I know a lot of you have some extra time on your hands. I figured you might like something to read. My creative nonfiction piece, Some Psalm of Confusion, was published in the Concho River Review (which is published semi-annually by the Department of English and Modern Languages at Angelo State University) three years ago. Big thanks to editor Albert Haley.
Some Psalm of Confusion
I stepped outside the carryout pizza joint, pie in hand, eyes blurred with the sudden sting of the frigid winter wind. I blinked and stepped down crunching onto the salted sidewalk, watching my breath carried off by the unseen current.
Fuck. I thought. Fuck, it’s cold.
I started toward my waiting, running car, my wife’s face, distracted, illuminated by the smartphone in her hands. We were almost home, been driving all damn day, back in Toledo and neither of us felt much like cooking.
It’d been dark for some time, winter days are painfully short, but under the pale light of a failing streetlamp I caught some awkward motion. A woman, elderly by the frail shape of her body and grey curls unfurling from the thick collar and heavy hat, was half-lying on the pavement. Her shaky, thin arms, hands sunk inside fuzzy mittens, were desperately trying to cling to the front bumper of a ten-year-old, blue Corolla. Even in the dim lighting and with the strange sight in front of me, I noticed how clean the sedan was. Not a hint of the winter weather about the thing.
“Ma’am?” I called. “Ma’am, are you ok?”
I carried my double-steak pizza the fifteen feet to the fallen woman.
I repeated my question.
I saw the acknowledgement of my presence in the quick jerk of her shoulders into awkward rigidity. Her head turned slowly on her neck, her arms still clinging to the bumper, and her eyes showed more white than I cared to see. Her eyes reminded me of those of a frightened cow, shuttled along some rusted corral towards slaughter.
I shivered and set my pizza on the hood of the car.
“Ma’am,” I said, gingerly taking her by the shoulder and upper arm of her right side. “Did you fall? Let me help you up.”
She made some unintelligible noises that eventually straightened out into words.
“I fell,” she said, her voice reedy and unsteady. “I fell. I fell.”
“Let me help you up.”
“Help me get my pizza in the car,” she said, now on unsteady legs.
“Ok. Ma’am, did you drive?” I asked, holding the woman up with my left arm only–she must have a bird’s bones, I thought.
The woman hunched forward and set her hands on the hood of the car, shifting the weight off her toothpick legs. I let go of her.
I shot a look over my shoulder in the direction of my own Corolla to my wife, still oblivious, still in the thralls of whatever was happening in Facebookland.
Shit, I thought.
The woman tried the passenger side front door’s handle. It lifted up but the door stayed shut.
“I fell,” she repeated. Her eyes were still wide, an expression of confused concentration painted on her face like the faintest ghost of a mask, some glitch in the way of things that gives you a glimpse of the real being underneath.
“Ma’am, is there somebody I can call for you? I don’t think you should be dri–”
She’d put both hands into opening the car door and it wrenched opened, spilling her backwards onto the sidewalk. She went down, rigidly, the way something that’s not really meant to bend shifts and falls, in parts: first the shuffling feet stumbled over the lip of the curb onto the sidewalk, then the straight legs refused to bend but instead resolved to sway in the throes of gravity, then the arms, mittened hands still clutching the now gone handle, remained outstretched and unflinching. I watched her face as she went; it didn’t so much as acknowledge that she was falling. It still showed the full-on concentration of opening the door.
I couldn’t catch her. I was as frozen still as she was, despite her downward motion.
I set her pizza back onto the hood of her car beside my own. I noticed the condensation around the boxes on the hood. Goddamn, it was cold.
I scanned the darkened winter street around me. Snow lined in glistening ice mountains, shoved out of the way by the plows, but glittering like thousands of watching eyes riding the growing swell about to break.
I waved my arms, trying to get my wife’s attention. My wife–the doctor–would know what to do.
No dice. She was enraptured with the screen.
“I’ll be right back, ma’am,” I said. “Don’t try to get up. Ok?”
I stepped out into the empty street, salt crunching under my feet, feeling claustrophobic and on edge. I felt some the great dark water surrounding me, the dark current the woman was failing in her struggles to overcome. She’d clung to the bumper like it was a life preserver. Maybe it was. Who was I to know?
