the NHL.     Despite their differences, they did try to make it work. They'd gone to the County Fair just last week -- her suggestion for a neutral outing which would satisfy both their ideas of a good time. She had waited patiently while Jack rode the roller coaster four times in a row. On the last go-round, he had vomited his lunch of hot dogs and beer, but still, he would have gone a fifth time and a sixth, had she not insisted that he ride the Ferris wheel with her instead, to hold her steady as the carriage slowly circled, while she took pictures of the view. That about summed up their differences -- he craved a wild ride, she was happy to observe and record from a safe place.     And when they'd argued on the ride home, the word divorce had erupted from Jack's mouth, bursting like a kernel of corn from a hot air popper. "I suppose divorce is the only solution," he'd said, or something to that effect. It had been a sarcastic remark, but the power of the word had surprised and silenced them both, and had left a nagging unease between them, like a fragment of popcorn stuck between two teeth.     She bent to touch her toes and exhaled, the long rush of breath becoming a sigh. By now she and Jack should be comfortable and complacent in their relationship. Was it her fault? Some vital flaw in her nature? That she might be the architect of her own misery made her lean further into her stretch, until the taut hamstring of her left leg burned.     Even Jonah was aware of the tension in her relationship with Jack -- or perhaps her son was part of the cause. After four years, despite Jack's fervent attempts to get close to him, the boy had remained distant, preferring the company of his real father, Matt's second wife Lauren, and their infant son, which all three called J.B. -- short for Jonah's Brother (Matt wasn't a child psychologist for nothing). This was Jonah's second year at Oceancrest Middle School for the Arts, and recently he'd devised all manner of excuses to avoid coming home on weekends. Emily hated to pull parental rank and insist, but she sometimes did, aching to regain the sense of family that had been an unavoidable casualty of the divorce.     She straightened and took a sip of water, sloshing it around in her mouth as though to flush out the taint of this subject.     "Fiber -- okay, boy, let's hit the road!"     She smiled, watching the terrier snap to attention, his bright black eyes riveted on her as she crossed the bedroom and started down the stairs. When was the last time Jack had responded to anything she'd suggested with half as much interest?     "Let's go!" she called as she descended, knowing Fiber wouldn't yet budge. He would remain motionless in anticipation, barely daring to breathe, until she spoke the magic mantra, Jack's back !, which would trigger a flat out rush for the door. It worked every time, whether Jack was indeed back or not.     "Fiber, Jack's back!" she called at last, and sure enough, the dog raced past her down the stairs and was at the door before she was, his tail wagging, neck extended to receive his collar and leash.     Dogs were so satisfying that way, thankful for routine and willing to listen. Not like 13-year-old sons or second husbands, she thought, challenging you at every turn, asserting their independence as though each issue were a contest, and at all costs they must win, or simply ignoring you as though you were a head cold, an irritant that must be endured, but would eventually go away.     This morning had offered a perfect example. When Jack had shouted his good-bye, she'd called down to him, "I left that letter from the Club on the ledge. Don't forget, it's got --"     "I'll read it when I get back. Bye hon," he'd interrupted, slamming the door.     "-- the new key card for the gate in it," she'd finished quietly to herself. "You won't be able to get in without it."     The first year of their marriage, no question, she would have jumped up and run after him, catching him before he'd driven off, proffering the key card as evidence that his needs were foremost in her mind. The second year, at the least, she would have stuck her head out of the window and tried to flag him down before he'd turned into the street. The third year she might have called the Club and warned them of his imminent cardless arrival. Or at least the thought would have crossed her mind.     But this was the fourth year, and what was the point anymore? Jack would probably be able to wangle his favorite groundskeeper or guard into breaking the key card rule and letting him into the members' parking lot. That was something she both loved and resented about him, his ability to bully life into submission through sheer charisma, even if it meant breaking the rules. In contrast, she was much more submissive to authority and always did what was expected of her. It was just easier that way.     