My strangest call ever was for a zombie who was murdered. Of course, it wasn’t a real zombie, but the costuming was phenomenal. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was an actual corpse. He looked so real—dressed as dead and actually dead. We tried to stop the bleeding, but there was no more blood to stop. It had all come out onto the green carpet. Green and red make brown.
When we get called to corpses, we wait for the coroner. Sometimes the family wants us to do CPR on someone who doesn’t need CPR. Or they want us to stop the bleeding on someone who has already run out of blood. Except the party had emptied. There was no family.
Someone had stabbed him with a sword; it was a part of their costume. They came as a knight in shining armor and they left the party as a wanted felon. Parties, I’ve learned, are where people go to die. Ever since I became a paramedic, I have stopped drinking. I never speed; I’ve seen what car accident victims look like. I’ve started to go to church; well, once every few months anyway. Being in the medical field turns you into a conservative. It’s better to be alive and have no fun than to be dead and smiling.
We wait for the coroner. The coroner takes forever. Mostly because, for some strange reason, when people die, they tend to do it in bulk. All it takes is for one suicide to happen and it’s suddenly like half the city wants to die. Think about that if you’re ever suicidal—you’re going to pass it on like a virus to everyone for ten square miles. It’s like death just gets into the air.
And that’s exactly what happens. A woman runs into the apartment.
The policeman on-scene, of course, treats her like she’s the murderer, although you can tell she wouldn’t kill a mosquito. She’s pure PETA. She wears a homemade dog sweater. The cartoony dog looks like it has rabies and is radioactive. I think it’s supposed to be cute, lying across her breasts, but it looks psychedelic alien.
She yells, asking where the ambulance people are.
I say I’m an ambulance person.
She says to follow her quickly.
The policeman says to hold on, that he’ll go first.
I tell him it’s OK and walk by and can tell he doesn’t like that I’m not listening to him.
You can’t leave a patient, because that’s abandonment, but the patient is dead and my partner is there to see if he might somehow Lazarus back to life.
The woman has just walked into a room with a corpse in it and reacted like that happens every Thursday.
We walk across a fence that has been toppled over. It’s like a fence that now separates earth from sky, making sure that demons will have to leap over it to try to get to heaven.
We go into a trailer park residency. She glides by dirty white trailer after dirty white trailer, all of them looking so similar that I feel as if I’m in a horrific Halloween maze of cheap homes.
She gets to her front door, bangs it open and yells for me to save his life.
She points down at the floor. A dog is in epileptic seizure.
“Do something!” she yells.
“I’m not a vet,” I say, “I mean, I’m a veteran actually, but not a veterinarian.”
“Dogs are same,” she yells.
I have just gone from a corpse, which I can’t treat, to a dog, which I can’t treat.
“Treat him like a human,” she yells, “He’s my son!”
“OK,” I tell her, “Do you have air conditioning?”
“I don’t care about you,” she yells, teary, “Please! Him!”
“It’s for the dog,” I tell her, “They can overheat and then this can happen.”
“No!” she says, as if she realizes she’s a murderer.
I try to calm her down, but she is pacing now.
“No!” she yells at nothing.
“Do you want to help, Whitey?” I ask.
“Then be calm,” I say, “You can actually make his seizure worse by doing what you’re doing.”
“What should I do?” she says. Her hair is electrocuted. Her makeup is clown-y. Her dog sweater is ripped. A chair is overturned.
“Is anyone else in the house?”
“No,” she screams.
“The dog,” I say, “Pet it. Softly. Tell him it will be OK.” She does.
I start opening up windows.
“What are you doing?”
I ignore her. I open every window. The smell of asparagus starts to leave. It’s like she has several thousand asparagus hidden in the house. The soft breeze is angelic.
“He won’t stop,” she says, “Is he going to die?”
“How long has he been ictal?” I correct myself before she can say anything. “How long has he been like this?”
“A half hour.”
“He needs to go to the vet.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“He could die. Or get brain damage.”
“No,” she yells.
“Pet him,” I say, “Tell him he’s your son.”
She tells the dog that he is her son. She cries.
“It’s OK to be sad,” I say, “Be sad instead of angry. Anger will only scare him. Be sad.”
She cries on the dog. Tears actually fall on the fur.
I open her refrigerator, her freezer. I leave them open. I open both doors in the home. Neighbors stand on her lawn looking in.
“Go away,” she says.
“The dog,” I say, “Your son. Pet him.”
She pets him. I can see her love with each stroke. I can see that she only has this dog. I see it is her child. I get teary myself. The dog stops seizing. It looks groggy.
“Calm,” I say, “Pet him.”
She pets him.
“I am soft.” She looks at me, “I’m a soft person. I love animals.”
“You do?” I say.
“They can sense us.”
“Yes,” I say.
“You saved his life,” she says.
“He could seize again,” I say.
“And then what?”
“Do you have an air conditioner?”
“Can you fix it?”
“The neighbor could. But—I couldn’t just go over there.”
“Can you ask him? For your son?”
She thinks. “Yes.”
“I have to get back,” I say.
“You have a good job. They must pay you a lot.”
“No,” I say.
“I used to be a teacher,” she says, “They paid me horribly. I used to teach children. They paid me horribly to teach their children.”
“Yes,” I say.
I go to the door. I watch the neighbors watch her.
“You saved his life,” I say so that the neighbors can hear.
“Yes,” I say.
I walk away and she looks like God is sitting on her couch. “I love you,” I hear in the background and I’m not sure if she’s talking to the dog or God or me.
I walk through the maze, the sun like a violent headlight pointed at a crime scene.