You weren’t supposed to sleep on the bus. Most everyone did anyway. All you had to do was turn the radio up just about as loud as it would go. You would know that they were calling you because of the tone. A special and specific beep. Just for us. The sound was plenty loud and sharp. It would be an impressive thing to sleep through it.

But we have different opinions on that matter, you and I. Being impressed.

I found this one lady living on Senator to be quite impressive. A solid four hundred pounder, easy. Though that’s not the impressive bit.

We’ve had ones much bigger than that. Some folks can only be removed from their couches by crane, alive or otherwise.

Now that’s impressive. Needing the same equipment used to build houses and bridges just to move their monstrously fat asses.

But that’s not the lady on Senator. She had other problems going on.

Upon our arrival and the ceremonious, ‘what seems to be the problem, ma’am?’, the tears that had already streamed, burst forth with a furious flow.

In her own words, this was what was wrong.

“You see, I had anal sex a week ago. And I ain’t shit since.”

Might seem sad, but I say good for her. Big lady like that still managing to get laid.

There’s someone for everyone, I suppose.

The call came in as abdominal pains. Should have been labeled anal trauma. Not two words that anyone hopes go together.

Then there was the fellow of First street. Didn’t request medical attention. Just a lift assist. And I’m sure you’re wondering what I mean by lift assist.

Big, fat bastard.

So, we arrive at the residence and are instructed by either his wife, mother or landlord, that the man in question was upstairs. She failed to mention that he was naked aside from his socks and sneakers.

The gentlemen from the fire department were there as well. They were not thrilled to have been called for this, I don’t blame them. But we did it and the man was grateful. Not grateful enough to do anything about his condition. Say what you will, his life style was a choice. For however long a person can live like that.

So, there was he, pleading his case as we tried to scheme as how to get the fat man back in bed. I swear, as he spoke, it appears each word was coming from his ass.

The fellow on First Street was in no way panicking. Calm as he could, he explained the situation. Due to his diabetes and size factor, he was unable to lift himself back into the bed. Most of his time was spent there. It was doubling as a bathroom as well. He had one of those piss pads. The kind people use for small dogs. A white top part with the blue plastic underneath. His was a yellow brown.

We got him back in bed. It wasn’t fun. Or pleasant smelling.

Then there was Loretta.

The call came in as a woman down in the street. Nice and vague. It’s always a good one when they’re vague.

Man down, or in this case woman down, can often be the most unpredictable calls. Good or bad, horrible or hilarious, you could never say until you got there. Just by the call being person down, you know that means someone just found them there. If they were hit by a car, someone would have seen the car. If they were shot, you would have heard gun fire. But just person down means that someone found this individual in whatever state that got them to the sidewalk.

So, we get to the corner of Ash and 5th, which is where we were told our downed person would be.

And there she was, in all her glory.

The caller failed to advise dispatch that her lower half was naked. They also failed to mention the three-foot-long trail of what could only be Loretta’s runny fecal matter. I never asked who specifically it belonged to, but whoever it was could certainly use a bit more fiber in their diet.

We put on our latex gloves, grabbed our bags filled with lifesaving goodies and up to Loretta we marched. I reached down to check a pulse, careful not to add any stains to my uniform.

As soon as I touched her neck, she pushed my hand away.

“Fuck off,” I believe she said.

So fuck off I did.

Both of us stood and took a step away. You can never tell what a person half naked, covered in their shit will do when you wake them up from their slumber on the sidewalk. They are unstable, to put it lightly.

“Ma’am,” said Stan, ever so politely. Stan was my partner that day. He is not usually. Usually it is either Jerry, my very close friend. Or Heather, who I despise but would very much like to sleep with.

Anyway, myself and Stan are fucking off, and Loretta sits up right and looks about to examine this new day she has found herself in.

We ask her name.

She tells us.

We ask her what happened and if she wants to go to the hospital.

She responded with this…

“I don’t need no hospital. I just had me some double sided fucking last night. I just need cranberry juice and some Desitin.”

If you didn’t already know, Desitin is a cream used for diaper rash.

And Loretta was white, by the way.

I know you thought she wasn’t but she is. Blonde hair. You can go on with your political correctness if you must.

I’ve got no time for such nonsense. And I won’t allow it on my ambulance either. I deal with reality. Not what the pre-approved view on reality is told to the masses.

