Death at a Gas Station

Like scattered toys, the firetrucks and ambulances were parked willy-nilly as if dropped from the hand of a careless child. We maneuvered our car in and out between them. All I wanted was a candy bar.

As I paid the yawning attendant with glazed-over eyes, I politely tried to sneak a peek at the scene unfolding out in the parking lot. Only the white pickup truck towing a trailer of lawnmowers was appropriately parked. That was the only vehicle that actually looked like someone had intended to park it that way, long and parallel to the curb. Maybe the landscapers had stopped to load up on snacks after a long day’s work. Or was a crew member already feeling poorly, and the gas station their intended point to connect with an ambulance?

Candy bar in hand, we exited the lot. There, on the sidewalk, a mound of brown flesh rose sharply from the earth — glistening and practically steaming in the heat of the setting sun. The man’s skin was pulled taut over his round belly like a too-small canvas stretched across a too-large frame. The circle of paramedics, uniformly dressed in navy, was frozen, disproportionately still — the only movement originating from a petite woman with shoulder-length, chestnut hair. Up, down, up, down. She thrust emphatically, her actions mirroring those of the surrounding pump jacks bobbing for oil. Both dipped and rose to an unheard beat. Both plunged with fervor — hoping, needing to extract.

To the right, a skinny Mexican interlaced fingers behind his head. As his arms lifted, so did his shirt, revealing a stick-thin torso — a stark juxtaposition to his rotund, motionless friend. When he turned from the scene, his eyes scanned the sky. Was he seeking a higher help or simply a much-needed distraction? Perhaps he was fighting off hot, shameful tears. I imagined his slow exhale. It seemed a fitting reaction — a young man’s feeble attempt to send despair whirling.

It had just been a typical day…until it wasn’t.

The circle of paramedics leaned farther back on their haunches, and even in our car, I sensed their deflated energy. An I.V. dangled limply from the fingertips of a lone extended arm. They had all been there a while. Long enough to insert an I.V., long enough to administer CPR. There had never even been a moment non-crucial enough to load the afflicted man on a gurney.

Still, the small woman dove with all the force she could muster — elbows locked, fingers entwined — again, and again, and again. Her efforts were admirable but futile, I suspected.

As our car pulled away, I broke off a piece of my KitKat bar and and chomped down through the flaky wafers. It was all I had really wanted.

Instantly, the sacredness of the moment collided with my profane. I closed my eyes and envisioned the man’s exposed belly. I felt in my body the resounding thud of palms pounding breaking ribs. I heard in my ears the crunch of a candy bar.

A soul had passed — departing our world like the waving heat of a mirage.

And all I could think to do was eat a candy bar.

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