(Author’s note: This is the opening sequence of a story already extant in rough draft form, one I intend to work fourth in the line of my novels. I felt a need to scribble this onto my computer today to share as my weekend post.)
A celestial work of abstract art hung overhead, the resplendent summer’s sunset displayed in mocking contrast to the gruesome small-mindedness unfolding below.
The vivid streaky hues of sky played off the tail end of billowing clouds, all the hurried creation of the same forces that dampened the litter strewn nameless street of the old mill city. No one on the street looked skyward, nor did any care to pry into tales of the street upon which each stood, for their focus was neither the past nor the splendorous, only compassion. Few understood their kinship with the neglected thoroughfare, of its powerlessness to request help to prevent its own decay, or share the many stories born upon it over the course of its one hundred twenty five year existence. If the old street could speak, it would claim what happened now would prove the most egregious injustice yet committed along its stubby trail, and this time, it could not absorb the story into its secretive and cloistered under-surface vault, where stories faded away, lost to the eraser of time. This would be a story told, locally, nationally, worldwide.
The quick hit storm struck twenty minutes earlier, born of the persistent and oppressive early July heat and humidity, a passing tropical like shower shed just enough moisture to coat the cracked and dirty pavement. As if annoyed with this washing or perhaps fearful the story might evaporate before its absorption or telling, the street steamed away this liquid affront. The shed vapour hugged the street, unwilling to float skyward. Instead, it formed pockets of gathered fog unstirred by the heavy, lethargic air in which some stood, legs covered and torsos exposed, as if emerging apparitions.
Technically unnamed due to lack of identifying markings no one bothered to replace, the street suffered from neglect since its decline from roadway central to traffic afterthought in the city’s century of growth, replaced by longer, wider, and more efficient movers of traffic. Located in a declining, and in some places decrepit section of the city just off its main business district, the area was three quarters of a century past its prime, and now played home to those shunted to the margins.
Fifty individuals lingered, formed into a human pod reaching from mid-street onto the sidewalk and back into the impassable roadway, their assembly pierced only by parked cars and three in roadway vehicles – an ambulance, and a police cruiser parked opposite a late model navy blue Nissan Titan. The crowd stood helpless but restless and watching, temporarily muted in their disbelief, on the cusp of beginning a metamorphosis from silently horrified toward vociferously agitated.
In the centre of the irregular human oval and between parked vehicles, a stretcher lay empty on the sidewalk, its intended occupant prone on the street and lifeless, her neglect in common with the street. Minutes before, the emergency medical technicians, who expended an all-out effort to get there, using blared screaming sirens and flashed strobe lights to clear their route, screeched to a halt, scurried to grab their equipment and tend to the injured. The two abruptly froze into professional inertia after the larger barked orders to the other only suited to a world made fearful through embraced ignorance.
Around the derelict of duty medical personnel, feet shuffled in discomfort. A few voices rose again, tentative at first, tasting the feel of expression, teased out of their temporary silence as the full force of their witness slammed each square in the gut. These were people distrustful of authority, who by the lessons of experience kept to themselves and just wished for others to leave them be, the best arrangement they could hope for in a society inclined to view them as dregs and perhaps miscreant. They had spoken initial encouragements to the medical personnel, these inclined to the shadows people, and for once, the authoritarians of the visible world ignored them, when their call was for the living and for life and not as per usual, to be left alone.
Now the watchers stirred anew, shirking their own catatonia by reactivating their voices in ways wholly different from the primal pleas for mercy and physical salvation they delivered during the decisive moments when action mattered. Expletive laced denunciations sprouted from their burgeoning outrage. As if swept up in an unavoidable wave, the others joined in, until their cacophonous declarations merged and organised into a rhythmic mantra that echoed off the old brick façades, mocking the failings of those sworn to protect and save human life.
Mere minutes before, patrons of MsFitts Saloon watched one of their number run a meandering gauntlet of tables and out the old wood and glass door into the rain, distraught, drunk, and unaware of anything but the need for escape. Her flowery sundress flowing from the rush out, into the street she ran, through rusted old cars parked parallel, on into the path of a newer Nissan pickup, its driver left with no chance at avoiding the upset and escaping patron.
Brakes squealed and bones broke, the woman’s body no match for two tons of moving steel. She flew off on an angle between cars and landed along the curb, the force of her throw spent only when head struck sidewalk. Somehow, she survived this mismatch. Those in the bar and others from nearby establishments hurried out to the street, pulling themselves into a gathering, the only thing they knew how to do with any certainty in the face of this life-threatening calamity.
The last out of the bar burrowed through the crowd, the one person everyone knew and of whom they all were so proud, identifiable by her tower of height no man amongst them matched, her jet black long hair and Japanese facial features recognisable to a nation. As if possessed, she shoved clean a path to the injured, let loose a scream, and set her iPhone on a mission of emergency 911 notification.
The medical technicians screeched into place not five minutes post call. By then the passing shower had turned off its feeble offering, leaving the street a steamy, smelly stew of befouled unpleasantness. The police cruiser arrived next, the lone officer tasked to give the technicians working space, and he did, shooing the crowd back some distance. While he worked the crowd, the emergency medical technicians worked with precision and practise. Equipment came out of its holds and all of the mandatory preliminary actions began, with one taking a pulse reading while the other checked for identification, in case the patient had a medical condition of which they should be aware.
The pulse taker, satisfied this person lived, moved on to stem blood flow from the head injury, ripping open packaging of needed bandaging. He took care not to move the unconscious victim, knowing unseen breakage might make any movement lethal. The second EMT found the patient’s wallet and removed her driver’s license, only to drop it to the pavement. “Stop!” the overweight technician shouted to his partner, drawing a look of incomprehension mixed with disbelief. “Stop I say! I’m not touching…It!”
The blank stare came remained as the slender technician processed this explanation, one the other tried to convey in a quiet way, knowing in this part of town, the comment would not be popular. “It is a dude, man,” the Hardy one added. “It isn’t a chick, it’s a dude! I can only imagine what I could catch from that thing!”
At once comprehending and horrified, the other offered a little too loudly, “No way I’ll touch It either.” With his reply, the Stan Laurel sized one joined Oliver Hardy, jettisoning their oath to no harm. “It’s a goner, anyway.”
For the fifty around them, to those at home in this section of the city, they knew not the medical needs of the one injured nor how to see to those needs. They well understood humans do not in actuality come wrapped in the simplistic and skimpy categories too many assume as fact. And, they understood the duty of those tasked to tend to those in medical peril.
Watching the crowd turn on them, for the technicians and the officers, the call for backup was prudent procedure, a need to secure their safe exit once…It… was aboard the ambulance for transport to the hospital morgue.
To the tall one, the dark haired trailer who initiated the emergency response, in fifteen minutes she had gone from breaking up with her partner of two years to watching her die, now distraught over a death she already believed she caused, someone she loved heart and soul. What she did not know was she would not be alone in the direction of her blame, nor were consequences at an end. For her, nightmare was only just beginning.
(In the late 1990s, a transwoman was injured in Washington DC. Responding EMTs checked her identification and refused to treat her once her trans identity was known, and she died. The city was sued, and I believed settled with her family for $300,000. While this is the opening scene in the story, this fictitious story bares no other connection to the DC incident other than refusal to treat, and is actually about the deceased woman’s partner, the dark haired one who makes the call.)