We like the heart to behave—no skipped beats, no atrial flutter, just the regular, precious, plodding cadence. For this we will sacrifice much. The medicine my father began taking for his irregular heartbeat, in 2014, could have turned his skin gray, or caused him to grow breasts, or collected in tiny granular deposits behind his eyes, so that everything he looked at would have had a blue halo. None of this happened to him. Instead, he was cold all the time.
Inside my parents’ house, a century-old structure north of New York City whose thin walls testified to the golden age of cheap petroleum, he took to wearing a heavy tweed overcoat. He wore it when he watched television, or napped on the sofa, or read through old copies of the Times which he kept in the basement. He wore it at meals, also donning gloves and a hat. He peeled off the overcoat only when he went to sleep, under several blankets and a stout covering my parents called Milty the Quilty. Of course, they could have turned up the heat. But old habits of thrift got in the way, as did the psychological complexities of a long marriage. My mother had wanted to move decades ago, my father had run out the clock in his typically charming and infuriating manner, and now remaining in the chilly house was punishment for him, not for her.