Read an Excerpt
Counting the Beats
The girl’s mind raced with excitement, anticipating tomorrow’s events. She thought about what she would wear, about how she would fix her hair, about her friends, about her routine. In her mind she rehearsed the dance, step by step, move by move, almost hearing the whir of the silver baton as it flew, spinning through the air.
Even though the house around her was silent, her excitement was palpable, and she struggled to settle down, to sleep. She had to calm down. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.
She deliberately forced her body and mind to still, concentrating on the quietness.
In the stillness, she could hear the old house creaking and the wind rustle in the branches. She nestled deeper under the covers, closing her eyes and trying to relax. It was warm and quiet in her bed. Quiet. She lay still.
Gradually, the girl became aware of her own heartbeat. She could hear a gentle pounding in her ears. The beat seemed faster than usual.
She moved her hand to her chest and counted the beats, watching the seconds flash on the digital clock sitting on the bedside table. She used the flashing dots as a timer: ninety. She remembered her health teacher saying that the average was seventy to eighty. She knew hers was normally slower than thatthe rate of a runner. Her track coach said his resting heart rate was 55.
She slowed her breathing, taking long, deep breaths and exhaling with the rhythm of her heart. Four beats in… four beats out… deep, diaphragmatic breaths like her choir director had taught her. She continued the deep breaths, and listened in the darkness.
Her heart began to slow, just a little at first, but then more noticeably. She smiled, happy that she could have such control.
As she concentrated on her heartbeat, now tuned in to her body, she felt her pulse. It was in her right arm, just above her elbow, that she felt it first. Her arm was pressed down on the bed under her pillow. She could feel the strong swish, swish that correlated perfectly with her heartbeat. How odd to feel it so strong.
Curious now, she tried to see how many places she could feel her pulse. She felt it on the inside of her left foot, then in her temple, right where her head touched the pillow. Strong in her neck, softer on the inside of her knee… swish swish, swish swish… it was as steady as the clock.
She rolled over to get more comfortable, and there was an immediate increase in her heart rate. But, as she listened, it began to slow. She smiled again.
It was as if her heart was talking to her. She puzzled over this for a moment, her mind attuned to her heart.
It was a soothing sound. As if it were saying, “All is well.”
Though she couldn’t remember it, she had heard this sound since she was in her mother’s womb. Her heart had been beating before she could hear or even be aware. Before she had developed into the being that she was now, before the knot of protoplasm that would become her brain had begun to form. For her, so far, it was a forever sound.
Closing her eyes, she turned and curled into a fetal position, snuggling into the soft mattress and cozy covers of her bed.
Gradually, her breathing became deep and regular on its own, and her mind and body calm, serene. But the beat of her heart continued in her ears, still just as strong, but now slower, peaceful.
As she drifted off to sleep, she smiled, comforted by the sound, knowing it would continue. It would always be with her.
The girl slept the sleep of the innocent, dreaming of singing, dancing, and light.