by Carter Maness
I flipped to frequency seven and waited for something to happen. Freelance ambulancing is an exercise in stasis. We sit until Grego hits the radio. He fires-off some address, then the adrenaline takes over. We get the overflow when New York Methodist can’t cover, so usually we wait.
The night I met Marlene seemed like one of the quiet nights. I sat in back on an obstetrical kit, drinking green tea and reading about a man and his wife and something with a car and a fight after dinner. I couldn’t relate. Marlene landed on Hot 97 and pushed her hands through the stuffy air to “California Love.”
She was impersonating the vocoder—no doubt aboooout it—when Grego hit us up. “Accident reported at Carleston Ironworks! Frequency Seven, can you handle?”
“Yea I got ya, Grego,” said Marlene. “We on our way!”
She flipped the siren and headed west on Third Street at an alarming speed. Our proprietary ‘ambulance of the future,’ the Ambutron was already infamous for its performance issues. At least three in our fleet had been recalled for failure to complete basic hard turns. It’s why John Colter got canned. How the hell does such a talented man drive into a ravine? Who knew New York even had ravines.
“You got kids, Dave?”
Marlene’s calm in such a tense moment startled me. “I uhh, no, Marlene, not yet.” She must have been going on sixty. “I hope to. Someday.”
“You got a good woman?”
“No, no woman currently,” I said.
“Straight?” She cackled loudly, skin settling like oatmeal. “I’m just playin, Davey baby. Don’t give me that look! In order to make a woman, you have to get dirty with one first, right?”
She met my eyes in the rearview, wrinkled tattoo on the right shoulder reading Hoot N Holler. “Funny,” I said. “What’s our ETA?”
“Like the alien?”
Carleston Ironworks looked exactly like a place that manufactures iron. We killed the Ambutron’s siren down the block and approached in silence. Broken streetlights flickered off the factory’s brown facade. Workers hunched over the curb, jumpsuits blanketed by soot, a dull glow as they slumped in collective agony.
Marlene, sprightly given her meager physicality, helped me carry a stretcher from the Ambutron to the factory floor. That’s where we first saw Randy, pale and emasculated, buried under a stack of uniforms with two men kneeling at his side. Dirt rolled off their wet faces, a race to the floor.
“Clear the path—” I felt professional. The men stood and put hands over their mouths. Marlene patted their backs, small clouds of debris emerging from within.
A counterbalance beam had broken from its chain, creating what was essentially a two-ton pendulum. It swung toward Randy, at first hovering, an impending disaster, momentum in concert with the factory’s screams. Hit him square in the face. Now, weepy, positioned like a broken moon, he was a man with no face. His mangled eyes hanged crooked above his ears, the rest an oblong void.
“You poor soul,” said Marlene. She removed the uniforms and carefully stretched a green space blanket over his body. “Can you speak?”
I gotta admit, even though I’ve been a professional medic for years, this kind of injury, where someone is bludgeoned into a new life, makes my stomach go a little crazy.
“Do you remember what happened?” I asked.
“It’s not like I’m some idiot.” His voice was muffled under the blanket.
“Don’t worry,” said Marlene. She patted down his wound with her scaly hand. “Y’all gonna be just fine. You seem smart as a whip and, shit, this really ain’t so bad. We’ll get ya to New York Methodist fast as hell, alright?”
Muscles vibrated in Randy’s forearm as he gripped Marlene’s hand. We slowly maneuvered our stretcher to the street, where the workers remained, some standing now, drinking beers from a thirty-pack.
“He gonna make it?”
“Fuck ya he is,” said Marlene, dirty blonde hair like straw. “He ain’t even that out there. I bet he’ll be back in no time.”
“There should be major surgery,” I said. “Significant recovery time, but an initial read of his cognitive funct—” One of the two men made a snoring sound and laughter spread. I heard a can crinkle as hurt washed over my face.
“Let Davey work,” said Marlene. “Ain’t no need to get fresh out here. He’s a damn good medic and he’s doin’ his job like you and me. We’re all tryin’ to make it to Friday, ya know?”
John Colter would have knocked someone out if they talked to me like that, but Marlene stepped up, too. When, with no medical knowledge, she reassured the workers that Randy would survive, they believed her. When she said I was a good man, they respected me. Sometimes, that momentary reassurance, the lie which soothes a group’s psyche, is all they need to move on, to get back to work.
“So what do you think of Randy?”
