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On the Floor, Beside the Bed
An ex-outfielder for the San Diego Padres, two seasons in the majors, mostly on the bench, but everybody in town referred to him as the guy who played for the Padres. He didn’t seem to work. He drove a tiny car. One of those old Honda Civics you could pretty much hold in the palm of your hand. What is it about big guys in small cars? Like big guys with small dogs? Is it some attempt to say I don’t see myself as you see me? His dog, though, wasn’t small. It was just mean. And who ever heard of a mean golden retriever? This one was vicious. His wife was pony-tailed, small, friendly. We never saw her in town. She must have taken the bus over the hill to work. And the only time we ever saw him was when he was driving too fast on our dirt roads. Who knows where he was going because we never saw him in town, either, but he drove that Civic like the pickup it wasn’t. You saw him coming, you jumped in a ditch. Soon hit you as look at you. He was a menace but there were worse, a lot worse, in town. And there was the fact that he’d played for the Padres.

     One night, late, we got a call to his address. Over the radio the dispatcher said a thirty-eight-year-old male fell out of bed. Arm injury. Code two. Lacerations, possible broken bones.

     They lived up on the mesa, in a rented two-room cabin on Yucca, up from Jack’s Path. When the three of us got there, his wife was standing at the door holding the frothing dog by the collar. Sky blue tank top, pajama bottoms, bare feet. That dog would have taken a chomp out of any one of us. We scooted by, those raging teeth lunging for our knees, and found him on the floor of the bedroom, moaning. She managed somehow to lock the dog in the bedroom closet. Then she got down on the floor and held him, or as much of him as she could wrap her arms around. She asked if she was in the way. Macy said no, she was fine, he could work around her, not a problem. If she helped calm the patient, all the better. I handed Macy the ears and the BP monitor. Macy told Dante to do a c-spine. The ex-ball player shouted, “Not my back, my arm, you fool.”

     Macy kept his cool. “Protocol,” he said. “Any fall, we need immobilize the spine in case–” His wife moved over a bit and Dante, on his knees, slid the collar under his neck. His vitals checked out fine. There was a small, old bruise on his left arm. No open wound. Macy asked if he thought he’d broken anything. The ex-ball player said how the fuck should he know. “Did you hear any pop?” Macy said. “I heard a pop, I heard lots of pops.” And he started moaning louder. He tried to lift his head, which now was collared. Dante gently pushed it back down. We’d seen this act before. His wasn’t an especially good performance. The dog was trying to eat his way out of the closet. You could see his teeth gnawing under the cheap door.

     Macy gave me a look and I went and scoped out the bathroom. In a bottom drawer I found a pile of empty pill bottles with the labels scratched off. I came back out and gave Macy a shrug. We’re not cops. Macy asked the ex-ball player if he wouldn’t be comfortable on the bed. “My arm,” he shouted. “I’m in pain, I need something here, all right, I–”

     And she held him, this enormous, furious guy. I’m sometimes struck by how people who don’t fit together actually do.

     Macy was polite, all business. He told him we were only EMT’s, that the paramedics would be here in fifteen, twenty minutes.

     “I need something, you gotta–”

     “We don’t even carry aspirin anymore,” Macy said. “New protocols. The state–”

     “Fuck you, fuck every inch of you.”  

     Not just physically but how people fit together period. I’m talking about the assumption of each other’s realities. I read somewhere that we brood when we’re alone, we act when we’re together. As in act in a play. But she wasn’t acting, at least she didn’t know she was acting. Or maybe she was a far better actor than he was. She had a shy, fearless face. This was nothing. She’d been through a hell of a lot worse than this. A belligerent husband, a house full of strangers in the middle of the night. You should see how he is sometimes when we’re alone. You think this is pitiful?

     I was a volunteer, nobody important to the scene. On medical calls, I’d meet the truck at the scene and carry the five-minute bag for Macy. I filled out the yellow sheet though the chief complained about my handwriting. She said I wrote like an ant. I held open doors. Sometimes, I helped roll out stretchers. Or I’d go out and scout for the ambulance in case they got lost, which happened sometimes because not all our roads are marked and GPS, forget it.

     Someone once told me the Pacific scrambles the maps.

     Mostly, I watched. Mostly, I was invisible, hardly there at all. Two o’clock in the morning, I’d get out of my own bed and walk into other people’s worst moments. You think I wasn’t thrilled? One night an ex-professional ball player with nothing to show for it but a dank rental, a piece of shit car, and a nasty dog in the closet. But he had her, her thin arms around him as best she could. How they fit together. Years, they’d fit together. The two of them still on the floor. He was done with it now, weeping, but still she clung as if his desperation itself could once and for all be contained. She clung to him, baby, baby. We waited on the medics.

Chicago-born Peter Orner is the author of two novels, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and Love and Shame and Love, and three story collections, Esther Stories; Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge; and Maggie Brown & Others (all Little,
Brown). His essay collection, Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Reading to Live And Living to Read (Catapult), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.