Excerpt from This Angel on My Chest by Leslie Pietrzyk, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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This Angel on My Chest

by Leslie Pietrzyk

This Angel on My Chest by Leslie Pietrzyk X
This Angel on My Chest by Leslie Pietrzyk
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 224 pages
    Jan 2017, 224 pages

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Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


These are ten things that only you know now:


He joked that he would die young. You imagined ninety-nine to your hundred. But by "young" he meant sixty-five, fifty-five. What "young" ended up meaning was thirty-five.

In the memory book the funeral home gave you (actually, that you paid for; nothing there was free, not even delivering the flowers to a nursing home the next day, which cost sixty-five dollars, but you were too used up to care), there was a page to record his exact age in years, months, and days. You added hours; you even added minutes, because you had that information. You were there when he had the heart attack.

Now, when thinking about his life, it seemed to you that minutes were so very important. There was that moment in the emergency room when you begged for ten more minutes. You would've traded anything, everything, for one more second, for the speck of time it would take to say his name, to hear him say your name.

Later, when you thought about it (because suddenly there was so much time to think; too little time, too much—time was just one more thing you couldn't make sense of anymore), you wondered why he'd told you he was going to die young. The first time he said it, you punched his arm. "Don't say that," you said. "Don't ever say that again, ever." But he said it another day and another and lots of days after that. And you punched his shoulder every time, because it was bad luck, bad mental energy, but you knew he'd say it again. You knew then that there would always be one more time for everything.


He once compared you to an avocado. He was never good at saying what he meant in fancy ways. (You had a boyfriend in college who dedicated poems to you, one of which won a contest in the student literary magazine, but that boyfriend never compared you to anything as simple and real as an avocado.)

You were sitting on the patio in the backyard. It was the day the dog got loose and ran out onto Route 50, and you found him by the side of the road—two legs mangled and blood everywhere—and you pulled off your windbreaker and wrapped the dog in it while your husband stood next to you whispering, "Oh God, oh God," because there was so much blood. He drove to the vet, catching every red light, while you held the dog close and murmured dog secrets in his ear, feeling his warm blood soak your clothes. And when the vet said she was sorry, that it was too late, you were the one who cupped the dog's head in both hands while she slipped in the needle, and you were the one who remembered to take off the dog's collar, unbuckling it slowly and looping it twice around your wrist, and you were the one whose face the dog tried to lick but couldn't quite reach.

So, that night, out on the patio, the two of you were sitting close, thinking about the dog. It was really too cold to be on the patio, but the dog had loved the backyard; every tree was a personal friend, each squirrel or bird an encroaching enemy. It was just cold enough that you felt him shiver, and he felt you shiver, but neither of you suggested going inside just yet. That's when he said, "I've decided you're like an avocado."

You almost didn't ask why, you were so busy thinking about the dog's tongue trying to reach your face and failing, even when you leaned right down next to his mouth. But then you asked anyway.

He looked up at the dark sky. "You're sort of tough on the outside," he said. "A little intimidating."

"Maybe," you said, but you knew he was right. In photos, you always looked as if you didn't want to be there. Lost tourists never asked you for directions; they asked your husband. It was something you'd become used to and no longer thought about or wondered why anymore.

Excerpted from This Angel on My Chest by Leslie Pietrzyk. Copyright © 2015 by Leslie Pietrzyk. Excerpted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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