Pilar García Claramonte February 2024 Highly Commended

Four Conditions of the Heart

by Pilar García Claramonte


Doctors are avoiding the zero conditional. No-one tells me, “If a brain is deprived of oxygen for twelve minutes, it never recovers fully.

You sleep. I watch. We share this arctic cubicle with the beep and whirr of machines. One shivering certainty rises stark-naked with your in-breath and falls in time with your chest: If you die, I die. If you die, I die.


Fourteen days since you collapsed on our kitchen floor. Doctors use the first conditional daily now: “If your partner doesn’t wake soon, we’ll need to make decisions.”

Your first conditionals were much easier.

If I promise coffee in bed forever, will you marry me?

If it’s a girl, we’ll name her Daisy.

If we retire next year, we’ll grow old by the sea.


It’s been thirty-two days. I hold your hand in one hand and write, with the other, the probable results of hypothetical situations. The complexity of the second conditional, scribbled on the back of hospital leaflets, is my foothold through this labyrinth.

If you woke, you would live significantly impaired, physically and mentally.

If you lived, you would not manage to breathe on your own.

At the end of the day, I scatter scraps of leaflets amongst binned paper cups. Acrid coffee coats my tongue across the dark drive home.

If you spoke, I know what you would tell me to do.


I tackle the third conditional in the classroom. The hardest of the four.

“You have to imagine the probable result of something unreal, impossible, something that didn’t actually happen,” I explain.

I write on the whiteboard: If, eighteen months ago, he had lived

I pause, marker pen in the air. “In this conditional, there’s often a sense of regret.”

I wipe the board and start another sentence.

About the Author

Pilar García Claramonte wishes that she had discovered the joy of creative writing much earlier in life. Now retired, she spends her time between the Kent coast, Oxford and the Basque Country, where she was born, trying to make up for lost time, aided and abetted by some great teachers and writing buddies. She was also highly commended in the June 2023 Bath Flash Fiction Award

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