Sunday, October 28, 2007

Recriminations

Ryan turned up the volume and watched in mute horror and disbelief as Connie Mitchell narrated for the camera. He absently set his beer aside, aiming to set it on the end table and missing it altogether, ignoring the overturned bottle spilling foamy beer into the carpet next to his right foot.

“…State Route 74 has claimed two more lives as of today. Two area paramedics died tragically late this afternoon in a single-vehicle ambulance crash in rural Oneida Parish,” she was saying. “According to Louisiana State Police troopers on the scene, the ambulance left the roadway and struck a tree, killing both of the paramedics on board.

Troopers would not speculate that the weather was a contributing factor in the crash, but did tell us that the ambulance siren and emergency warning lights were not activated at the time of the accident. The paramedics, employed with Collins Ambulance of Audubon Parish, were apparently traveling north on Highway 74 when the accident occurred, just two miles south of the Audubon Parish line."

Who, damn it? Who were the EMTs?

“…names have not been released, pending notification of their families. Viewers may recall Headline News’ reporting of the rash of fatal accidents along this five-mile stretch of State Highway 74, and the ongoing efforts to secure state and federal transportation funds to widen and resurface the treacherous highway. Today, ‘Bloody 74’ claimed its tenth and eleventh victims in a two-year span, two paramedics who have quite possibly tended the past dead and injured along this very same highway. This is Connie Mitchell reporting, Headline News."

The feed cut back to the anchor in the Headline News studio, his expression grave and sympathetic as the monitor behind his left shoulder showed more footage of the ambulance being winched onto a flatbed wrecker.

Scarcely paying attention to the anchor’s pontifications, he slid to his hands and knees on the damp carpet, his nose a foot from the screen. The front end of the rig was demolished, front axle displaced rearward, and cab crushed from the impact. Through the mud, Ryan could make out the numbers on the ambulance fender.

Sixty-four. Oh God, Bob and Linda! That’s the rig they were in earlier today!

True to his nature, Ryan Pierce was outwardly calm. His hands did not tremble; his expression did not change. He sat silently, unmoving for several minutes, then turned off the television. He picked up the overturned bottle of Heineken, threw it in the trash, and padded to the bathroom for a towel.

He methodically blotted the spilled beer out of the carpet, took the towel back to the bathroom and threw it in the hamper. He walked back to his kitchen and carefully, almost ritualistically put his groceries away.

Steaks in the left corner, pork chops in the right. Need more fish. Looks like I have plenty of chicken. Leave some pork chops out for tonight. Pop Tarts go in the pantry, third shelf up. Chocolate donuts go in the breadbox, out of sight so Caitlin won’t constantly ask for them. Cereal goes in the storage containers; one for Frosted Flakes, one for Fruity Pebbles. Onions and potatoes go in their storage bins…oops, time to throw out some of these old potatoes…

And so he went, each item carefully stowed away, because he lived on a boat after all, and everything had its proper place. Everything had to be shipshape. Space was at a premium.

Except that space really wasn’t at a premium. Ecnalubma was roomier than his college apartment. Things didn’t really have to be all that shipshape. He hadn’t cast off the lines and taken her for a cruise in almost a year. Ryan was focusing on process again, his mind superficially occupied with mundane tasks while his emotions were far less organized.

Dead, both of them, a nagging inner voice told him, and too late now for you to fix things with them. Just like your mother. Just like Renee.

Not my fault, he shook his head vehemently. Not. My. Fault. They all chose their own paths. I chose mine.

Sure it wasn’t your fault, Ryan, the voice said sarcastically. Dawn leaving wasn’t your fault either, was it? And when she dies, what will be your excuse for not having fixed things with her?

No,” he said aloud. His voice was harsh and strained, shattering the stillness. He shook his head ruefully.

Shit, now I’m talking to myself. I’m losing my fucking mind. Carpet cleaner. That’s what I need. Carpet cleaner and a brush. Gotta get the blood out of the carpet before it starts to smell…

Blood? NOT blood, beer. Where the hell did I get ‘blood’ from? Need to get the beer out of the carpet before it sours. Just my luck to have a big, nasty bloodstain on the…

STOP IT. More doing, less thinking, Ryan. Carpet cleaner. That, and a scrub brush right under the sink. And paper towels to blot with. Disinfectant. 10:1 water and bleach solution, mixed up fresh every 24 hours, just like Bob Collins taught me when I was…

STOP IT. It’s not blood, it’s spilled beer. Just a fucking beer, Ryan. Beer. You need another one.

Ryan stood up abruptly, tossing the carpet cleaner and brush onto the counter. He savagely yanked open the refrigerator, pulled another Heineken and opened it with shaking, fumbling hands. He turned it up and drained it in one long pull. He opened and drained another and part of a third in quick succession before he stopped, taking a ragged, gasping breath.