She walked through the kitchen to the back door, and as she picked up her house key, the one attached to a stretch band she wore on her wrist when she ran, she noticed that the letter from the Club and the new key card were gone. But she'd seen them just ten minutes before when she'd taken the trash out to the back alley, luckily beating the garbage truck on its weekly rounds, but unluckily running into their elderly neighbor Laverne Lawrence, who kept her standing in the damp cold without a jacket, jawboning about the relative merits of incineration versus recycling.     Had Jack returned to get the letter and the green plastic card while she'd been in the back? She smiled to herself as she followed Fiber out the door, imagining Jack's reluctance to return for them, and then his relief at having been able to retrieve the card without having to admit his oversight to her. She'd casually bring it up at dinner, not so much to say "I told you so" as to make sure he knew she knew he'd tried to sneak by her. And after that, she'd smile and tell him she loved him -- no, not just tell him, she would mean it. And she would try harder to make this marriage work -- through patience, tolerance, respect, and generosity. Starting tonight!     Uplifted by her resolve to make things better, Emily zipped her jacket and adjusted the earphones of her Walkman, flipping on the audio book cassette. She always listened to Books on Tape when she ran -- it was more efficient to exercise her mind and body at the same time. And she relished the luxury of being read to, the story insulating her from the noise of the street, and the constant nattering of her brain. She was currently halfway through Sense and Sensibility , finding the measured predictability of the characters' nineteenth century lives a steady metronome by which to set her jogging pace.     At the foot of the driveway Fiber veered right toward the ocean, which was 1.2 miles away. From there they'd head south on Adams to the park, run once around it and out on Covington, through the neighborhood village and right on Jessup to Pleasant, and home again. The busy part of town -- the access road to the highway, the Club, and the distant civic center -- was to the east, and both Emily and Fiber preferred the scenic, less traveled route. This was their ritual and, like most of Emily's habits, it never varied.     But had she broken with routine today and turned left out of the driveway, she would have seen the accident, just blocks away at the on-ramp to the freeway. She would have recognized the red 1965 Mustang with silver racing stripes, now crushed like an empty cola can against the unforgiving bulk of a Pepsi delivery truck, and the set of Big Bertha golf clubs, splayed across the highway like swizzlesticks.     If she had delayed her run just fifteen minutes, she would have still been home when the police car pulled into the driveway and the two deputies got out, adjusting their holsters and securing their hats before pressing the bell one, two, three times, then finally slipping a business card into the doorjamb with a message to "please contact Sgt. Ray Wilson as soon as possible."     But as it was, Emily jogged her six 10-minute miles, stopping only to let Fiber mark the trail four or five times along the way and to change tapes in her cassette player. By the time she circled back down Jessup to Pleasant, the squad car was long gone. Because she always entered the house through the back door, she didn't see the officer's card stuck in the front doorjamb, and she went blithely about her business -- giving Fiber his kibble and filling his water dish, and drinking a 20-ounce glass herself, then taking the stairs two at a time and heading for the shower.     The running water drowned out the ringing of the telephone, and Jack's casually discarded pajamas were covering the answering machine, so when she got out she didn't see the red light flashing, indicating that a message had come in while she showered. In half an hour she was down the stairs and out the back door to her car, again turning right toward the local village, to make a quick stop at the office, then to do the weekend's errands and marketing.     Her mind was occupied with itemizing the grocery list as she backed down the drive, so when she saw Laverne Lawrence trying to flag her down, she just waved absently and kept on driving. After all, she'd more than fulfilled her neighborly duty for the morning, and she wanted to keep to her schedule so she would be back from shopping before Jack returned home from his golf game. * * * "Yes, Mrs. Rhodes, I told her what you said about the ice. Yes, 80 pounds sounds like a lot for 50 people, but you don't want to run out, do you? It's only frozen water. It's not like a rental that has to be returned. If you don't use it, it'll melt."     