147 East 9th Street
The woman was moving in slow motion, steps and half-frames. She watched, in fractions of centimeters, the door frame scrape the skin from the knuckle of her middle finger. She didn’t feel the blood surfacing above the skin. It seeped first in tiny, segmented pixel dots until they multiplied and then assembled into a line of red that crept to her wrist. Every time she turned her cheap key copy in the lock of her boyfriend’s apartment, she banged her knuckles. Every time. But she had never been in this much of a hurry. And yet somehow, moving so slowly. The key fell from the lock and crashed on the welcome mat. A drop of blood fell on the jumble of silver and gold metal. Curling her hands around the pile of dropped jagged edges, she scooped them up and jammed the key back into the lock. Through the window she could see him. Shawn. Slumped in his chair. Wrong. Crooked and stiff. Like he was immovable. Not drunk. Not sleeping. He looked trapped in his own locked body. Finally, the door gave way and she pushed her way inside to him.
Her mind went blank. They had only been dating a few months, but it seemed a lifetime. It had come on hard and fast between them. She thought she had played it cool, making him wait until the third date to sleep with him–only to come flying into his bed seven hours and twenty minutes later. By the end of the second month, she’d met his mother and had a key to his place. She knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. But right now, she realized knew nothing about this man.
“Shawn. Shawn!” she yelled. He didn’t flinch. She dropped to her knees in front of him. His neck was extended back, his eyes not just looking to the ceiling but past it. His arms were fully extended, fingers gripped on the chair. She shook him. His body moved in one steel piece, not in any fleshy segments. His phone was on the floor by her knees. The screen was black. Dead. She ran to her bag, searching. She gave up and turned it upside down, crawling into the pile of purse debris.
“SHIT!” she screamed, skidding change and mints and a tampon across the floor as she flailed her arm. Somehow her wrist crashed down to her hip and she felt her own phone, jutting out of her back pocket. It took her four tries with as many deletes, but she finally dialed 911, and someone on the other end of the phone started talking.
She didn’t remember saying anything in response to the words she heard. The phone was somewhere near her and she tried to listen. It was the strange, calm voice of a woman. It was telling to put her ear to his chest and listen for breathing. She couldn’t hear anything. The sound of her blood pounding in her ears was louder than the world. A tiny pair of wheezing lungs had no chance at being heard. She stopped listening and tried feeling. She put her hands on his chest. Breathing? Shuddering? Anything? The woman’s calm voice said more words. Where was she? His apartment. Where was his apartment? She wasn’t sure. She left him to run back to the front door. She couldn’t remember his apartment number. No, she didn’t know if he was epileptic. No, she didn’t know if he was diabetic. Or allergic to cilantro. No. she didn’t think he took drugs. Did she know? No. She just knew it looked like he was dying in front of her.
A voice called out. She leaned in to Shawn. He was immobile. His mouth was rigid, lips separated, back teeth clenched. The voice wasn’t his.
“Ma’am? You have to stay on the phone with me, okay?” It was her phone. In her hand.
“Yes, yes, It’s Shawn.”
“Okay, ma’am. What is wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. He’s breathing. I think. But he’s just lying there. He’s not moving.”
“Okay. We’ll get him help. But first, what’s your name ma’am?”
“Who am I talking to? What’s your name, ma’am?”
She stared at Shawn. He hadn’t moved. Maybe he wasn’t breathing. “I don’t think he’s breathing. I looked closer and I don’t think he’s breathing. Oh my God.”
“Where are you?”
She had just looked and she still couldn’t remember. She had walked, taken a cab and usually the R train more times than she could count in the last weeks of her life. But she couldn’t remember his address. Where was she? She was just at the door. She scanned the room. There was mail on counter, spilling onto the stove. Half of it spilled to the floor when she reached. She hit her knees and pulled out a bill. Shawn Crown. 147 E. 9th Street.
“Shawn Crown. 147 East Ninth Street,” she almost screamed into the phone.
The voice interrupted her own cracking voice. “Okay, ma’am, I need you to check and see if he’s breathing. Can you get close to him? Is it safe?”
She stared at him. Safe. “Yes, he’s breathing.”
“Is he conscious? Can he hear you?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
The voice wouldn’t stop. “Is he taking any medication? Does he have a cardiac history? Does he have seizures? Illegal drugs? Has he been drinking?”
“Didn’t we just do this?” Maybe they hadn’t. Maybe she just thought they had. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice had finished cracking and started breaking.
“That’s fine. Just stay there with him. I’ll be on the phone until the ambulance arrives.”
Then the chair twitched and creaked. She put down the phone. Or dropped it. She grabbed onto the leather, needing to get closer to him but afraid to touch him.
