We wanted to be nurses. What a wonderful past-time it seemed to be; not like a job at all. When mum was in her uniform, ready to go to work, we coveted her upside down watch. We wanted one too, so that we could count heartbeats. Our visions were of hospital wards that were more like boudoirs: soft feather pillows, gossamer curtains and muted lights. Beds filled with glamorous, lounging patients lifting subtly scented wrists to learn the patterns of their pulses.
We made our own upside down watches with cardboard and pens, fastened them to our t-shirts with sticky tape. We pressed our fingers into each other’s wrists, sometimes so hard that it left red marks. Counting heartbeats endlessly. There were no doctors – it wasn’t that sort of game.
Occasionally our teddies and dolls joined in but it wasn’t the same. We liked the feeling that human wrists gave – that faint rhythmic pulsing pushing gently against our fingertips. We saw a TV programme once where a man was checking for heartbeats on someone’s neck, so we did it like that for a while too. The beat was harder to find but much stronger.
One day, the beat in the neck was proving elusive but we kept searching, pressing and squeezing. Searching, pressing and squeezing. It started to hurt. We wanted to stop but we couldn’t. The search for the beat drove us on and on. Searching and pressing and squeezing. Until, in the end, there was no beat to be found. No more beats. No more little pulses pushing against our fingertips. No more we. Just an I.
originally published Number Eleven magazine, June 2013