Apparitions

by Luke Boyd

Part 2, Part 3
appear in this issue.
part 1 of 5

Seeing is believing, but the water’s cold and true and right now I’m craving the clarity of something pure like drowning. Anything else could be more smoke and mirrors — a reflection of a reflection of a blurry Polaroid I didn’t take in the first place. An exposure of me shaking another exposure, waiting for the picture to bleed through the black, and when it finally does I see it’s another picture of me with the same Polaroid. The camera behind the camera — I float somewhere out over the water just offshore and watch myself watch myself...

At the end of the pier where the nose of the ambulance hangs out exposed over the water.

The night is not velvet like some people like to say, it’s more of a window washed and painted in deep blue ink — so dense that my headlights are swallowed up whole. I kill them and listen to the engine idle with the windows down and the running lights on. The part of me that wants to do this right now and catch two seconds of frenzied lights flashing off the surface of the water before I submerge is restless and my fingers feel light and jittery as I brush them across the overhead console.

In case this makes no sense whatsoever, pretend:
You don’t recognize my voice.
This is an anonymous poem in some dusty anthology.
I am an overhead voice from an aluminum speaker cone — Flight 616 connecting from Montreal has been delayed.

I know people have a sick need to understand what goes wrong in situations like these, like there’s got to be a loose wire somewhere or some bad programming, but it’s really not like that. You can rationalize this tape in any way that makes you feel okay when you look at yourself in the mirror, but whatever you do, don’t try to put yourself in my shoes. That never works and I’ve already knotted the laces together and hung them on the end of the pier, a grave marker to the biggest plot anyone could ever wish for. Now my bare feet are numb and I’m having a hard time feeling the pedals under them but I want you to know that I’m pretty much okay with how everything turned out.

By the way, from now on this tape isn’t me it’s you — you in the driver’s seat, barefoot and shivering with a headful of nostalgia and phantoms, gauging the distance and direction of the approaching sirens.

This is your explanation.

For the longest time people have been telling you to take a vacation, to create some space between yourself and your work, but what nobody realized was that you were already gone. Or maybe you were never really here, maybe this was your vacation. You know the saying, the lights are on but nobody’s home? Well, that’s how they’ll find your apartment, including the television on with the volume rolled down so it won’t disturb the neighbors.

There will be no more appendages for apparitions, no more dissolving borders between fact and fiction that leave your slipping world muted and surreal. The tape and the plunge will snap everything back into focus, like the razor clarity of a split-second open-shutter photo. How much of this is real is hard to say. Once you believe something it automatically becomes real to you, and instantly it always has been real. Soon enough you encounter information that interferes with it and you make an unconscious decision to believe or reject these new ideas. If you believe them, all of your former truths are realigned and everything that is now real has always been real.

And it’s not just you, it’s everyone.

This is how people get by from day to day, as reliable centers from which they divide the fact and fiction around them.

So if right now is all that matters, why bother to question what will be real tomorrow?

Its like this, you’ve recently become aware that you’re like a goldfish in a bowl, one just large enough that anytime you swim past the sunken ship your memory tells you it’s the first time. You swim in circles but you could be swimming in a straight line going on to forever — you can’t tell the difference anyway. The water is calm unless you make a ripple and the only air bubbles are the ones you exhale.

Then something taps on the glass, the glass that is not real because you never knew it was there. Shockwaves spread through the water around you and each new tap jars your senses and reshapes everything that is real.

Tap.
Tap, tap, tap.

Get away from the noise sometime and just listen and float, you’ll hear it.

Tap, tap.

Don’t panic, just pay attention to how the world around you quakes. How people arrive suddenly and vibrate the space around them until a wave comes and you close your eyes momentarily and they’re gone. And there is no trace, no wake. Just silence and confusion until:

Tap, tap, tap.

You are here: At the scene of a shooting, following a blood-slick up three flights of stairs, your white polyester-blend shirt soaked through with sweat and the smell of stale piss burning your nostrils. You make a mental note to bring a respirator next time and try not to pay attention to the crowd of dirty children and pregnant-again mothers that gathers at each landing, watching you sullenly and moving sluggishly out of the way as you sprint up the stairs three at a time.

The tapping you hear is your walkie and flashlight colliding each time you slingshot around a landing. The pit in your stomach and shaking you’re not used to is a genuine adrenaline rush and it provides an atmosphere that no training drills can duplicate. The dry sour taste creeping up the back of your throat is real vomit, but you can’t tell if it’s from the smell or your nerves.

