by Rick Copper
I could feel them. Poking. Prodding. Pushing.
“East coaster. Ever gone camping?”
“Without TV and air conditioning? No way, Babs.”
“Figures. Looks like a boy. That haircut.”
“Innocently smart. Easier to manage.”
Smart. Sure. I was hurting without pain. Hearing them. Clearly. Couldn’t comment. Eyes closed, this sleep impossible to avoid. My inner eye, willing to move forward, had shut down, leaving my body parallel to city sidewalk. No trauma. No pinholes. No blood. One of them grabbed my right wrist, other uttered
“Settle down, Dickens.”
Definitely settle down. Felt more like a waif, “the waif from West End.” Skin translucent, pale as a polished David statuette sold in many Manhattan museums, I was still. Someone had put me under a spell. Me. Wondering. Wandering. In dusky muted mist at 35 degrees, my current state evident with light fog pushing out my unpainted lips – as if a baby attempting smoke rings – and my sweet stubborn silent partner refusing to be pushed out of the way by an apparently uncomplicated Bobby. This male blithely uttering a simple
“Not as if it matters, Babs.”
Raingear required, I could hear his hat, with its current plastic housing, being softly popped with drops. Jacket, hopefully unlined for this warm Manhattan October, ran rain onto my body pilling mist into tiny streams similar to fine capillaries under my two clean wrists.
“Deserves a name of some sort. Patches.”
Patches wasn’t singing. Patches, only one who could, stubbornly refused to spill any milk. Experienced paramedics, Babs and the other, busy with me, were only given a fraction of time to conjure up a name. Mottled as a dollar store quilt – black, white, grey with splashes of soda orange – Babs bequeathed my friend Patches. Not Patches. Eww. More complicated. A singer, Patches was Pagliacci.
“At the shelter it doesn’t.”
“Not going there.”
“You. No. It. Yes.”
Other female voice strode into stressed conversation. Jelled hair. I could hear her running her hands crispy through her locks. Skidding shoes. She must have stepped in to help. Bobby bastard seemed to be putting up a blockade.
“Shelter? Hmmmm. Shouldn’t we get her into the ambulance first? Possibly a hospital? Thinking both may be sound ideas.”
“Her fuzzy friend.”
More drips hit me. Must have been his hat. Been cornered before, but not here. Where I was raised. Bobby must have doffed his hat. Hearing on radar alert, I heard head scratching, probably his vain attempt attempting a kick-start to his frontal lobe. Both women snickered. Wasn’t working. Unknown added
“Never separate close friends, Nick.”
Garnet. Interesting. Fight sisters, please. I could feel these two resolute women opposed his solitary blockade. Pagliacci cried. I heard a smack. Man was a little irate.
“That did not happen, Babs!”
“It did… and will again. Patches goes in the ambulance with her.”
“Do what you gotta do. That’ll be rich. Put you in the Post for this bust. Fabulous publicity. Get out of my way.”
Quieted down. Dripping from his hat ceased. I was lifted, picked up careful as a glass sculpture. Assumed first woman, Babs, swiftly found one of my veins, dropped needle in to hook up IV. Male Bobby spouted hard as a hurt whale, brusquely intoning
“Scrawny ain’t staying. Period.”
“Stuff your hubris. Hard. It’s what knocked you out of contention.”
“Yes, contention. Patches stays.”
Thanks, Babs. Got personal. Pagliacci, aided into ambulance, rolled into a ball, nose tucked between my right ribs and sleeping bag. Babs and Garnet climbed inside; one taking front, other right side monitoring IV drip. Damn sticky jacket was off. Like skin on me, it had been peeled away. Doors closed. I heard someone rifling my jacket pockets. She, Garnet, uttered “Figured he’d lose our debate… and all sense of occupational responsibility.”
“Not a horrible man, Garnet. Just…”
“Easily mislead by arrogance. So I’ve heard.”
She found my only article, inside pocket. A notepad, pocket size, no bigger than a quarter sheet of ledger paper. Scribbles.
“Nope. Can’t read it.”
“Now I find out you’re illiterate, Garnet? Let me see it.”
Not many could, really. Not this day and age. Inside, without pain, I found this sort of comical. I envisioned the Barbara woman inspecting my dotted scribbles running along a staff, moving it in and out from her vision as if in dire need of reading glasses.
“Crap. Can’t either. No one can I know. Not this page.”
Page flip echoed, bouncing between both my hemispheres. More luck flipping probably. Somewhere she’d run into my cryptic handwriting, semi poetic-style. Words scripted in stilted lineage, stilled only by a reader. Warmth fell into my right hand. Must be Garnet. She, in some sing-songy voice reserved for babies and animals, must have been talking to Pagliacci as she uttered
“You know her problem?”
Pagliacci still wasn’t going to sing. He knew. Problem was nearly as much his. Barbara answered for him. Not what Pagliacci would have crooned, but still a nice lilting
“She may not have one.”
“Does now. Stars in her glittering eyes, dirt wedged in her shoes. Same story. Hunger. True hunger. Body has willed itself long enough on nothing. Good? Read some.”
Winds, pushed by tiger, always effective
Winds, pulled by cheetah, seldom selective
Cheetahs always waste
Tigers always wait
I am the tigress
I will wait and wait
Toll your bell
Sins, pulled by tiger, always selective
Sins, pushed by cheetah, seldom effective
Cheetahs always swift
Tigers always lift
I am the tigress
I will wait and wait
Tears will well
I heard Manhattan mixing a patchwork of horns; sirens; whistles; sidewalk preachers, musicians and vendors as ambulance maneuvered through morass of taxis. Feeling notes flying off my notepad, they escaped under ambulance’s back doors, sticking to street instruments. Pagliacci, silent and content, must have closed his marbled hazel eyes. Raspy rumbling rolled out between me and bedroll. Ears open, I smiled.