Marlene had bought us coffees from Whole Foods. We sat on the Ambutron’s hood waiting for Grego’s call. I expected the sound of wind to cut through the trees. There were no trees, though, only the canal. Sporadic plops made me think of dying. Rumors of a possum issue. A man on the radio sang ‘these hos ain’t loyal.’
“You mean the guy from last week?”
“We’ve been hangin’ out.”
“The guy with no face? You’ve been hanging out?”
“What did I just say?” Marlene took a sip and made the ‘ahh’ sound. Leathery face in frozen optimism, she stared at the ConEd distribution center. “He’s actually a great guy.”
“I didn’t even know he was out of the hospital yet. That, the face thing, I mean if the guy even survives, is like a minimum three-month ordeal.”
“Well not Randy,” she said. “He’s tough. You work with what ya got, right? That’s really all ya can do. I try to look at the person inside. His face? That’s just temporary. And I’ll tell ya what… There’s nothing deformed about Randy. His body, his brain, they’re workin’ just fine.”
“What does it feel like when you kiss him?”
“It feels like love.”
“But the structure’s all messed up.” Marlene’s eyeliner made her look like a depressed badger.
“He clicks his tongue. I do the kissin’, he does the clickin’. That’s what we were crackin’ up about last night, at least. We’re happy, ya know?”
“Well, that’s great to hear, Marlene!”
The phoniness in my voice, my severe want to be liked, or at least to not appear like an asshole, seemed so obvious. Marlene either didn’t notice or didn’t care. She wasn’t the kind of person who judged every interaction. She wasn’t waiting to hate me. RUN-DMC breached the cracked windows. Throwback Thursday had commenced. A DJ shouted over an 808, assigning value to neighborhoods across the five boroughs.
Marlene laughed at her phone and began furiously tapping its keys.
“Do you mind?” She made the silent motion one does when asking someone to take their picture. I backed near the barbed wire gate for the right angle.
“Smile! 3, 2, 1—” And the phone made the sound of a photograph.
The Ambutronics Christmas party is a well-funded affair. This year, our theme was Mexican Holiday, and we mingled—medics, drivers, dispatchers and executives alike—in the Whole Foods banquet zone, eating tacos so small that everyone kept making jokes about how small the tacos were. The team drank margaritas, served by actual Mexicans in one-hundred-percent recyclable cups. Grego programmed the playlist, classic holiday fare mixed with a broad selection of Top 40 produced entirely by Pharrell.
I would have given anything to stay in bed, to have a night totally alone. But eventually, plied by free margs, my attitude loosened. We talked about life. Who knew Jeanine ran a cat rescue operation on the side or that Michael’s uncle was a NASCAR champion in the ‘80s? Or that Wendell used to be named Frank! The scar on Vashti’s face? Dad’s fault for starting the car while she napped under the exhaust.
I needed to burn one. The Whole Foods parking lot was in the middle condition between slush and black ice. I retrieved a hash-oil e-cigarette from my coat and took three hits until the blue light blinked. Crossing the bridge, I sensed a familiar form.
He didn’t acknowledge me, didn’t say my name, just approached until he walked right into my chest and wrapped me up in one of the warmest bear hugs I’ll ever experience.
“How the hell have you been, Dave?”
“Man! Good, good. It’s going alright. How about you? You never return my texts.”
I softly punched his right shoulder. “Trying to make it work.”
“Well, what the hell? How’s Kathryn?”
“Ahh, she’s good, she’s good,” he said, paranoid head swiveling toward the canal. John seemed antsy, like he wanted to make sure no one from Ambutronics was watching. His beard, which seemed so manly when I’d watch him take those corners from the back, had little patches of gray now. Three months post-termination, dots of ice clung to the end of his old hairs.
“Would love to see you two at some point. You know, in a non-work situation.”
John nodded. “I’m sure she’d like that.”
A plow finally passed, over the bridge, past our lot, past the ConEd distribution center. It shot salt in every direction, burying cars under dirty banks of snow.
“You still driving?”
In the middle of asking, I realized John might interpret my question as inappropriate. People died. And death, in my experience at least, is usually a sore subject at holiday parties.
“A bit. You know that place Vinny’s?”
“The pizzeria on Court we used to make fun of?”
“I never said I ate the garbage. It’s not so bad. I’m figuring out my next move. Kathryn’s getting on my nerves, though. Says I’m home too much, that she’s gonna have to start seeing new clients to ‘fill the gap.’” He said this in a woman’s voice that landed closer to an impersonation of a caveman. “That this is no way for a man to act. To run from your problems, to drown your family in debt. Ahh, I dunno.”
