Family History
                    Fiction by Peggy Duffy

      Forty-nine years old.  A physician.  Lying in an ICU bed, limp and heavily
sedated, the paleness of his face broken only by the bright splashes of red in
his gauze-packed mouth.  They’d torn his windpipe inserting the tube down his
throat, had trouble stemming the flow of blood because of all the blood thinners
they were pumping into his system to prevent further heart damage.
      She sat beside him, afraid to touch even his hand, comforted by the
rhythmic sound of the ventilator.  With every breath it gave him, he was one
more second toward passing that first critical twenty-four hour time period.  
The odds were sixty-forty right now.  If he made it until the morning, they’d be
greatly improved.
      He’d coded on the table, twice, the doctors told her.  Lucky as all hell the
clot which had completely blocked a major artery hadn’t dislodged.
      They had quarreled that morning—a silly little argument, really.  He was
always distracted in the mornings, his mind already at the hospital, putting the
needs of his patients before hers and the children’s.
      “The father-daughter dance, tonight,” she’d reminded him.
      “Tonight?” he’d repeated, snatching onto her last word, as he always did,
to hold onto the thread of conversation.
      “You know, for Girl Scouts. They have it every year.”  Although you
never go, she wanted to add, but caught herself.
      “Call your brother to take her.”
      “He took her last year.”
      “Can’t be sure I’ll be back on time.”
      “You’re never back on time.”
      He’d looked at her, really looked at her the first time that morning.  “You
don’t get it, do you?  What it is to be responsible for someone’s life.  There’s
no clocking in and out.”  He’d picked up his car keys and headed toward the
garage, his half empty mug of coffee still on the kitchen table, a damp ring
threatening to mar the finish of the dark wood.
      “Your cup. . . .” she’d shouted after him.
      His mind returned to the kitchen, briefly.  “What. . . .”
      “Do you not even have the time to pick up the damn cup?  I’m not the
      He’d smiled.  “I have patients waiting,” and left.
      She’d picked up the coffee cup, wanting to hurl it against the door he
was closing behind him, stopped by her orderly nature as she imagined the
trail of coffee strewn along the cup’s trajectory, the dark liquid dripping down
the garage door, pooling on the laundry room floor.
      By his hospital bed, she saw a different picture, one that threatened to tear
itself in half even as she gazed at it, she on one half of the page, he on the other,
like an angrily ripped-up photo after that final break up.  They stood in front of a
sailboat, tanned and beaming, gray-haired and wrinkled but fit and strong, after
all those years of living first for others, sacrificing their time—he for his patients,
she as a doctor’s wife for his patients too, ready to set a course on life, together.  
The sun shown high, the water beckoned blue, the wind blew at just the right
speed.  It was a rhythmic sound, the flow of air filling the sails.  Mostly she saw
it was the picture of health, something she had always taken for granted, despite
his family history of heart disease.
      She held tight even as everything started to drift away, the boat’s moorings
come undone, threatening to leave one of them behind on the shoreline.


Peggy Duffy’s short stories and essays have appeared in numerous
publications including
Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Christian
Science Monitor
, Notre Dame Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Three
, Literary Mama, and Main Street Rag.  Duffy’s fiction was
recognized by the Virginia Commission for the Arts as a finalist in the
Individual Artist Fellowship program for literary artists.  She maintains a
website at

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 2, Number 1
(Spring 2007)

Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.