Apartment 314 has no numbers to identify it but there’s no mistaking the several fist-sized holes blown through the steel door. Your John Doe is on the couch but you don’t even waste time on him once you see the pile of guts spilled out onto the cushions around him and the blood soaked bundle of towels in his arms. Before you can even check his pupils a cop motions you over to the small kitchenette area where a teenage girl is slumped against filthy cabinets, alive and coherent but unable to talk and turning blue.

As you wrench her mouth open you notice she’s pregnant — maybe six months — and tell her to nod if she can hear you. You can see right away that there’s something lodged in the back of her throat and you probe with your fingers but whatever is shoved in there is slimy and wet and you only succeed in pushing it further down. Her eyes are beginning to flutter and she’s going into convulsions so it’s obvious you don’t have time to run back downstairs for your trach-kit. The next two minutes is not a decision you make, it’s autopilot: one officer on either side of her pinning her flat to the floor, a desk pen from your pocket unscrewed at both ends, that slim metal cylinder squeezed tightly in your gloved fist.

You push roughly on her throat to feel the lump of the blockage, then you run your finger down a centimeter and drive the pen cylinder into her airway. There’s a cracking noise and you’re hoping you didn’t go in too hard and crush her larynx because this isn’t the kind of procedure you ever prepare for in school, but after a few uneasy seconds you hear air sucking in through the tube and you dress the wound where the blood is running out around the edges. Once she’s stable you send an officer to the ambulance for your bag of extraction tools and eventually pull two sandwich bags full of cocaine from her throat with a pair of long-handled tweezers.

A second unit arrives and she’s rushed out and the whole time she’s staring at the male corpse on the couch and crying silently with her arms wrapped around her stomach. Once she’s gone the mood lightens — jokes from the officers about how white your face looks and somebody wallops you on the back and asks where you learned the frontier medicine.

Then somebody else arrives from Second Cup with a carrier tray of coffee and the officers pull chairs from a rickety table and sit in the center of the living room laughing and speaking loudly in French. One of them offers you a cup but you really feel nauseous so you find the bathroom and force yourself to throw up in the toilet because the sink is full of garbage and dirty dishes. Wiping your mouth on your rolled-up sleeve you head back out but stop in a tiny hallway to look into the open door of an adjacent bedroom.

There are piles of clothes everywhere and moving boxes and a mattress on the floor covered with more clothes, and in the corner there’s an empty crib with a baby blanket in the bottom.

You turn from the room and head back to the kitchenette but when you pass the couch something causes you to freeze. The incessant French trails off and everyone turns and stares at you as you’re yelling into your radio to hold the other unit because there’s one more.

Unfolding the mound of bloody towels clutched in the dead man’s hands.

Infant male.

Feeling around on the baby’s chest.

Vital signs weak.

Prying the child from the corpse’s death grip, nearly dropping him:

Oh Christ, his goddamn arm is blown off. Just below the elbow.

Then the stairs blurring beneath your feet and the same people you saw on your way up still waiting on each landing and clinging to the banisters in the stairwell. You nearly fall over a kid who is scribbling in chalk on the steps and you’re yelling into the walkie as you vault over him and scramble down the next flight:

I’m on my way down. Have a trauma cart ready in the truck — and we’re going to need blood.

Then barreling through an elderly woman and two small kids plodding up the stairs, barely moving when they see you turn the corner and come charging down their flight of stairs:

Jesus Christ, move it lady!

Ten minutes later you’re back up in the apartment and can’t help but feel good about what you’ve done. The officers and now some people from the coroner’s office have the body on the couch covered in a sheet and his insides are stuffed into a black trash bag sitting on the floor at his feet. There is still coffee being passed around and one of the coroners guys is looking through the fridge for half-and-half because he doesn’t like milk and the coffee’s too strong to take black.

You gather your bag and equipment together and fill out an incident report, then interrupt the officers’ raucous conversation, telling them you’re heading back to the hospital and you even say Bonjour! but they just nod vaguely and one of them snickers, and as you descend the first flight of stairs you hear one of them yell after you, so you turn and look back up. He’s leaning over the railing like he’s going to toss something down to you and he says in excited but pretty good English:

Here, I think this is yours.

Then he flings something down the dim stairwell and it smacks wetly on the landing.

It was under the coffee table, the rest of the baby’s arm, I believe!

He breaks into a fit of laughter as you turn in disgust and continue down the stairs, hearing him bellow after you.

Emplâtre!

You want to go back up and throttle him for the insult, but the hallway is already beginning to fill with sullen, dirty children and toy trucks.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Luke Boyd

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