Friday, April 11, 2008

hill street blues

Here is the next installment to Jeff and my series 'Hospital.'

paramedic team

Walter Denigan was ready to sail across the city and find the dying woman and resuscitate her. Shelby Dexter was not so ready. She glanced over her partner’s face and shrugged. If it was to be fried rice tonight, she was alright with that. But she’d be damned if he was driving the ambulance again. This paramedic team took their turns and they took their good turns. She smiled as he asked her about her father. Yes, she replied, he’s still doing well, and she asked for the keys.

“Well, I guess. Just remember, tonight’s supposed to be a bummer. The moon’s out. Right?”

She nodded when Walter smiled. He was right. She could see through the windshield. The moon was fierce; all the cracks were exposed tonight, winking.

The first call from dispatch was only fifteen minutes into their shift. Shelby answered with a certainty and ordered the operator to take her time with the description. It was to be an elderly drunk crowing about on seventh street. Get him, take him in, be kind; she told Walter to strap in.

“No worries,” he chimed, and tossed his white box of rice out the window. He glanced up and down the lane, blushing as the sirens flared. The ambulance flew on rubber tire wings. The city laid out like a palm leaf.

The old drunk was brazen. He must have had a switchblade at some point; his ear was bleeding. Shelby approached with an open palm. Walter waited, tall as he could, with his arms pumped and his mustache trembling. Let it come to this, he remarked, and recalled the uncanny swagger of his dream from the night previous.


Walter held out a wolf’s head bleeding. The hallways of an ancient English
castle were bending in the shadows and crackles of a thunderstorm. He was not
alone. There were at least seven other blurry human figures. He felt fingers
stabbing him. He felt tongues licking him. The thunder suddenly stopped.
Walter was in a field. Shelby was near him rocking a baby tiger. She threw
the tiger to the ground yelling. He walked over to her. She bit his ear.
Walter punched her. He took out a shotgun and fired three shots at the baby
tiger. He felt like skinning it and eating the cat for dinner over a crude
fire in the middle of nowhere.


The bum was not pleased in the least. Shelby rushed him, faking right so the bum headed left. Walter gripped the vagabond by the shoulder and tossed him backward into the ambulance cab.

“Just fucking hold up!” he barked and pounced upon the wino. The booze of the atmosphere peaked, and suddenly all appetite died. The bars were closing. Shelby helped strap the homeless veteran into the back.

“Let’s go,” Walter demanded, and Shelby fired the cab. The whir of sirens, the calamity of red lights, and soon enough, Our Sacred Lady opened her embrace and accepted the fool of the skirmish.

Walter and Shelby rushed the gurney strapped hobo into the waiting room and raced back into the night. We brought him in, so what, Walter thought. It was his turn. Shelby tossed him the keys, and in no time flat, they were back on the road.

The thick darkness of the night came next. It was subtle, to collide with the ivy black of the city. They were well aware of it. A paramedic’s vocation trades in the secret knowledge of the wilderness of the metropolitan dream. Shelby made no pretension. But the radio was quiet. She told Walter to keep her steady and she passed into sleep.


She was holding Gilbert. He was choking and screaming. She flew through the
air. Her prom dress flapped. The cheerleaders had vomit dripping from their
chins. Shelby was in the locker room. A bald man bit her butt then handed her
an aborted fetus. The wine flowed freely in the gymnasium. Oh how she wanted
to shake off her dress and swim through the red wine sea. Then she heard her
father’s voice.


The blur of sirens and the chaos of the hot sound woke Shelby. Someone had jumped from the third floor of some apartment complex. He was okay, or so the reports came in, with busted knees only. So much for the glory of the bizarre and tragic, Shelby thought.

“We can really take this one, Shel,” Walter reported as he maneuvered around the system of the city. Shelby was grateful for Walter, for the third shift, for all elements of a life easy and true. When she was with her son, she was uncertain. And with her husband, even more so. But here, among the feet of the sleeping skyscrapers, she felt smooth and svelte. When things go wrong, she plunged defibrillators onto unsuspecting cadavers and struck lightning life in their hearts. She smiled.

The ambulance pulled onto the scene. Walter caught his breath and sent the sirens silent. He jumped from the cab, Shelby too, and they raced over to the youth splayed on the sidewalk. He kept preaching ominous phrases of perdition. I am the lonely one, he repeated, over and over, and Shelby swabbed an arm across her forehead. They loaded the boy onto a gurney and shoved him into the back of the ambulance. Shelby had to sit with him. She was uncertain. Her stomach growled. She shoved some needles into the youth, hooked him up to some medication or other, drew some fist or some blood or some tenderness. Walter blasted across town. Soon enough, Our Sacred Lady and the waiting room. Shelby stared at the busted boy and remembered how she used to cry at funerals.

After they dumped the boy in the emergency room, Walter and Shelby decided it was dinner time. But Shelby told Walter to go ahead. She found a quiet corner and hushed herself. She slept, dreaming perhaps, leaving Walter to fend for himself.


The Blue Ridge Mountains. Shelby, her son Jim, and an elderly woman, all
seated, were eating from a picnic basket. The woman held a deck of tarot
cards. Jim was only 4 yrs old in this scene. The tarot reader set her ham and
cheese on fire and told young Jim to, “fetch her, her walking stick.” The
pastoral landscape was undone by the sound of sirens. Shelby shook. Where was
Donald? Calculators fell from the sky. Jim was a grown man of 25 now and was
copulating with the tarot card woman. He moaned and yelled for God. Shelby’s
ears were bleeding. The sirens were too loud.


Walter found the cafeteria alright. He saw Kumar across the way and waved. They weren’t friends in real life, only here on the third shift. It was an act of exhaustion. Despite Shelby, Walter knew he was a beast, a forever man on the twilight shift. His wife was gone, kids grown, and he had little else left. Just television on dvd. So he let it go. He got some oatmeal from the kind lady behind the lunch counter and dove into it with butter and brown sugar. He knew Shel was off somewhere, dreaming beautiful. He loved her, as only extremely lonely friends can, and waited for her to wander her way to the cafeteria. This was their nightly ritual, one and two and sleep. Walter set his head down upon a cool blue plastic table top. He wanted to wake up and find the ambulance kicked over by dozens of unruly gang members. But it was just sleep, a moment or two, and that was all.


He was eating at Burger King. He was in his grandparent’s car. The sky
looked like New Mexico. A raven haired attractive woman, topless, massaged her
left breast. He saw the words, “carry cart burdens" written in the sky. He
would remember them later for a second or two upon waking then forget them.


The two partners jumped when their break had ended. Back into the cab, taking calls, falling into the cracks of the street. There is a moment at night, just before the sun takes over, when all seems perfectly still and modeled. God must have been a paraplegic, Walter thought, lusting after harmony. Shelby thought something else; her boyfriend, the bar district, drunken avenues and forms of guilt in crash victims. Once, when she was thirteen, her father found himself smashed inside the front seat of his car. She was in the backseat. An ambulance roared onto the scene and saved his life. Shelby looked out of her passenger window and caught quickly her reflection. She could see Walter too, just beyond. They raced by a fire hydrant that had been kicked-in weeks previous. The dormant thing laid upon its side, no longer leaking water. Dispatch had set them up for a stabbing. The victim was still alive for now.

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