Monday, March 19, 2012

Separated by too great a distance

The four hundred pound man lay face-up, immobile, at the end of the mossy alley. One ambulance had already peeled away from the curb, red lights revolving, sirens screaming. Out of a second, quieter, ambulance, medics wheeled a gurney. Standing around, watching the scene unfold were some of the town's most undesirable. Grown boys who would never be called men, loitered at the mouth of the alley looking like perpetrators. One pale, twiggy kid tugged against the metal-prong collar of a pit-bull as I walked by. It wasn't even Spring yet, but unseasonably warm weather - high 70s and sunny - brought out the summer clothes ahead of schedule. Their long, loose, NBA jerseys, showcased scrawny arms, white and weak. Red and black polyester shimmered in the sun. Shoddy scrawls of blue-black tattoos adorned their bodies, signifying nothing to me, but perhaps everything to them. Rural thugs, fed on high fructose corn syrup and cigarettes since birth, (second hand followed too quickly by first) some with missing teeth, some with missing cognitive abilities, all with nothing to do, intimidated me. Conversation halted as I parted their sidewalk gathering.  Down the alley, the man-in-blue (tall, clean, broad, armed),  loomed above the 400-pound man, talking to the only woman in the mix - she and her t-shirt were both too thin, an ACE bandage wrapped her arm.

 I had the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction weighing down my little red backpack. I'd walked 2 miles to the library to return this hefty tome and check out a few other light authors: Thomas Paine, Saul Bellow, Samuel Beckett, since, hey, there he was in the general area of Saul Bellow.  I finished my business quickly  hoping that I might be a chance bystander as they hoisted the 400-pound man onto the gurney and wheeled him to the waiting ambulance. How was something like that managed - with the weight and the alley and the people loitering?  But the alley looked back at me, empty. The cop and the woman were still talking, but out on the sidewalk now, in front of the cafe window. Without any sense of urgency, the ambulance pulled from the curb, lights revolving, a few brief siren blasts as it pulled into traffic. Was its passenger dead?  Over my shoulder, with my ears straining backward, I heard the police officer ask: "And where's the baby now?"  The woman started to answer, but too much distance separated me from the scene, from those people. I couldn't hear her answer. Not without stopping, not without an effort. 

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