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by Ada Fetters

Ambi-Man emerged from darkness when Noreen the medic unzipped his travel-bag. The first thing he saw was his own plastic face, which she carried toward him so that her blue polo shirt filled his empty eye-holes. Her own eyes were crinkled up at the corners. By this point, Ambi-Man knew that her amusement was directed toward the group of adults gathered in the basement, not at him.

Noreen fitted his molded plastic face over the tubes and metal pieces at the front of his head. His parted lips and even teeth clicked into place over the cavity that was his mouth. Then she hefted him from his travel-bag and laid his limbless torso on a mat on the floor.

“This is our CPR dummy, Ambi-Man. He’s known as Ambi to his friends,” said Noreen.

Dummy, she calls me. Ambi would have rolled his eyes if he had any. Show some respect.

In the leftmost corner of his vision he saw zig-zag legs of folding chairs on an expanse of rust-colored carpet. He saw the shoes and calves of Noreen’s newest CPR class: loafers, high heels, stockings, slacks that rode up to expose dark socks and pale skin and wispy hairs. He saw a pad of yellow paper on a plump knee. He saw a cup of coffee placed carefully to one side on the floor.

Ambi’s attention shifted back to the medic. How many of these office workers know me like you do, Noreen? We’ve had plenty of time together, haven’t we?

Noreen continued, “When you get to work on him later, visualize someone you care about.” She addressed the man who was careful with his coffee. “Have you got a son? A brother? You won’t be working on a dummy in an emergency.”


Noreen always told stories while she set up her training kit. The raspiness in her voice, caused by a lifetime of cigarette use, added to her worldly-wise tone.

“One night, the police brought a DWI in whose blood-alcohol was four point two. At three, most people are comatose. At four, they’re dead. This guy was up and driving his car. The police couldn’t keep him in jail because they were afraid his heart might stop, so they brought him to the emergency room for monitoring. All the while, the guy is explaining that he’s a makeup artist for famous people.

“He takes one look at me and says, ‘Honey’” — Noreen did a slurry impression — “‘yer eyebrows are all wrong for yer face. If you gimme a pair of tweezers, I’ll fix ’em for you.’ Now, I’ve done some dumb things in my life, but I wasn’t about to add that to the list.” Worldly-wise beat. “I told him I’d try bangs.”

If Ambi looked through the rightmost corner of his eye-holes, he could just see Noreen run a hand across her silver-streaked hair, which was pulled back from her forehead in a bun.

Ambi’s own eyebrows were painted on. They were still shiny and unbroken despite many years and the rubbing of the metal zipper in the side pocket that held his face. He had worried about his eyebrows and hair ever since seeing another model from the same year as himself, with a bald spot worn through the paint at the crown of his head. That guy’s medic made a habit of putting him directly on the floor without a blue mat. The result was a complexion of ghastly grubby rubber.

Noreen began her lecture. She picked out individuals and demanded responses to questions if their attention appeared to drift. She gestured with her arms and hands. She spread her gnarled fingers wide for emphasis.

Broken when your old partner was distracted by a contortionist out front of the circus and slammed the door on your left hand, Ambi reminded Noreen. She had glittery bracelets that slid up and down her leg when she wrapped it behind her head.

From his position on the floor, Ambi heard rather than saw the DVD that listed Emergency Do’s and Don’t’s. A recorded baritone voice explained that if a person’s limbs were tangled so they hung upside-down from a seatbelt, a would-be rescuer should not cut the person free to make a disturbing scene look better.

“Where’s your focus?” Noreen asked. “Are you thinking about what’s good for them, or about what makes you feel normal?”

Every lecture was interspersed with a video clip, and every module told a story. The parts were interchangeable — in Ambi’s experience, Noreen varied her material depending on whether she was talking to a warehouse crew, social workers or office employees — but each DVD clip and every story had a specific purpose.

“Don’t be upset with yourself, babe,” rasped Noreen. “We’ve all gotten faint at some point.” She had paused the segment on tourniquets for a queasy young woman in green boots.

“It’s better to speak up than throw up,” Noreen told her. Ambi did not know this story, but he knew the cadence the way he knew the cadence of the Bo Diddley songs she sometimes liked to sing along with in her car.

