by Eric Elmer

After they brought the woman to the hospital, they were immediately called to a choking incident on Orleans. That had been tense, and the driver's partner had to perform a tracheotomy. The victim had nearly died. By the time they'd brought him in, it was as if a window had somehow closed, and the thing that had happened with the woman could no longer be brought up. The driver changed his clothes quickly when the shift was done, signed out, and walked home.

Two days later, on their way to a car accident where a child had been killed, they passed the movie theater where the woman had collapsed. As they passed, the driver stared straight ahead, feeling his partner's eyes on him. Nothing was said. When they arrived at the scene, the driver's partner soothed the child's father and quietly picked safety glass from the man's forehead as they screamed to the emergency room, arriving several moments before the silent unit that brought the man's son.

Inside, the driver spotted the woman's doctor at the desk. He approached him and asked how she was. His partner's face grew dark.

"Oh, she's quite alright. No concussion, and just seven sutures on her temple."

The driver muttered something about hoping that would not spoil her looks. His partner's glare grew hot. The driver wouldn't look at him.

"No, she'll just have a tiny scar. Not the first time this has happened to her, either. Narcolepsy is funny like that. Medication can help control it, but many times it comes down to luck. Where you're standing, what you're doing when you black out. Anyway, I'm glad you guys saw the alert bracelet. You knew what to do."

At that, the driver briefly looked his partner in the eye.

Later, in the ambulance, the silence grew heavier. The radio would break in occasionally, and each time the driver hoped they would be called so he could flip on the siren and have an excuse not to talk or look at his partner, who stared alternately at the floor and the side of the driver's face. After several miles of this his partner finally spoke.

"Do you have a goddamn problem, man?"

The driver said that he did not.

"Because if you do, let's hear it."

He used the same tone of voice he'd used when, two nights before, the driver had looked into the rearview to see his partner's hands on the motionless woman.

"It's not like I raped her, man. I don't understand what your fucking problem is."

The driver said nothing.

"You would have done the same thing. I mean, what the hell, man? Who got hurt? I just touched her, for shit's sake. Are you angry, or jealous?"

The driver didn't really know, so he stared ahead at the street.

Then the radio broke in with their call number and they were off to a streetcorner, or a fire escape landing, or an intersection, where people would be so glad to see them because help had arrived and everything would be okay.

--EEE, 10/21/99