The man holding the plastic bag raises his arms over his head and moves them slowly back and forth, back and forth. His face is hidden under his hood, and the rain falls around him and the lump at his feet. Cars, oncoming, stop, their red taillights glaring through the rain. The man with the plastic bag looped around his fingers kneels down and touches the lump; it doesn’t respond. He touches it again, pushing it gently, then forcefully—hey man, hey man, get up. you okay? You okay, man? Hey…hey. The man with the plastic bag looks south; the police station is just down the way, on the next block, but the cars are coming and honking and drivers are yelling and hanging out of windows trying to see what’s going on. He can’t just leave, and so he stands there, arms still raised.
Sirens warble through the watery air, making the man holding the plastic bag feel like he’s underwater. He keeps his hands up, making himself taller and larger to ensure he’s seen. At his feet the lump still doesn’t move, and he’s afraid to look at it now. He isn’t sure, but a creeping feeling in his stomach tells him if he looks, there will be something he doesn’t want to see—something he won’t be able to handle. The police cars stop around him, lights flashing around the scene, and he lowers his arms. Men and women slide out of the cars, rushing forward. They’re asking questions he can’t answer, others are flapping their arms at the cars waiting and honking, unaware of the man lying in the street. Go around, go around… one of the cops calls, and the drivers in the cars begin cottoning on, making their left hand turns and craning their necks as they pass by, trying to understand what’s going on. Soon a barricade is set up around the man, blocking off the street, and the stream of traffic automatically makes the left turn; the people don’t even look anymore. The sirens of the ambulance can be heard, a little far off and then coming closer; the hospital is just down the street, not even five minutes away. More sirens on the horizon. The man with the plastic bag has slipped away, leaving the lump behind because he knows something the hospital will find out later, if the lump ends up at the hospital at all.
EMTs kneel down in the wet street and take the lump, the man’s, arm. They lift his damp sleeve up, exposing his wrist, and one of them places his fingers to the skin, waiting. He pulls his hand away and then pushes it down the front of the man’s filthy shirt to touch his chest; he waits. Again, he pulls his hand away and looks around, frowning. His colleague leans in as he speaks to him, nearly shouting over the din of the rain falling around them. The other EMT can just barely hear him, but the message is clear: …can’t find…pulse…
Someone asks if they should take him to the hospital to be sure, and someone else answers, and they lift him onto a stretcher and roll him into the back of the ambulance. Maybe they turned the sirens on, just in case. Maybe they didn’t. At the hospital, the old man, rank and grimy, smelling of urine and stale breath, dirt mixed with rain water smeared across his dark skin, lies on a table. The doctor standing over him imagines the long vertical incision from sternum to belly, opening him and laying him bare like a frog or cat or the fetal pigs from school. The thought probably doesn’t make him sick or sad; it’s just a thought. But then maybe it does. Maybe death never gets easier, no matter how often you’ve seen it.
The old man is moved to the hospital morgue where he lies still against a hard metal table, tag on his toe: N/A, N/A, N/A—Unknown. Outside a doctor makes a call to social services—they should try to learn who he was, if he had any family, if anyone actually cares that he fell down and died last night. Maybe the doctor has seen this before, over and over—again and again. Maybe these bodies stayed the designated amount of days, and then were transferred to the next holding place, world still spinning unaware that it’s been relieved of the weight of their soul.
Inside the morgue, the light automatically shuts off—there’s been no movement for more than five minutes and they can’t waste any power. Outside the door, the hospital whirs, alive with electricity. Inside the morgue, the old man’s body sits, settles, decays—each cell, each molecule, fighting to get away.
The old man’s clothes, wet with rain, stinking of dirt and urine and sweat, will probably be burned. His body, placed in a box in the ground, in an unmarked grave. He won’t be able to look at the sky through the thin wooden ceiling. He won’t see the clouds or feel the wind. He won’t know it looks like rain.