“You don’t want to know the stupid things I’ve done. Once, when I was your age, I had chest pain for a whole afternoon but I refused to let my boss call nine-one-one. Why? You don’t want to know why. Because I had a big hole in my stockings.”

Green-boots-girl responded with a mystified chuckle. Ambi realized it was utterly foreign to her that anyone would be so preoccupied with the state of her stockings that she would refuse medical help.

You’re a classic, Noreen. You might have traded seamed stockings for support hose, but I’d still work on you any time. Ambi would have slathered his chops if that were possible to do with a dry metal tube instead of a tongue.

Students knelt beside his conveniently abbreviated torso in alternating pairs, murmuring, working out emergency scenarios. They took turns with blunt-tipped scissors and razor from the Automated External Defibrillator training kit.

No one had to cut Ambi’s blue vest to get to his chest. They just unzipped his vest with one hand while gliding the scissors behind the zipper with the other. The scissors were part of the ritual, just like the rubber razor they moved like a squeegee to prep a hypothetically hairy chest for the training AED.

It’s all imaginary, all in the minds of the students who see someone else when they look at me, Ambi thought at Noreen as she stood with hands on her chunky hips, watching them. Maybe they see a husband, a brother or a friend when they lean over me. They see someone who would die if their breath or heart stopped. That’s why they get upset with the videos. Not because of the fake blood or cardboard car-accident scenery.

Noreen reminded her CPR students to check with the imagined person before going to work on him.

“Matt, are you okay?”

“Jason, are you okay?”

“Gil, are you okay?”

But you just see me, don’tcha, Noreen? Not like I’ve got much competition these days, but if I weren’t only half a dumm— half a man, they’d all know how I feel about you.

Noreen knelt down beside him. She demonstrated how to perform resuscitation. Her breath rushed into the tubes inside Ambi’s body. I’m a flute, an empty cave, a drafty hall. If you took off my face, your tongue would fit my airway like the neck of a bottle.

Ambi had no members to lift, but the rise of his rubber chest and stomach was visible to students when air filled the tubes in his body. Then his ribs fell. Ambi reluctantly let go of Noreen’s breath.

Even more reluctantly, he tolerated the students’ fumbling efforts. Someone had tuna for lunch.

“Good job. Switch to compression,” Noreen ordered.

One of the students leaned over Ambi’s torso, planted his hands and brought his weight down. Ambi’s plastic ribcage bent inward and made a springing sound. It startled the students into silence. The man released him and Ambi’s ribs popped back out with a metallic ping that echoed around the basement classroom. The force made Ambi’s head fall to one side.

That’s it, break my ribs, Ambi groused. You need a course in giving CPR to dumm— er, test mannequins before you start on the real thing, namely me.

“Unh-unh, you’ve cracked your patient’s ribcage,” said Noreen. “Try again. Put your hands where the sternum would be, not his heart. Are you watching the AED?”

The man startled and turned to the electronic screen. “It says no further shocks advised.”

“That’s either good or very bad,” Noreen replied.

Just make him stop, Ambi groaned theatrically.

A few minutes later she congratulated the CPR class and handed out red-and-white cards. As she hefted Ambi back into his bag, he heard her tell the class, “Once, years ago, I was working on a heart attack victim. His dog kept grabbing the cuff of my pants and getting in my way. So, to get any work done at all, I opened the door next to me and tossed the dog through it. I thought it was a bedroom or closet.”

This was right around the time I became the only man in your life, right? One day Noreen had stopped singing along with Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf while driving home. Instead she had long, one-sided arguments. She demanded explanations that never came, from someone who had gone away while she’d picked up yet another double shift at her understaffed hospital. Ambi had listened, cajoled, then assured her she was All that and a bag of chips, baby. Yummy-yummy.

“Turned out that door led to the basement stairs.” The cheer in Noreen’s voice belied the weariness in her arms as she settled Ambi into his travel-bag. “I went to work and the patient survived, though. That’s the main thing.”

But not the only thing. Not when I’m around. How about some music on the way home? ‘I’m a man, spell it M-A-N...’ Ambi drawled as darkness enveloped him.

He knew this was one suggestion, at least, that Noreen would take.

Copyright © 2016 by Ada Fetters

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