It was one in the afternoon. I’d been on video chat, GMing Pokemon, since eight thirty.
My computer was just shut down, my face washed, the sunlight blinked at, blearily. My brain was in fifteen places, and none of them were in the real world. And there were things to be accomplished, things that normally would have been done in the morning.
So it was time for a walk. As if the rhythmic impacts of flesh on concrete were an inducement to return to the real world, instead of another way to leave it.
The first half passes in a blur of memory. Sunlight, grey and black surfaces topped with colors and light. We’re nearing the middle of our route, where we turn and pass the house with the fancy garden and then the thrift shop.
A few people are gathered at the corner. There is a large car.
I wonder, absently, what’s going on.
Visitors, saying good-bye.
Each step brings more detail.
It’s not ‘a few people’, it’s ‘a small crowd’. True, there can’t be more then seven of them, but they way they cluster, that’s a crowd.
There’s something on the ground, that’s what they are clustered around.
I can feel it, before I can see the old man (hair so white it glares in the sunlight) laying on the sidewalk, before I can see the blood— as if the eye can spot that color red further than it can spot other colors, other details.
The large man leaning into the open side door of the SUV is on the phone. Even from three paces away, I can hear the voice of the 911 operator.
He responds, “—broke his teeth out.”
I see a woman, kneeling beside the fallen, with a roll of paper towels beside her. There is a pile of used ones, ranging from dark red to pale pink, and a pool of blood near his mouth. (Was that part there? Did I add that? Was there ever that much blood?)
“They’re on their way.” The man with the phone says, and the 911 operator has hung up on him.
A different woman is saying, “Something soft. Do we have something soft? Do you live here? Is this your house, can you go get a pillow or something?”
We pass through the crowd. As if it were made of mist. As if we were ghosts, unremarked. And, like ghosts, unable to speak or communicate with the living. Words build and die, and evaporate unspoken on breaths not let out.
We pass a small group of men washing their car.
We pass the thrift shop, a young man on the phone, looking concerned.
We turn the corner.
I hear the sirens, that short burst of an ambulance passing through lights and traffic.
I breathe out.
[Excuse me, is there anything I can do to help— But each face is wrapped up in the solution already presented, and each position is occupied, and there are already people standing uncertain on the edges. Already ghosts haunting the sidelines.]
We approach a conversation, a woman we’ve met going into her house with her white dog Ace, talking to a man with a brown dog who isn’t on his leash, on any leash. She stands on her steps, trying to move, and he stands on the sidewalk, and finally lets her go.
We pass him.
“Do you know what she does?” He says. “She quilts! It’s like, art, but you can sleep with it!”
I am not surprised.
We turn, in unison, and I think we walk backward for a time, as we talk to him about the dog, (“She’s not mine. We’ve been together for years. She just does what she wants.”) who trails behind us or goes before us or stops to be scratched. About his life, the alcohol, and how he’s been trying to cut back (“I’m down to two drinks a day!”) but he spent last night in the emergency room, throwing up everything. Even water.
Is it the alcohol? Is it giving up the alcohol?
But it’s scary as hell.
He’s going to an organization that helps people trying to get sober, to ask them.
We turn. This way has more turns then the other one. We go left, because I know he’s going right. He goes right, and we wave goodbye and wish him luck.
And, another turn, another turn, and we are turning again to walk up our stairs.
The walk is done. The heat leaking out of my feet, the thirst, the drowsiness and twitching muscles, all of that will pass.
Will the rest fade so quickly?