He picked up the carpet cleaner and the brush and marched purposefully across the cabin and knelt next to the drying stain on the carpet. He pushed the recliner and end table out of the way, much too hard, his hands guided by an unreasoning anger that his brain struggled to master. The table toppled onto its side with a crash, spreading magazines and unopened mail across the floor like a deck of cards fanned by a clumsy dealer. Ryan Pierce scarcely noticed. He was still scrubbing furiously thirty minutes later when the phone rang.

Ryan stared numbly at the caller ID and sank back onto his heels. His knees and arms ached fiercely.

Don’t answer it. If you answer, it becomes real.

He stared mutely at the handset as it rang insistently, his hands still trembling, his breath coming in long, shuddering gasps.

Hang up. No one home. Leave a message at the beep. No one here but us chickens. The number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number and try your call again…

After what seemed like an eternity, the phone stopped ringing. Ryan heaved a thankful sigh, welcoming the silence. He got up from the floor, righted his end table and picked up the scattered mail. He returned the scrub brush and carpet cleaner to their places under the sink, and threw the soiled paper towels in the trash. He opened the refrigerator door and was reaching for another beer when he stopped himself.

No. You don’t need this. Four is already too much. You have a shift to work tomorrow.

Ryan closed the refrigerator door and leaned his head against it. He closed his eyes and commanded himself to breathe slowly and deeply, ordered his hands to stop trembling. Of all things Ryan Pierce feared, losing control scared him the most. It happened so rarely. Like cracks in the face of a dam, his inability to conquer his emotions, however brief or infrequent, left him with a vague sense of disquiet.

Long minutes later, Ryan padded to his stateroom and began stripping off his uniform. Socks, boxers and tee shirt in one pile, pants and shirt in another. Pens and change removed from his pockets, the chipped and worn blue star removed from his left collar point. Cap and belt hung in the closet, on a rack filled with ties he rarely wore. Body armor folded carefully and laid flat atop the bureau. Pager, wallet, cell phone, ID tag and a battered pair of trauma shears arranged carefully on the bedside table. Out of habit, Ryan checked the alarm clock to assure that it was set for five-thirty, even though he hadn’t awoken that late in six months.

He tossed his dirty clothing into the appropriate hampers, washed his coffee pot and set the brew timer for three am. He put a load of uniforms in the washer, and checked the closet to make sure he had a freshly pressed one to wear tomorrow. He did.

Ryan sat on his bed in the darkness and closed his eyes, mentally retracing his steps.

Groceries put away. Mail sorted. Alarm set. Laundry going. Carpet cleaned. That’s it. Everything shipshape.

Except it’s not, the nagging voice whispered. Nothing will ever be in its proper place again. You’re lost, and you’re alone. And that was your choice.

STOP IT.

Desperate for a distraction, any distraction, he trotted back to his living room and yanked open the door leading to his stern deck. He grabbed his muddy boots and took them to the sink. Turning on the hot water, he scrubbed them savagely until the black leather was unblemished once again, desperately willing his scattered thoughts down the drain with the swirl of muddy water.

He sank into his recliner and turned the television back on, surfing through the channels with no particular destination in mind. It was something to do. Sound muted, he stared blankly at the rapid-fire, flickering images that mirrored his own thoughts, never focusing too long on just one for fear that he’d find a show he couldn’t escape.

When his cell phone rang an hour later, it startled him. He padded to the stateroom and picked it up, feeling the tightness grip his chest once again as he saw Collins Ambulance on the display. Ryan walked back to the kitchen, cell phone in hand, and took the remainder of the case of Heineken from the fridge. He walked onto his stern deck, heaved the phone as far as he could into the river, and collapsed into a chair. He opened another bottle, and started drinking.

11 comments:

Medic 61 said...

This is a really powerful one; I felt like I was inside his mind.
Great work AD, I can't wait to hear more, as usual.
--Sam

MonkeyGirl said...

More, please.

Kristi said...

Wow! As medic 61 said, some incredibly powerful stuff, AD... a fantastic read!

Waiting (im)patiently for the next chapter.....

Scott said...

Ohhh. Sad. And very good writing.

Epijunky said...

AD...

Absolutely outstanding.

Please don't torture us for too long. Seriously.

Brandon said...

Excellent as usual...

"gunner" said...

i drove an ambulance a long time ago, about 40 years now, when there were no e.m.t.s, a basic red cross course was "qualification" and the only difference between a hearse and an ambulance was the paint job and stretcher rack . i'm dammed glad those days are gone, and we have people like you on the job. i'm a big "fan" of our local "rescue inc" especially when i compare it with what we had in my day. stick to your novel, keep it going and hopefully find a publisher, the public needs to know what it's like on an ambulance in the real world.
"gunner"

Peri1020 said...

I'm at work and almost got caught reading your story. Fantastic reading, AD...Next chapter soon, please???

Jim said...

AD...

where's the next chapter? I'm absolutely addicted!

--Jim

Krissa said...

So where's that next chapter we were promised?

Pretty please?

cowgirl35616 said...

More, Pretty Please.
----
Missy