But tonight, it’s me and Jerry.

There hasn’t been a call for us in about an hour, so we’ve been catching up on some sleep.

Jerry has been killing himself with his other job. Lifesaving doesn’t pay as well as it should. There’s people in this world who make more during a golf game than I’ll make in a lifetime.

But Jer has been bartending the nights that he is not working the bus. Gotta keep up with those legal bills. Baby mama drama, as they say in the south side of town.

I was just plain, old tired. Can’t seem to sleep at home anymore. Even drunk, I can hardly close my eyes. Like a fool, thinking I might miss something.

It was one thirty-seven in the morning when the call came in.

“Bus 701,” said the radio. That’s us. Bus 701. Letters are printed just above the windshield in red.

“Respond to 313 North Alexander Street, cross of Old Main and Oak street, for a suspected overdose. PD is already on scene, advising likely DOA.”

So you know, PD stands for Police Department. DOA stands for dead on arrival.

“10-4,” I told the radio. “701 responding.”’

We rub the sleep from our eyes and hit the switch for lights and sirens. Damn shame. I was having a nice dream for once.

I don’t bother taking out the map. Jerry is behind the wheel. He knows the city inside and out. Besides, everyone knows where we’re going. Notorious dope spot. Not selling so much as using. Intense use. Multiple calls, day and night. All hours. Usually more of a corpse removal gig than anything else. The new shit. Been around strong for a year or so. I suppose heroin was becoming too timid for most folks. I can’t say exactly what it is, other than somewhat opiate based. On the corner, it’s called Felix. Felix Morte. Latin for blissful death.

Even the scum of the drug world can be poetic, from time to time.

I’m not going to say that we’re driving slow. We aren’t. Besides, it’s not as though you can just blindly run a red light. Even in an ambulance. Most people don’t pull over for lights and sirens anymore. No one makes way. I guess they just see them too much nowadays. So, we’re not driving slow.


If it were a five-year-old kid who wasn’t breathing. Or a pregnant woman who had fallen down. Something like that. We’d get there faster. Take a few more risks. To help someone who wants our help. To help someone who deserves it. Who needs our help for something beyond their control.

Who are we to decided who that is? We’re the people who help while you sleep.
The place we’re going, they get pissed when you stop an overdose. Nobody likes the guy who ruins that good of a high. They don’t care if they die. Makes it hard for us to justify why they should. Why we should.

The cops were there already. They were the ones who had called us.

One of their somewhat regular sweeps of the building. They scare away the rats enthusiastic enough to move. Arrest a few. And call for body clean up.

Even if they can tell that a person is dead, they call us. Not their area of expertise. I suppose they’re right.

It’s old. Seems older than it actually is. Been there for one hundred years or so. Looks closer to one thousand. Brick after cracked, crumbling brick. Bright red. Blood red. Brown. Random patterns of that assortment. Bits of wall and window piled around the outside. Decadent.

On the right side, beautiful murals poured straight from spray cans. Most of it covered though. Gang tags. Penises. Lots of those. Some spots, just nonsense screaming over what should have been said. Bastard canvas.

The inside was filth. One side has the garbage staircase. That’s the one we use to get to the third floor. The other one is the bathroom staircase. No, not because there is a toilet on each floor. Because the stairs are the toilet.

Some folks standing. Some scurrying about the shadows. All afraid that we are here to take away someone’s high. A justified fear. That is usually why we end up showing up.

Flickering power about sparingly through the hall ways. Stenches beyond comprehension. The third floor. Fourth door on the left from the garbage stairs.

The door was open. Most of the lights were battery powered and hand held.

Right in the middle of the first room was her. Lily fair was the skin. On the top part, at least. The parts of flesh in contact with the floor were cast a violent purple. Deep and bold. The kind of purple you would find pretty, were it on a flower.

Dependent lividity. That’s when the blood had stopped pumping so long ago that it all pools, pulled down to the earth. White on top, blood on bottom. Gravity gets us all in the end.

In the field, dependent lividity is one of the signs that us emergency medical people can use to legally declare someone dead.

And how dead she was.

I stopped noticing the smell after a while. From their covered noses, I could tell most other occupants of the room had it still lingering.

I was fixated upon the tattoo on her wrist. Left wrist. Very precise. Petite. Polite.

