Election Night, Missouri, 2016
All day, rats had bolted through my body. I spilt my coffee. I couldn’t hold a pen. To an old friend, a pre-Missouri one, I wrote: I wish we still lived in the same town, so I could bump into you on the sidewalk, and you would tell me everything will be okay. Come night, I drove toward Megan’s to see the states light up blue and red, a results party. She lived in town—it was a major street, five lanes, but lamp-less in places—because the dark knows how to sneak its way in. Sudden as a snakebite, an outline popped in front of me. And then my headlights found him. He passed directly before my car, thumb out as if hitchhiking, but he rode a skateboard. Across traffic. In the dark. In a black sweatshirt. I screamed “what-the-hell-what-the-hell,” and my brakes screamed it too, and he kept rolling, into the center lane. Because I had stopped, the car behind me swerved left, into that same center lane. And the kid—he couldn’t have been more than twenty with that skateboard and that thumb—did not move quickly. (Some events are too awful to actually happen, but then, they happen as we watch.) The other car torpedoed toward him, no way the driver could see, and the kid collapsed onto their hood, into their windshield, bounced off and fell back into my lane, lying in front of my frozen high beams. They lit up his body, not dead, but convulsing.
And then we all were shaking.
Cars stopped I couldn’t call 911 my phone wouldn’t let me dial I put the car in park turned on my flashers to block his body from another car on this busy street I ran to a van drivers braked jumped from their cars and someone raced to him, a nurse, yes a nurse! who’d driven by he kept seizing in front of my spotlights she said “I’m a nurse” she said “Don’t move” he said “I’m fine” he kept seizing. I have been in crashes. I have cursed truck drivers who turned, I have wished suffering upon the descendants of certain skittering deer. But how could I feel anything for him then but sorry? He, under some kind of influence, twitching, not yet realizing what he’d done, saying, “I can get up.” The nurse saying, “If you get up, you might die. Wait for the ambulance.” Him on the effing pavement insisting, “No! I won’t die! I can walk home!” The nurse, twice his age, holding him, arms around his torso, an embrace to pin him in place. She bent her face down and hovered there. At any moment, she might kiss his sweaty forehead, read him a bedtime story. At any moment, Michelangelo might chisel the two of them from marble and call it his Pieta. “Stay,” she said softly. And everyone kept breathing, waiting for the blue and red lights. Begging in the quiet. Sacred are the moments when strangers share the same emotion. Yes, blessed be us fearful strangers that November night. Blessed be the nurse. The nurse who knew, the nurse of long arms, the nurse of quivering hands, the nurse who just happened to drive by, who arrived before we realized how much we all would need her, the nurse who said, “Hold tight,” who said, “It may take some time,” who said, “But believe me. Help is on the way.”
Brad Aaron Modlin is the author of the book Everyone at This Party Has Two Names, which won the Cowles Poetry Prize, and Surviving in Drought, which won the Cupboard Pamphlet’s Sixth Ever Annual Contest. His fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction have appeared in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Threadcount, The Pinch, DIAGRAM, and others. He earned his MFA from Bowling Green State University and his PhD from Ohio University. He teaches creative writing and gets chalk all over himself.
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