Then I saw the police cruiser. It was parked some twenty yards further down the street, its lights off, the officer working on something, the glare of his computer shining in his eyes. He’d picked a quiet corner of South Toledo to catch up on some paperwork. So much for that.
I took off toward him at a light jog, my face burning in the bitter, frigid gusts.
The police officer got out of his car. He had the driver’s side rear door open and was leaning into the back seat when I got there.
“Sir,” I said.
He spun on his heels, hand finding the butt of his gun. His eyes were narrowed, his face hard, wary.
He didn’t answer.
“Sir,” I said, seeing the words crystalize into fog then ride the wind off into the darkness, “sorry to bother you but something’s wrong with this lady. She fell–”
I motioned with an ungloved thumb towards the blue Corolla on the other side of the street. The woman was not visible from this perspective. She was, I assumed, still on the sidewalk on the other side of the car, still reaching out and working on the door handle, now further away from her then she appeared able to comprehend.
“What woman?” he asked, not masking his suspicion and not removing his hand from the gun on his belt.
I felt the dark waters rising and saw the headline as it would appear the next day: Good Samaritan Shot by Rookie Cop.
I took a half step backwards.
“She’s laying on the sidewalk, sir. I came out with my pizza and saw her there. I helped her up and she just fell again. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”
He looked across the street, stepped backwards and craned his neck.
“I don’t see anybody.”
“She’s on the other side of the car,” I said. “I think she drove here.”
I made sure my motions were smooth and slow. I turned and started back to the woman, feeling my hands bruising blue in the cold. I dared not put them into the pockets of my jacket. Not with my back to the officer on a cold, dark night, not with twinkling eyes and dark currents.
I felt a bit like Moses, parting some unseen black waters, as I crossed the street again. I rounded the front of the car and she was still there. Her hands feebly pushing against the sidewalk in the vain attempt to push herself to her feet.
Her mouth was still working. Her eyes still wide and showing more white than I cared to see.
“Ma’am,” I said. “I brought help.”
I felt the waters recede.
I turned and watched the officer, hand still on gun–which was, thankfully, still holstered–round the back of the Corolla, carefully stepping up onto the sidewalk and scanning the area, taking in the woman, myself and the surrounding vicinity.
He’s making sure it’s not an ambush, I thought, my stomach clenching.
“Why are you on the ground, ma’am?” he asked.
I watched his hands flick the strap closing the holster and I allowed myself the smallest of sighs.
The woman’s face jerked toward the officer then toward me. Her expression changed to one of pleading, supplication painted there along with the caked makeup, heavy, overly thickened by frail, fervent hands.
Who is this man and why did you allow him here? her face cried.
“Ma’am, did you fall?” he asked.
The woman opened her mouth but nothing came out. The door to her car stood cracked open. The officer bent low, shooting a quick glance in my direction, scooped a hand into the crook of the woman’s arm and lifted her to her feet. With one hand, he fully opened the car door and set the woman down into the passenger seat.
She looked at me incredulously.
You brought this brute? she asked.
“Did you drive, ma’am?” he asked.
She stared at me. I picked up her pizza, the box’s cardboard cold and awkward in my shaking hands, and stepped to the side of the car, careful to keep the open door between me and the officer and both of my hands plainly visible. I handed the pizza over the door and down to the woman. She took the box in both of her hands, I watched them drop with the weight of it when I released my grip.
I guess that’s it, I thought. I can go now.
The officer was shooting more questions at the woman. I watched her mouth move but her eyes never left mine.
“I fell,” she said. “I fell.”
Some psalm of confusion, a prayer wisped off in the wicked winter wind, stuffed with more meaning than the officer or myself could comprehend.
“Sorry,” I said, turning my gaze to the cop.
He gave me a slight nod and continued his questioning.
“Can I have someone come and check on you, ma’am,” he said, then, not waiting for a reply, into black speaker just below his collar, “start fire and rescue to my location.”
I carefully stepped backwards off the sidewalk onto the street, retrieved my cold pizza and, using every bit of resolve I could muster, didn’t run from the black tidal wave I felt crashing at my heels.