Bent in the cushions, Shawn’s joints flexed and with a few subtle motions, he turned human again. His shoulder lowered and his head maintained its own support. His eyes had never been closed, but they had never seen. He blinked and looked at her .
“Ayn zawjati? Mayar. Ayn zawjati?” He saw her. The girlfriend with the light brown hair standing in front of her. He may as well have been looking through a microscope at a petri dish of scabies. He studied, curious and searching, but found nothing of what he thought he would find.
“Shawn,” she asked. Because now, she really didn’t know. She heard knocking and the open door catch on the hall runner as the door was pushed to the limits of its hinges. She watched a man and a woman in baby blue shirts and navy cargo pants kneel beside Shawn. She stepped back, out of the room. Their black boots left sprinkles of dirt on the floor. She’d have to sweep that later. Shawn hated when people wore shoes in the house.
The ambulance crew loaded him onto the tiny collapsing wheelchair, belting him in like a toddler in a booster seat. New York City meant transport chairs instead of stretchers. He didn’t say anything else, but kept his eyes open, staring around the room as if he had never been there before. The two in blue were fully upright, rattled words and observations back and forth, talking to each other as if no one else was in the room. They were jolting him out the door before one of them mentioned over their shoulder, that she could follow them if she wanted.
And then it was silent. Her purse laid on the floor, empty, with its inside bits strewn for yards. A plastic mint container had been crushed under a boot or a wheel and white powder dotted the floor like rained-out sidewalk chalk. Something on the chair where Shawn had been trapped when she found him was wet. Her first and only thought was that she had to clean it.
She went into the kitchen and looked under the sink. Nothing expect an empty mouse trap. The peanut butter on the foot plate was hardened into a plastic knob. On the sink, there was a bottle of dish liquid. She grabbed that and a handful of napkins from the top of the refrigerator. She turned on the faucet and ran everything in her hands under the water. Fully dripping, she then ran back into the living room.
Turning over the dish liquid, she covered the wet spot on the chair then dropped to her knee. Circling with the napkins, she managed to turn it from a wet spot to a white, nubby, frothy spot, speckled with bits of paper. She turned over the napkins, to see if any color had come away with her rubbing. There was nothing. Just soap and wet. Without thinking, she smelled it. Soap and wet and something else. But she had no idea what. She dropped the napkins and stood. Why was she cleaning? He was on his way to the hospital and she had to get there. She had no idea which one. She had no idea where to start.
Had to get outside. Get to the street. Find markers. Living in the city. Look up. Look around. Figure out where she was and then maybe where he was. She had no idea. Might as well have been a decade ago, when she moved here from Florida. Phone. Where was her phone? She looked down and her hands were empty. She ran back inside and saw it, sitting on the wet spot on the chair. She grabbed it and swiped it across her jeans. She hurried back outside and looked up again. Nothing. She typed, reduced to asking the internet for help like every other tourist.
St. Mary’s. Closest. Probably where they took him. She could get there. Taxi. She could get a taxi. She remembered how to do that. She thought. And then she did. And she made it all the way out of the lower east side and toward, whatever neighborhood was next. St. Mary’s. But he wasn’t there.
Walking up and down the sidewalk in front of that hospital, she realized she could have called. Either the hospital, or even the ambulance crew. But she has no idea what ambulance service it was. And she didn’t think it was protocol to call 911 back and ask. So, where the hell was he? Then she felt the pressure of a pair of hands and the warm, wet rolling down her back.
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” the boy’s voice said. She turned and saw two college-aged kids standing behind her. The girl of the pair had no shoes, bloody hands and was leaning forward at the waist, puking onto the sidewalk. Her mind slowly informed her what had just happened to the back of her shirt. She started gagging.
“Yeah, she’s…sorry,” the boy of the pair said. He straightened his partner, to a more or less upright position, and walked her inside.
All her brain was good for at the moment was to tell her that she needed to get home, shower and try this whole thing again. She did not do medical and fluids and…no. Home. Taxi. She could do that. Then find him.
It took longer than her brain had told her. Her keys were not in her purse. They must still have been sprawled somewhere on Shawn’s floor. She waited for fifteen minutes to get the super out his door and up the two flights of stairs.
She flung off her shirt and threw it in the kitchen sink, on top of the cereal bowl. She yelped when the spoon spun out and hit the stainless steel. Then it was quiet. Pristine quiet. Why was she standing in the sink in just her bra? Yes. Shawn. Hospital. Vomit. Blood. Shower.
Tepid shower. Hot shower was not in the cards. She let the water run, and run, hoping that the water temperature would somehow circle around from lukewarm to cold and back to hot. It didn’t. She got out but couldn’t find her clothes. And then there was a fumbling at the door. This time, she heard a key turning in the deadbolt.