(Un)Kindness

It was cold that morning, still dark, late in the fall of 1978. There was frost on the windshield of the Willys. Dave went out to make sure it would start. The fuel pump quit occasionally, requiring a tap with a hammer to get it going again. Luckily, the pump was located just under the tank in the rear of the vehicle. You only need reach underneath a little way to give it a slap, but this morning it started right up. My car wasn’t running. We were young and poor and keeping two old vehicles going was a challenge. I had to take Dave to work at 6:00 am so I could have his Jeep to get to work two hours later. As was our habit, we stayed in bed until the last possible minute, leaving just barely enough time to get up and get him to work at 6:00. I was dressing while Dave was outside starting the Jeep and scraping the windshield. He came in the door just as I was about to wrap Micheal up in a blanket.

“Come on,” he said, “we have to go.”

“Let me just wrap the baby up and I’ll be ready.” There were no real car seats then. I intended to wrap him up and lay him in the back where he hopefully would not even wake up.

“No! We don’t have time. Leave him here.”

“Dave, I can‘t just leave him here alone. What if something happens?”

“What’s going to happen? You’ll be back in fifteen minutes. Just leave him.” Dave’s voice was rising. He was becoming insistent.

“It won’t take me but a second to wrap him up.”

“Goddammit, don’t be a stupid cunt! I’m going to be late if you don’t come on!” He was yelling now, and I was cowed. I didn’t want him to think that way about me. I didn’t want to be responsible for him being late. What could possibly happen in fifteen minutes? Micheal was sleeping soundly and he didn’t usually wake until after 7:00 a.m. It was now 5:50, just barely enough time to get the two miles and two traffic lights between our home and the dishwasher factory. Dave would have a minute or two to get to the time clock after I dropped him off. With a nervous, uneasy feeling in my gut, I put on my coat and followed him to the car.

After dropping him off, I was on my way back home, accelerating from a stop light when the headlamps of the Willys went dim and the engine rattled to a halt. I had enough forward momentum to coast into the gas station on the corner. I grabbed the mallet Dave left in the space between the seats and crawled under the rear of the wagon to tap on the fuel pump. Back in the driver’s seat I tried the key. The engine turned but did not fire. I tapped the fuel pump again. And again. Still nothing. I was beginning to feel panic. My baby was home alone. Not knowing what to do, I called my mother from the pay phone on the gas station lot. What could she do to help? I didn’t know. I could run the eight blocks back to my house before she could drive there. She could do nothing but tell me what I already knew. I should never have created the situation in the first place. I hung up the phone, and, with the idea of running home in my mind, used the mallet to give the fuel pump another whack. I hit it several times, hard. I turned the key. The engine cranked a few times, then fired. Five minutes later I was inside the warm and quiet house. Micheal was still sleeping, undisturbed and unaware I had even been gone.

9 November 2018

He’s in intensive care. They want to keep a close eye on his kidney and spleen in case they start bleeding. He has a blood pressure cuff on his arm and an IV pumping antibiotics into his system. He is awake when I get there, talking with two men I don’t know. They are asking him questions. One of them lifts a finger to keep me silent. I understand they are police; they are interrogating him about the stabbing. I leave the room.

I’m standing in the hall when one of them comes out to talk with me. He won’t get any information from me. I don’t know anything. He introduces himself and extends his hand. I realize I know his wife. I know things his wife has said about him. I tell him I know his wife without mentioning I know what she says about him. I might be prejudiced, but I immediately dislike him. I am engaging anyway.

He asks me the questions, I give him my I-don’t-know answers. He asks me if I know who drives a black BMW. Apparently, one brought Micheal to the hospital last night, they have it on video. The information is intriguing, but I can’t go anywhere with it. I share my concerns, about how there are no defensive wounds on Micheal’s arms or hands, which, to me, means his hands must have been on the person who stabbed him. The detective tells me the knife wasn’t big, it wasn’t an attempt to kill, just to even the fight up a bit. Do I know anyone Micheal might have a problem with? No. I do not. Micheal was stabbed just a few yards from the home of a known drug dealer. The detective says a name but I don’t recognize it. They suspect maybe the stabber knew Micheal either had money or drugs and that’s what lead to the attack. It must have been a robbery. I tell the detective the names I know. I tell him some addresses I’ve taken Micheal to. I tell him about Brandi the baby momma and the new boyfriend. Maybe there is a problem there. Micheal is grieving hard over the loss of that relationship.

The other detective comes out, clearly dissatisfied with the answers to his questions. He tells me and the other detective that our conversation was loud enough to be overheard in the room. I’m sorry about this, Micheal has little trust in me to begin with. I can’t help him if he doesn’t trust me at all.  Detective Dickhead doesn’t care if we were overheard or not. In fact, he thinks he’ll just question Micheal again with a bit more vigor. He goes back in the room, leaving me in the hall with Detective Goodcop.

Shit…Shit. In quieter tones, I tell Detective Goodcop how sorry I am my conversation was overheard. He says the hallway is like a megaphone, amplifying sound into the room. He tells me what we are saying now can probably be heard even though we are speaking at a near whisper. He asks me again if I know anyone Micheal might have a problem with. I repeat about the baby momma’s new boyfriend. Detective Goodcop writes down the names.

I can hear Detective Dickhead’s voice, aggressive and strident, but I can’t hear the words. It seems the acoustics aren’t as good coming out of the room. Micheal’s voice is louder, defensive. He tells Dickhead he didn’t do anything. He doesn’t know who attacked him. Dickhead leaves the room abruptly, and both detectives stand with me for a minute in the hallway. They give me their cards. They tell me to call if I think of anything or learn anything from Micheal. I say there’s fat chance of that now. He’s already heard me blabbing to them. I know he won’t tell me anything at all.

When they leave, I take a deep breath and go into the room. Micheal says nothing about the detectives. He tells me he is starving. They won’t let him have anything to eat in case his intestines have been punctured. I say something offhand about cooperating with the detectives and it sends him into a rage. He’s yelling things about the police, about me, about how he always gets hassled. He insists he is leaving the hospital. He rips off the blood pressure cuff and tears out the IV’s. He gets out of bed, obviously in pain from his wounds, and tries to dress. Blood runs down his arm and drips onto the floor. It quickly splatters, it begins to puddle in places. He pulls on his pants, muddy from the scuffle with the stabber.

Two nurses come in to investigate. They are calm and professional. They address Micheal with even, concerned voices. They smooth him down, convince him to accept their help. Soothed by their kindness, he relaxes. One tends to his bleeding arm while the other starts to work on discharge papers. Micheal sits, wincing with every move. The splatter of blood on the floor cannot be avoided so I begin to clean it up, gloveless. I am nearly done before I remember he recently tested positive for hepatitis. Oops.

Now, both nurses are in the room helping him. He is pale. He looks faint. I wonder where he is thinking of going. I wonder if his kidney and spleen have stopped bleeding. He’s too weak to leave. I say to him please, please, just stay. The nurses stop helping him dress; they wait for a response, then gently tell him he should stay. They will help him back to bed. He nods, and they help him back to bed.

I see an opening, and I make a move to leave. I gather up his dirty clothes to take with me. I tell him I’ll bring back clean ones later. He will get his clean clothes, but it will be a whole lot later than he thinks. I ask him if there’s anything else he wants. A phone charger. Sure, no problem. Would I call his parole officer and let her know he’s in the hospital?

Yep. You bet I will.

2 thoughts on “(Un)Kindness

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