Dozens of small circles inside one much larger circle. All perfectly overlapping as to make a floral shape. The Flower of Life, I’ve heard it called.

After reaching down to pointlessly check a pulse and listen for lung sounds, I stood back up and looked towards one of our city’s finest. Francis Olsen. We went to school together. Little kid school. I recall him being bullied often. Not much anymore, I figured.

He looked back to me.

I nodded.

He nodded.

Francis Olsen then half turned over his shoulder. He told his radio to get the coroner, in the form of two sets of two letters.

“Have a good night, gents and ladies,” Jerry said as he threw his bag over his should.

“Be safe,” I said as we walked out the door.

They didn’t need us anymore. No amount of CPR or any of our other tricks would bring this chick back among the living.

We tossed our rubber gloves on the stairs as we descended. I hadn’t noticed my silence until fifteen minutes later. We were driving about, looking for where to post up next. Jerry had noticed though. I don’t believe he could stand for it either.

“You knew her,” he stated.

“I did indeed,” I confirmed.

Left turn signal. A bouncing neon green, somehow seeming dull. We were turning into the grocery store lot on Nederman place. Quiet enough. Close enough. We parked, abstract from the pre-painted parking lines. Jerry shut the engine down. You only need the battery to hear the radio.

“So how’d you know her?” Jerry asked through a cigarette.

“We dated,” I had quit. A little over a year ago. The smell still makes me want one.

“Geez,” he coughed. “How long ago?”

“Years. Around the middle of college.”

“I can’t imagine she was like that then.”

“Not at all. A real sweetheart.”


“Yeah. Full scholarship. Perfect teeth. Still a virgin. You know, the works.”

“What the hell was she doing with you?”

I laughed. Jerry knew I would.

“Believe it or not, I used to be quite the kind young man.”


We both laughed.

“Do you know how she got all mixed up in this shit?”


Bus 716 respond to a blah, blah, blah, at who-gives-a-shit lane.

“She got into a car accident.”


“Yeah, really fucked up her back. Bad. She had to go through a few months of rehab, about three or so. She couldn’t walk at first. And they gother on some pretty heavy duty pain meds. Like oxy for racehorses.”

I rock my seat back. I felt shot. Havent slept well for a few months.

“This girl had her first beer with me. Freshman year. And she couldn’t handle much more than six of them at any point in her life. Plus, I don’t really think anything all that bad had ever happened to her. In life, you know? And then all of the sudden she is faced with her own mortality and the difficulties of living past what might have killed you. The nerve damage. The scars. The broken bones and braces. Everything constantly hurt.”

“You want one,” Jerry offered a smoke.

“Fuck it. Sure.”

I borrowed his lighter as well.

“I didn’t even notice the habit at first. She seemed fine after the rehab. Normal again. Sunshine and rainbows. I was happy for her. Thinking that she was herself. It was all dope though.”

Looking out the window, I blew smoke.

“But then I noticed she seemed more and more tired, despite sleeping more and more. Skipping class. And the sex was getting awful. Apathetic, really. I couldn’t figure it out. I wasa blaming myself. What was I doing?”

Puff, out the window, towards the sky.

“Then I found the baggie. I didn’t go digging. She was just getting sloppy. A whole mess of pills in a plastic bag, right on her desk. Her prescription had run out months ago. He bank account was drained. Her mother even called me.”

“She hot?”

“Absolutely. But she was a sweet woman. She hadn’t heard from Andrea in weeks. I was lost. I was afraid. So I confronted her about it. We fought. Bad. Screaming and trashing my apartment. She took a knife out on me. Big fucking kitchen knife, from the dirt sink. Enough was enough. She wouldn’t let me help. We broke up. She dropped out of school two weeks later and disappeared from my life.”

More smoke.

“And then there she was tonight.”

“Damn. I’m sorry Chris.”

“It’s fine. It is what it is. Some people just can’t get by. Born a junkie, even if all the odds are against it. Just waiting for the right taste. The right kind of junk.”

For a while, we didn’t say anything. Just listened to the highway, about a half mile south.

“Chris,” Jerry modestly spoke after an eternity. “You did notice, right?”
I didn’t say anything.
“She was pregnant. You saw that?”

“Yeah,” replied. “I saw that.”

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