Rolling her eyes, the receptionist handed Emily two pink-slipped messages as she walked by.     "But the cost is minimal, Mrs. Rhodes," Nancy continued. "I don't know, maybe three or four dollars...."     Party Line's office was chaotic, as was usual on a Saturday, the biggest day of the week for party planners, with frenzied hostesses panicking about last-minute details, purveyors confirming deliveries, and waitstaff checking schedules. Emily waved and nodded to the seven people she worked with as she walked to her office, unaware that the timbre of their conversations lowered as she passed and that their eyes were following her. She sniffed the air as she neared her own cubicle at the end of the building near the kitchen. It was heavy with the perfume of baking cookies, Party Line's famous bittersweet chocolate coconut crunch bars, Emily's recipe.     She nudged the door shut behind her with her heel, but immediately it burst open again, nearly knocking Emily off her feet. Party Line's co-founder Ann Smith poked her head in. Ann's frizzy red hair was tightly coiled around rollers the size of orange juice cans. A closer look revealed that they were orange juice cans.     "I've heard of the Pillsbury Doughboy," Emily said with a smile. "But what are you, the Sunkist Sweetheart?"     "I've got a headache Demerol wouldn't put a dent in, so don't mess with me," Ann snapped, tottering into the room on three-inch platform wedgies that increased her height to all of five feet two inches. "Giselle promised this will make me look like Nicole Kidman. Of course, she's eight feet tall, but I believe in the power of positive thinking."     "Isn't the point of putting your hair in rollers so that it looks good when you go out? Or is wearing them to work a fashion statement?"     "If you ever slept on orange juice cans, you wouldn't ask that question."     Ann perched on the edge of Emily's desk, looking, but trying not to show that she was, at the pink message slips in Emily's hand. "Hey, I thought you finished last night," she said. "I didn't expect you in today. What'd you do, rob a bank?" Ann asked, changing gears in mid-thought.     "Huh?"     "Two guys from the Police Department were here looking for you, but they wouldn't tell us why."     "Looking for me? When?" "About half an hour ago. I told them you were off today, to try your house. I never would have given them the address, I swear, but they already had it. Said they'd been by and you weren't home. I figured you were either jogging or on your way --"     "Wait a minute, back up," Emily demanded. "There were policemen? Here? Today? Looking for me?"     "Would I kid you?" Ann raised her eyebrows. "They were really studly too, and boy, did they know it. At first I thought they were those male strippers who dress up like cops -- like the ones Stacey Silvester had us hire for Ellen Bartlett's 50th. She ended up taking one of them home with her, didn't she? Or maybe both! Anyway, I knew it wasn't your birthday. Or your anniversary. So I figured these guys must be for real. Nice belt. Is it new? It would go great with my Versace jumpsuit. But I'm never wearing that thing again, not since I saw the exact same one on Marcia Lennox at Chez Charles. Wanna go there for lunch? Do you have time today?"     This was typical AnnSpeak, mouth outpacing brain, a mynah bird on speed. Emily didn't bother responding. She often didn't. People said Emily and Ann were like the two sides of the brain: Ann, creative, spontaneous, emotional, and Emily structured, pragmatic, rational. But they understood each other. It worked. Maybe that's why Emily had thought the same sort of "opposites attract" partnership would work in her marriage to Jack.     "They called too," Ann persisted.     "Who?"     "The police. See?" She motioned to the message slips Emily was holding.     Sure enough, on one was written "Sgt. Ray Wilson." The "please call" box was checked twice, with a phone number beside it. The other message was from Laverne Lawrence. Again! The poor old widow lived alone, and sometimes she just got desperate for human contact.     "So what's up?" Ann prodded. She took a cigarette out of her pocket and tapped it against Emily's desk.     "Ann, what are you doing?" Emily sighed.     "Oh, I'm not going to smoke it." Ann avoided Emily's eyes. "I quit, remember? This is just a, like, a nervous thing. I've already bitten my nails down to the cuticles. Connie is furious with me. She says she refuses to manicure stumps." Ann removed one of the orange juice cans from her hair and tested a strand. It was still damp, but springy with curl. "Nicole Kidman, right?" She began to rewrap it. "So what gives with the Hill Street Blues?"     "I don't have a clue," Emily said, falling into her desk chair. "I just came in to pick up the glue gun so I can work on the Turner invitations tomorrow while Jack watches golf. You know how focused he gets."     "That's because you make him watch with the sound off."     "He wears earphones!"     "So let him turn on the volume."     "But then I'd have to listen to it too." She flipped through the mail piled on her desk. "Maybe that jerk down at the beach sent them. Remember I told you? The one who swore Fiber bit him when we were jogging down to your house. You know how he hates strange men, and this guy was definitely strange."     "Yeah, but how would he have gotten the number? Did you give him a card?"     "I was jogging. I don't carry cards with me!"     "Really? I thought you kept one under the insole of your shoe in case of emergencies," Ann teased, "along with $10, a copy of your driver's license, and a Xerox of your address book."     "I did not give him a card. I didn't even give him the time of day."     The phone rang, and both Emily and Ann jumped. It rang a second time. "Want me to get it?" Ann asked.     "Of course not," Emily said, and picked up the receiver. "Hello? Yes, it is." And then she just listened.     Ann watched her partner's face flush red, then just as quickly drain of color. "Emily, what?"     Emily did not reply, continuing to listen, her expression frozen. "Oh," she said at last, just that one word, nothing more. Then, slowly and deliberately, she laid the receiver down on the desk and picked up her purse. "I have to go," she said, and she walked out the door. She didn't look back.     "Emily! What's the matter? Where are you going?"     Ann could hear a male voice still talking on the open phone line. She picked up the receiver and tried to hold it to her ear, but one of the orange juice cans was in the way. She quickly stripped it out. "Hello? Who is this? Me? I'm Annabel Smith, Emily's partner, and, well, I'm a very close friend, I assure you. Mrs. Barnes just dropped the phone and ran out of here like a bat on fire, I mean a house from hell, oh, you know what I mean. What is going on?" she asked.     Listening, she pulled out the remaining cans, one by one. * * * The drive to Westside Medical Center was interminable and fleeting at the same time. Emily's brain kept pounding, Jack, Jack, Jack, like the beat beneath a melody you hear once and can't get out of your head. She tried to picture him in her mind, but she couldn't even remember what he'd been wearing when he'd left the house that morning, even though it had been less than two hours since he'd kissed her good-bye. Instead she saw the pigeon nesting on the cylindrical shade around the red light at the street signal on Main, and she wondered why it had chosen the red canister instead of the yellow or green lights. Her eye caught a glimpse of a kid on a skateboard shooting out of a Taco Bell, and she flashed on the fact that Jack loved Mexican food. Burritos were his favorite food, another difference between them.     Jack, Jack, Jack , her brain repeated, as though reciting this litany would make it all a mistake, would ensure that no matter what she'd just been told, there had been no accident at Jessup and Dover, and that Jack was out on the golf course with his cronies as he was every Saturday.     How bad was it?     She hadn't even waited to ask.     She realized that she was driving very fast, nearly twenty miles an hour over the posted limit, and she started to move her foot to the brake, but changed her mind and hit the gas instead. "Oh, Jack," she moaned aloud, as the car shot forward.     She'd never been to the Emergency Room at Westside, and as she saw the building up ahead, she felt a tickle of panic. Which entrance should she use? Where would she park? Did they have valet parking at this hospital? How far would she have to walk? She shook her head, appalled at her mental meltdown. How could she be worrying about something as trivial as parking when she'd just found out her husband had been in an automobile accident and then rushed to the hospital? Of course she knew the answer: she was trying to avoid thinking about what she would find when she went inside.     To compensate, with flagrant and uncharacteristic disregard of convention, she pulled up at the red curb next to the entrance, turned off the engine, and jumped out of the car. She wouldn't have even pressed the "lock" button on the remote, but it was a habit, and the Toyota chirped its three-note good-bye as she raced through the automatic doors into the hospital. Copyright © 1999 Carol Doumani. All rights reserved.