“Man, John—” I rubbed his shoulder, too drunk with nothing to say. “People are gonna freak when they see you! Don’t worry about any of that. Tonight’s all about letting go of the bullshit.”
Automatic doors greeted us with a swell of hot air, and I marched John past the coffee zone, through the produce pyramid, right into the party like I’d found the most valuable treasure in all of Whole Foods. One by one, faces lit and John gave my coworkers the same bear hug he gave me. He declined a marg from Wendell, something about making changes. I couldn’t quite hear. Pharrell screamed in falsetto, an echo chamber of seduction.
Marlene and Randy made their entrance. Randy’s deformity seemed considerably worse than before. He wore black Canal Street sunglasses, a Members Only jacket streaked with dirt, and a New York Giants snapback with white velcro sneakers. Marlene approached, practically dragging him across the room. Conversation died.
“Hey there, Dave,” she said. John Colter grew bug-eyed and backed into one of the servers, who stumbled a few steps, but handled his taco tray gracefully. Disturbed by the clatter, Grego killed the music.
“You remember Randy, doncha?”
“Sure do.” We shook hands.
“Thanks again for saving my life.” He sounded like a frog. Marlene lifted his hat, kissed the top of his head.
“Hey, John,” I said. “Come over here a sec. Want you to meet Marlene. She’s the new… Well, she’s the new you!”
They choreographed a hug where neither knew what the other was doing. “I’ve heard so much about ya,” she said. “Dave here’s a big fan of your work. Always John this, John that. I like to think I can drive, too, ya know. It’s quite an ordeal winnin’ this one over!”
John laughed so hard his mustache quivered. “Does he still get stoned off his gourd?”
“Oh for sure! I’ll tell ya. If some of these kids we help knew how high Dave was. Well—” She smiled through a gigantic cough. “They’d have no other option because we’re the only ones around to rescue ‘em!”
Randy hovered over the spread, grinding mini-tacos through his mouth hole. The guys from corporate watched him from across the room like they’d encountered a unicorn. Jeanine’s face throbbed, red and appalled. Wendell was tanked, swerving table to table, drinking the backwash of discarded margaritas. Grego wore an expression of absolute disgust. An invasion had occurred, but he hit spacebar anyway, slowly raising the volume until my coworkers resumed their dances.
Grego declared it karaoke time. There were no takers, so he did the first song himself, a horrid Beyonce rendition I don’t care to know the name of. Marlene volunteered next, feeling her way through the most deranged version of “What Is Love” I’ve ever heard.
Even the servers froze to witness her trainwreck, trays suspended in the air. Marlene was off-key, slurring the song’s simple lyrics and forgetting other phrases all together. At one point, she mimed the shape of a hula-hoop around her waist and shimmied into the crowd, where she dropped and did an ‘under the sea’ dance. My coworkers cheered when she rose, thoroughly entertained yet thankful the spectacle had ended.
Randy sucked a water bottle under the monitors. He nodded with the beat. I would have crumbled in his situation, but Randy maintained a carefree attitude. He’d lost it all and kept going.
“Who wants next?” Grego shrieked into the microphone at a volume only acceptable with more applause in the room. “Come on, you Ambutronics Supersonics! No one? What about you over there? Under the monitor?”
Grego pointed at Randy, who shrugged, walked over to the Macbook and selected a song. On hearing the initial chords of “Lay Lady Lay,” anxiety washed through my arteries.
Randy sang stiff on the first verse, but who wouldn’t be a little nervous serenading a group of strangers with a twangy Dylan song? By the second, Randy’s wrecked eyes locked into Marlene. His voice loosened, confidence unleashed. He sang with tenderness and emotional authenticity. He was a man who’d been humbled. Wrapping the mic cord around his hand, Randy waded through the crowd and found Marlene’s lap. She kissed his damaged cheek and he reciprocated, sending clicking sounds through the reverb-laden microphone.
The party went wild. The staff rose and cheered, including our chairman Donny Flendergraff, who whistled and clapped like his bet on a longshot horse had just paid off. Randy bowed and handed the microphone to Grego, who reciprocated.
“Wow—” The adoration was deafening. “Just wow. We, as Ambutronics employees, just had one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. That was truly amazing!”
John Colter tapped my shoulder. “That was something wasn’t it?” He took a big sip of margarita.
