"Wine Country" by Jane Snyder

There had been pain, a tightness in his chest, but the sense of urgency was what Bill remembered. They were at the tulip festival and he was bored, going from one flat field to another. Red, red, yellow, red. When the restlessness started he told himself it was in his head, but it persisted, turned to fear.

It took so much effort to tell everyone, his wife Linda, Linda’s younger sister, Connie, and Connie’s husband Stuart. In the car, and then in the ER waiting room, he felt the same urgency, was sure his body would play him false, he’d vomit, soil himself.

Linda was no use. “Bill never gets sick,” she’d said as if that was all that needed to be said. Afterward, he told himself she was frightened.

When he was jumped to the head of the line in the ER, she gripped his hand. Which would have been comforting except then she let go, as if she too wanted to jump up, get out of there.

Stuart was the one who helped him find his insurance card, talked to the nurse.

Connie didn’t understand things had changed, wanted to know if they were still going to the antique shop in LaConner.

“No, honey, maybe next time.”

Bill was relieved Stuart hadn’t snapped at her, told himself he couldn’t handle one of Connie’s sulks, though he knew he could, had done it many times.

When he couldn’t stand it any longer and sprang up, saying time to go, I’m not waiting for an EKG, Stuart put his arm around his shoulder and held it there. Awkward, because Stuart was shorter than he was, but he’d stayed, let the nurse shave his chest.

She told him she was only shaving the places where they’d attach the electrodes and Bill pictured the thin patches of wiry hair that would be left behind. Not that his chest hair had ever been very plenty, even when he was young.

Just a little bit of AFIB, the cardiologist said. Not a heart attack, no. There was this procedure they had, been doing it for years, where they’d take out the bit of dead tissue that was making his heart wonky and everything would be copacetic.

Katie, his daughter, called after the catheter ablation. Bill was groggy, not ready for the bright light in the recovery room, wished they’d let him go back to sleep. He was supposed to lie still, so Linda reached down, held her phone to his ear and he heard Katie ask him, in her important voice, if he wanted her to come home.

Oh, for what. Katie had gotten on his nerves at Christmas, out with her friends every night, waking him when she came in.

“I’m really worried about you, Dad.”

Maybe the boyfriend wasn’t paying enough attention to her. “Stay at school,” he said. “Don’t neglect your studies.”

“She’s scared,” Linda said. “She’s never dealt with anything like this before.”

Neither have I, Bill thought. When Katie was a little girl and got sick, they’d fuss over her, tolerate baby talk, let her eat popsicles on the couch.

After the ablation, he couldn’t sustain an erection. The doctor said sildenafil, Viagra, was contraindicated because of his heart and there was no medical reason for his impotence. Everything could go back to the way it was; he could resume his usual activities.

When, almost a year after he’d gotten sick, Connie and Stuart asked them to go to Walla Walla on a tour of vineyards and wineries with them, he thought they might as well. Why not?

In the morning the tour operator, dressed in knee-breeches and a cap with a stiff brim, had strolled into the hotel lobby, yelling, “who’s for the booze cruise?”

“I’m Ed,” he said. “The designated driver. Drink all you want. Get wasted in Walla Walla.”

Stuart expressed enthusiasm when he saw the purple van parked out front.

It might have been used for deliveries once, Bill thought. There were no windows on the sides. They’d sat in the murky light on slippery purple banquettes and looked out the back window at where they’d been.