I stepped outside. The sun was shining through the fog, making it glow. When I had looked out the window earlier in the morning it had been truly foggy. Our house seemed to be stranded in a sea. But now it was almost clear, and only the houses far ahead were obscured.
I checked my jade plant. Her leaves were thin, and I’d been fussing over her. Her leaves wouldn’t turn that deep, shining green, or fill up fat, and I was worried I was doing something wrong. I noted that the water tray below was empty again, and that there was a small spider web curled around some of the leaves. Wet with fog, small, delicate. I couldn’t find the spider.
Then I stepped to the sidewalk, and turned right, to pass by the walls of ivy.
There was an older gentleman walking toward me. In a California baseball cap, a scruffy jacket, beaten up jeans. I thought I recognized him, a man who walks by frequently.
But then he said, “Excuse me, do you have a cell phone I could use to call 911?” And all recognition flew out of my head.
My hand went to my pocket and I said, “I didn’t bring it, but I can go get one. Do you need one?” I was already moving backward. My house was only a few steps away, and I had left my phone on the shelf. After my encounter with the gentlemen with knives, I had decided that I should never go outside without my cell phone. And yet, here I was, no cellphone, with someone in actual need.
“Yeah.” He said, “I’m bleeding internally. I already passed out once.”
He looked fine to me, but if he wanted to call 911, that was his deal. I was already running, past the ivy, up the steps, into the house. I grabbed the phone, and I was dialing as I shut the door behind me and moved back on to the sidewalk. He was almost to the house.
“This is Emergency Services, what is the nature of your emergency?”
“Hi, I have a medical emergency. A gentleman is bleeding internally and he collapsed.”
“Where are you?”
“The corner of 14th and B”
“B as in boy?”
“Can you tell me exactly what happened?”
I handed the phone over, which maybe at some point I hadn’t been intending to do. “She wants to know exactly what happened.”
He took it, with a look I can only describe as exhausted. He began to explain.
My heart was pounding. But for once I’d known exactly what to do, and done it.
As he talked, his voice grew weaker. Bleeding rectally, he said. He’d already lost a lot of blood. He was in the emergency room for stomach ulcers last night. This had happened before, about half a year ago. He’d been taking the wrong pain meds. ‘Pain medication I wasn’t supposed to be on.’
His hands were shaking, harder and harder. His voice was growing weaker.
Was he getting pale?
I bounced, trying to stay still. He’d want water. He should sit. I didn’t want to leave him while he was on the phone. What if he took it on accident? What if he stole it? What if he needed me?
“The address is 1421.” He said, looking at the prominent numbers on the house across the street. “1421.”
And then, we were done. He gave the phone back. “Can I have some water?” He asked. “Just a little drink of water.”
I bobbed. “Do you want to sit?” I asked.
“They’re coming. I was going to sit over there, there’s not enough room for them to pull in here.”
There was no way he was going to make it across the street.
“Just a moment, I’ll go get the water.” I ran. Strode. Moved. I don’t know. Big red cup, the one I’d used when the high guy needed water, fill it up, back outside.
I could already hear sirens. I was impressed.
He was still standing in front of our house, and he took the cup with shaking hands. He couldn’t have taken more then a sip, spilled across his grizzled chin, across his shirt.
I look up, because the sirens are approaching our corner. I see lights, and the ambulance is coming. I wave, and he’s handing me the cup back. The person in the passenger seat of the ambulance waves back. I take the cup.
And he moves, achingly slowly, not curled over because then he couldn’t walk. Moaning softly with each step.
To the steps, where he sits, one movement at a time, with slow, sorrowing noises.
“Do you want something to eat?” I’ve asked. I’m thinking of snack bars, the ones in my parents house, the ones we don’t even have.
“No, they won’t want me to have eaten.” He’s sitting.
“Is there anything else I can do to help?”
But the people are getting out of the ambulance. A practical looking young woman, in a pony tail, with broad shoulders. She’s putting on rubber gloves.
“No, no.” He said.
(She reminds me of someone. A girl from some creative writing class, an EMT. Grace? Angel? Something appropriate…)
“Alright sir, can you tell me what’s going on today?” And she’s coming over.
They are done with me.
I stand there a moment.
Then I go.
I shut the door, and my sister is there asking me what’s up, and my heart is pounding, and the lights are leaking in through the windows, although the sirens have stopped.
I put the cup on the counter, explaining.
I go into our bedroom, where the blinds are shut.
The cat comes to me and squeaks.
I can’t decide. Should I take a walk, or not?
A couple of days later (That must have been… Friday? Thursday? And this was Sunday night.) I was walking with my friend. We’re several blocks away from our house. I saw an older man in a baggy hoodie and a ball cap, but it was twilight and I didn’t have my glasses. I was talking loudly about something. We passed him, and he said,
“Wait, you’re the girl who helped me.”
I recognized his voice, maybe. I swiveled and started walking back in the other direction.
He was okay.