“I thought you quit drinking.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Didn’t I overhear you say you were making changes earlier?” I shrugged as he knocked back the remainder, flagged down a server and got us fresh cups. “You can barely hear the guy when he says hello, and he walks up there, and, like, he could be a star.”
“You actually liked it?”
The room had been laughing at Randy. Was I that clueless? Flendergraff, Grego, Jeanine, Wasted Wendell, they applauded from a place of pity, out of collective obligation toward correctness, a group avoidance of admonishing a man without a face who still had sexuality and grace.
“Dave, I don’t think that applause was exactly sincere. That was the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen, man.”
“You mean weirder than the stuff you see driving for Vinny’s?”
I emptied my chamber on that one. John wanted to forget his shit life and remember his comfortable existence before the accident, when he had a team that respected his contributions and the Post hadn’t called him a murderer. He drained his marg, vomiting on the horizon.
“I’m not sure what you mean by that one. There’s an attitude there.”
“And there’s not in laughing at a disfigured man?”
“But he was doing karaoke!”
I bust balls when I get drunk. “Shit, I’m sorry.” I swallowed a puke burp. “Maybe a few too many.” I shook my full cup and sucked away. Marlene smiled at me across the room, Newport pointed toward the automatic doors.
I was so wasted I barely registered the chill. I didn’t even think to retrieve my coat. Marlene tried to signal I was lighting my cigarette backwards but pointed too late. The filter flared then sputtered to ash, ruined. I dropped it into the snow and lit another.
“Quite a performance in there.” I wobbled through my take on the hula-hoop.
She shrugged. “Wednesdays at Limelight. That was my church in the early ‘90s. I figured I’d do y’all one ya would really feel. I go even deeper than that.” She did a few moves that I recognized as vaguely house-related.
“What about Randy? You know everyone was laughing at him, right?”
“They soaked that shit up!”
“Because they had to.”
“What are you sayin’?”
“I’m saying he’s a fucking freak.”
If John Colter hadn’t popped me, this was it. The weathered lines on her face snapped to attention. “The fuck do you get off?”
She fizzled her half-finished Newport into the snow. “You’re an asshole, Dave. I’d never talk about ya girlfriend like that.”
“Well, she has a face.”
I didn’t even have a girlfriend. She knew that. Why keep pushing people? To show I’m smarter? Better at what I do? Above the job completely? I needed my coat. Marlene left me in the cold. I followed her in, past the coffee zone, through produce, around baked goods.
“Marlene!” I shouted. “Marleeeeeene. I’m really sorry for that. I’m a little tipsy—”
She went straight to Randy, who sat alone at a circular table with legs made of tree trunks. He clutched his stomach. Too many mini-tacos. She lifted the hat again, kissing his bald head, absent face. I decided it was time to leave. My coat was by the salad bar and, when Jeanine tried to stop me on the way, I brushed her off and swerved dangerously close to a vat of tuna salad.
“Are you going to get home alright?” she asked.
“Of course! What do you think I am?”
“Oh, well you’re stumbling a lot—and you just yelled at Wendell.”
“I what?” I had no recollection of this. To my knowledge, I’d never yelled at anyone in my life.
“He said you went at him. That he asked you how you were feeling and you said you couldn’t hear him, so he came closer and you made him keep repeating what he was saying, and then you screamed something in his face about speaking English clearly and that no one can understand a man who stutters. He ran away! Like, his car is gone.”
“That doesn’t sound like me.”
Half the room was staring, including Grego, who went back to his Macbook after I made eyes with him. The thought of blacking-out never occurs to you while blacking-out, which seems like an obvious statement, but not one I would have understood in the moment I was blacking-out. Basically, a wash-type situation.
The next thing I remember was leaving the room, Flendergraff following, repeating it was no big deal, it happens. He slipped eighty bucks in my coat, which I tried to turn down, saying, even if I decided to take a car, it was way too much money.
“Trust me. It’s my pleasure. Merry Christmas, Dave.”
Riding over the Williamsburg Bridge, the car stopping, I’m overwhelmed with confusion as the driver slams his door and pulls me out of the back seat into the harsh elevated wind.
“You can’t leave me here,” I say. Or think. And he doesn’t. He wipes me down and drives the rest of the way to Clinton Street with my vomit-soaked coat in the passenger seat.
I puke, my aching knees, cell phone in the exact center of my living room to create symmetry.
After waking-up drunk, the extremity of my nausea was top five all-time. A hangover emerged on the F Train. I dreaded seeing Marlene. All good will, whatever I had built-up over the holiday season, had been steamrolled by my drunk behavior, by calling Randy a freak.
