Who the hell is screaming like that?
I had just settled in at the computer to work when I heard yelling. I peeked through the window, but I saw nothing. I turned my attention to my emails.
The yelling resumed. I again looked out the window, this time to see my neighbor from across the street, Maria, running to my next door neighbor’s house.
“Donna! Donna!” It was hard to tell if Maria was upset or just animated. I had only met her twice before and each time I had no idea what she was talking about. I mostly just smiled and nodded while dodging her elaborate hand gestures. We were living in this neighborhood for about a month, so I didn’t have the chance to get to know her yet.
Maria pounded on Donna’s door. Donna and her husband, Bob, appeared to be home. Their cars were in their driveway but they did not answer the door. Unable to get the attention of the neighbors, Maria stumbled confusedly back toward her house, stopping in the middle of the street.
“I need help!” she wailed.
I jumped up, grabbed my phone and slid my feet into my flip flops. I ran downstairs and out the front door, barely remembering to unlock the knob-lock so I could get back in later.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as the door slammed behind me.
“My husband, he fall. He help with groceries. He carry watermelon. I tell him all the days, don’t drink so much,” her Italian accent was so thick, but today I understood her.
“Did you call an ambulance?”
I had, at one time, been certified in CPR. I figured I could at least see what happened and maybe comfort the old man to whom I’d only previously waved. We entered through the garage and I saw pieces of watermelon on the cement floor. Maria pointed towards the doorway that led to stairs.
I walked ahead and Maria followed trepidatiously behind. As I approached the landing, I saw Maria’s husband. His head was up against the wall at an odd angle, his neck bent in a way that no person’s neck should be. His back stretched across the landing, his hips and legs ascending the stairs. He looked as though someone had been trying to drag him up by his feet and stopped because he was too heavy. A pool of blood was widening beneath him and I could see it coming from his ears as well as from, I suspected, the back of his head. A smashed watermelon was on the floor next to his near-lifeless body.
I spun on my heels and grabbed Maria by the shoulders, shoving her back out of the garage. Clearly this was worse than when she had come across the street because her color was somewhere between white and green and she was gasping through her hands as they covered her mouth.
“Can you help?” She was in shock.
“No. We can’t move him. We need to wait for the paramedics.” As we stood there, I could hear him breathing, or rather, gurgling. I could hear the air and who knows what else pounding in his chest and throat, even from the distance between us.
We moved further away. No one should hear those sounds coming out of her husband. As we approached the street, Bob and Donna came running over. Bob, a retired emergency room trauma doctor, asked what happened as he was already running past me.
“He fell down the stairs. It’s bad, Bob,” I said, using the calm voice they taught to me in the Red Cross CPR class. I was trying my best not to alarm Maria, as if that was even remotely possible.
I stood in the street searching for an ambulance while Donna comforted Maria. I could hear her saying Bob would do what he could and I tried to telepathically get her to realize, without having seen Maria’s husband, that there was likely nothing anyone could do. I’m not a doctor, but this was obviously a major brain injury. And the last time I heard breathing like that, it was from someone on the brink of death.
Bob came out of the garage shaking his head. He turned to Donna and mouthed “It’s not good.”
He just kept shaking his head.
The EMTs from a neighboring town finally showed up. They cared for Maria’s husband and loaded him into the ambulance. They sat for a long time in front of the house, the universal sign for This Is Going To End Badly. I urged Maria to give me her keys, even though she didn’t know me, so that I could clean up. It was July and it was hot and I didn’t want her or her grown children to have to deal with a mess when they eventually returned. We all exchanged phone numbers and Maria accepted a ride to the hospital with Bob and Donna. I promised Maria I’d look out for her daughters.
I went home and collected a bucket, gloves, garbage bags and rags. As I surveyed our cleaning supplies, I wondered just what does one use to clean up watermelon and blood from a garage floor? I opted for bleach and the industrial bathroom cleaner we bought when we moved in. When I returned to Maria’s house, I was surprised to find that the EMTs cleaned up most of the area. Only a few drips and spots and one chunk of watermelon rind remained.
I cleaned the area anyway because it just seemed like it should be done. I placed the garbage bags in the cans on the side of Maria’s house and lowered the garage door behind me as I left. I went home and showered. I sat back down at my computer to try to work, but instead I just stared at Maria’s house for the next thirty minutes.
Maria’s husband died the next day.
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