By Rebecca L. Morrison
Until he fell, he was scenery. Until there was blood, he existed only as background. You told me you'd seen him fall – face-first, like an axed tree.
I watched you save an old man's life when he collapsed on the sidewalk outside of our downtown apartment building. It was July, midday. He trundled past the police station wearing white orthopedic sneakers, with thinning black hair.
First, I heard the screams - nightmare noises. These were the sounds, uninhibited and frenzied, that come from your dad when he fucks your mom - or anyone else - after months of no sex, no ejaculation. You heard it late at night through the walls when you're young and wish you hadn't. You would have rather heard them fighting.
When my eyes found the screams, a shallow puddle of black blood had escaped from the gash across his forehead, like a vat of ink tipped too far.
He shook like the drifter I saw lying on a bus-stop bench that August when we visited Washington, DC for the weekend. We were on our way to Starbucks, and I was wearing a new pair of high heels. You had told me he was probably too long without his drug, or methadone, or something he thought he needed to get along in this world.
Now there was blood, and this July afternoon was different. Thank god you were there though, as we both remarked later. I'd never seen you move so fast. You bounded to his side and told me to call 911. Call 911! Fuck it all; you're just standing there?! Call 911!! I didn't, but medics were there within minutes, and I hadn't moved from my spot on the sidewalk. I've only called 911 once before. I was five, and my dad was at a meeting the evening my mom's appendix ruptured. I don't remember making the call. She came home the next evening with a present for me – her appendix in a plastic jar. It rested on the kitchen counter at eye-level with me, and I studied it suspiciously as it swam through an anonymous liquid. It reminded me of the worms that lived in the handles of mezcal, tucked away in a specific corner of the ABC store down the street from our suburban Virginia home, in the same shopping complex as the Food Lion and the Video Den. While Dad shopped for his dry gin and mid-priced scotch, usually picking up a bottle of Kahlua for Mom, I would stand transfixed near the tequilas, wondering what things were like from the worm's perspective.
A month before your moment of heroism, I spilled from a rickety rocking chair whose wood was almost rotten. I'm not sure why you hadn't stopped me from sitting there. I toppled over the side of your mom's raised front porch, across the garden's wrought-iron fence below and into a pit of sharp rocks. You heard my newborn cries over the roar of the push-mower you were dragging across the grass behind her house, and you ambled across the lawn to raise me to my feet. Bright blood had already leaked across the hem of my white cotton sundress, bits of mulch now clinging fast to its fibers. My hands were damp and grubby, and they quivered when you approached me with iodine and cotton. I wouldn't let you cleanse my wound.
It was 95 degrees in the city the week that I fell, and people were dying of heatstroke. When I wore shorts, everyone stared at the unsightly blacks and yellows, reds and plums that discolored my pallid limbs. You said I should wear pants and long sleeves until the cuts healed.
Neither of us know whether that man lived, or if he didn't. We only saw the three medics in white that lifted him into their howling ambulance as he quaked and screamed. In the hours that followed, you called your parents to tell them how you'd acted like a hero that day. I told mine that you'd saved him, although by that time I didn't remember or know what you'd done to help.