I sat, freezing on the back lip of the Ambutron. Maybe Marlene quit. Maybe I shamed her and she was embarrassed and proving a point. Maybe, like me, she simply drank too much and had trouble getting to work. For years, I’ve been saying they need to give us an extra day after the Christmas party. It’s unreasonable to ask us to perform medical miracles with company-sponsored hangovers.
Our lot was icy and underplowed. Silence from the radio. Grego usually said hello, at least. He confirmed we were manning our posts, asked what we had for dinner, what crazy shit we’d seen the night before, a combination of bookkeeping and kindness. I flipped through the frequencies. Nothing but static.
Marlene finally arrived, wearing a mismatched Adidas sweatsuit and holding a bag of citrus, which included oranges, clementines, tangelos, and a grapefruit the size of an extremely large grapefruit. In the smoky gray, she looked like an apparition but sat right next to me, swinging the netted bag into my lap.
“Take what ya want.”
“I’m real sorry about last night, Marlene.”
“I don’t want to hear it. You were prolly right.”
“How could you say that? I drank way too much and acted like a self-righteous asshole. I’m fully admitting that to you. I think Randy’s a great guy. He’s actually kind of a hero, and I seriously don’t know what I was thinking running my mouth like that. It was cruel, and I’m sorry.”
She bit into an orange, salivating over her uniform. Frozen upright in the ice like a tombstone, a discarded Doritos bag, a winter tradition.
“He broke up with me.”
“He broke it off.” She sighed. “There’s not much more to say about the whole situation. I tried to tell ya he was different and, ya know, I guess I misfired on this one.”
I asked if she wanted to move inside the Ambutron, where it was less cold and we could talk. She said sure, but she wasn’t feeling like driving, and asked if I would sit behind the wheel for a while, at least while we talked.
The heater pumped warm air in our faces above the soft hum of Hot 97. Marlene’s immovable frown, she stared through the frozen windshield, squinting her eyes as I intermittently flicked the wipers in an attempt to defog.
“So what happened?”
“He really didn’t say much—just that, after the party, after opening-up to everyone, singing his lil heart out, he knew it wouldn’t work between us. Said we had run our course and that we had to face facts.”
“Can we not?”
At least she didn’t rip me apart. A small cough rippled through the speaker before fading. Wind hissed through the closed windows. Ambutrons were cheaply insulated. They often buckled under the pressures of extreme weather.
“Frequency Seven—” The voice. “Your dispatch is hungover. His brain is broken. Two days ‘til Christmas, and all is quiet tonight.”
Marlene grabbed the radio from my hand. “Grego. We feel ya pain. The entire world feels ya pain.” She drew a cat in the glass. The acrylic nail on her index finger had the precision of an exacto knife.
“Do you want to go out in the field?” I asked.
“Like go for a drive for no reason?”
“Get out for a bit.”
Marlene, at least to me, had never looked so disinterested. “Yeah, I guess.”
I opened the door to switch to the passenger side, but she waved me off. “You drive this time. I’ll get in back.”
I started the engine and let the defroster go for a good three minutes before turning down Third Street. Reedy smoke curled from the canal. I hooked over by the Carroll Street station and turned left down Court. Even Abilene, my favorite pre-work bar, had closed early.
“Everything OK back there?”
I’ve found silence to be a form of violence. Marlene wasn’t herself and, wanting to give her space, I let it go, but the situation demanded words. A man on the radio rapped about loving himself. I parked in front of Vinny’s.
“Why we stoppin’? You need a lil grease in ya bones or somethin’?”
“Something like that. You want anything?”
“Nah. I’m good back here. I swear.”
I vowed to buy Marlene a slice. It was, pretty accurately, the least I could do. It’s improper to live on citrus for an entire day, especially after a night of heavy drinking. Inside, the florescent lights overwhelmed my senses, bile rising, burning my throat. It smelled of bleach and reheated mozzarella. An old Italian with a nametag that said ‘Vinny if you didn’t know’ nodded at me.
“What’ll ya have?”
“I’m actually looking for someone. John Colter. Old friend of mine.”
“Who?” ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ played softly, competing with an edited version of Die Hard on the big screen. Every time Bruce Willis said fuck, FX turned it into fudge, which Vinny found hilarious, looking over his shoulder and laughing at each instance of bungled profanity.
“John Colter. He drives for you.”
“Never heard of the kid. You want a slice or something?”
Could he have meant another Vinny’s? Why would John lie to me about a place we both hated anyway? Why would he come to a Christmas party and present himself as below average, when even that was a lie?
“I guess two plain and a buffalo chicken for my girl in the van.”
He heated the slices beyond taste. They were so hot that, walking to the car, when I took a bite, the roof of my mouth burned away. I swallowed my own skin with a swig of cream soda.
Marlene slept in the back, a half-peeled grapefruit balanced on her chest like a tumor. I shook her.
“Marlene, can you please wake-up? We’re on a shift. We might need to roll.”
Her eyes were bleary and red. “Musta dozed off or somethin’.”
“Hey, it’s understandable.”
I liked being empathetic because it made me feel well-liked. Helping people carries a personal advantage, and everyone acts like it’s so awful and shallow to admit that. But if helping people benefits me, well, what’s there to complain about, really?
“Thanks for understanding.”
“I got you a slice. Buffalo chicken.”
“I’m not hungry.”
I placed it next to Marlene, knowing she always said no before she said yes. “Are you sure?”
“Just a little—”
We ate in silence. A silent night, a dead night. It’s funny the things you learn on this job, but I’m not sure how different it is from any other job. I took the radio from its cradle.
“Grego,” I said. “Frequency Seven checking in. Haven’t heard anything in a while.”
“Because there’s nothing. Stand on guard and make this company proud.” And then Grego did a trumpet fanfare with his mouth. It embarrassed me, but Marlene, listening in back, laughed for the first time all night, bits of orange chicken in her yellow teeth.
Nothing but stray plows for hours. I kept the Ambutron parked in front of Vinny’s and watched the workers talk with their hands. They looked like ghosts through the icy window. Marlene slept in the back, waking herself at one point with a loud woop that mimicked a siren.
“How long we got left in this shit?”
“A few more hours. You were out cold.”
“God damn right I was.” I could hear her cotton-mouth smacking through the communication portal. “You got anythin’ to drink up there?” I had finished my cream soda, but handed her a near-empty Poland Spring bottle, which she downed in a focused chug.
“That’s much better. I had the weirdest dream. I was standin’ in this crowd in some weird parking lot and this ambulance started driving right at me. It drove through my body.”
“How you feeling?”
“I just wanna text Randy and let him know what’s what. We had that fight when we shoulda been sleepin’. Nothin’ good comes that time of night.”
I’ve had some experience going too far, texting too much, communicating when it’s the worst possible idea. It backfires. You project all this importance on a person who actively destroys you. They don’t want to communicate. They want you to cool off, to leave them alone. I can’t imagine Randy reacting so harshly, but if he was so adamant that things were over, Marlene’s bruised ego would only turn bluer if she texted.
“Give me your phone,” I said.
“I’ll keep it up here and you won’t have to think about Randy. At least ‘til our shift is over.”
She shook her head and laughed. “I have more patience than y’all. I’ll be handlin’ this myself.”
Grego hit the speaker. Not sure I could have finished out the shift playing friend to Marlene, I was thankful for the distraction. A man, unidentified, had fallen asleep in his car, caked in a snowbank, and was suffering a severe case of hypothermia. The cops had found him, jabbed the window multiple times before it shattered. They pulled his body out, laid him on their heated backseat and were awaiting immediate medical assistance.
“We’re on it!” I cradled the radio. “Marlene, you wanna get up here?”
“But you’re the—”
“You know how to drive doncha?”
Of course I did. I do. I peeled down Court Street, turned left on Luquer, up Smith and hit an unprecedented series of green lights before a hard turn at Atlantic Avenue. The Ambutron, reeling through the snowy mist, shifted its weight to the right and slid on two wheels.
“Turn in, Davey!”
I must have done the opposite because the Ambutron toppled over, rolling across two lanes of traffic into the tentative base of a new condominium tower. Scaffolding collapsed, a crashing sound so immense I imagine it was similar to the origin of man. Steel beams punctured the Ambutron’s body and impaled at various points through the elevated supply shelves. Even after the crash settled, after I confirmed I was still alive, a buzzing sound remained. The radio hissed. I could hear a voice outside—an old Jamaican woman?—asking if we were OK.
“Yea, I’m here… Jesus! You alright?”
“My toes still work.”
Defibrillators, splints, a cracked gurney, airway equipment, bottles of medication, it was hard to lift myself. Marlene suddenly towered above me. Her scythe pointed east.
Carter Maness is a writer of fiction and essays based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared via The Awl, Spork, Deadspin, Vice and more.