A Life Returned

Nicholas Olson

I was at work when I heard the baby was coming. A nurse called, all business as she told me. But behind the official tone, her voice wavered, if only slightly. There was something wrong, and I told her as much. Complications. That’s all she would or could muster up. It was too early to tell, but they were doing the best they could.

I dropped the phone without first cutting the connection. My jacket was on just as quickly, my hands doing what needed to be done without checking with me first. My feet joined in, guided me as I ran past my coworkers and out the front door. The key appeared in my hand, and everything was happening too fast. Much too fast. I started the car and pulled away quicker than I could realize what was going on.

Cars were just shapes passing by, like tiny insects on a warm summer night. My body made minute adjustments as needed. I heard horns, but they were as ineffectual as the buzzing of the little bugs. My hands were fitted to the steering wheel, the car nothing more than an extension of my body. And at that moment, every instinct in my body was burning with the white heat of primal fear.

What would I say if she didn’t make it? What would I do? But no, that wasn’t the thought process I needed right now. I had a mission, and nothing could stand in my way of achieving it. Modern medicine had its marvels. She’d make it through, and the baby would too. Maybe I’d even make it in time to see the birth.

Far up ahead, a car swerved to avoid collision with something as it ran a red light. But it wasn’t a something. It was a someone. The noise his body made as it connected with the car and tumbled away activated a racial memory of dread that I didn’t even know I had. He fell down without the slightest murmur, splayed out on the concrete. The car gunned it, speeding away before anyone could get a look at its plates. My toes smashed hard against the inside of my shoe as I crushed the brake pedal. There was silence then, and it carried. Flowed on like water. I looked around. It was as if I was the only one to have seen it happen.

But just as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I realized I was wrong. Several people glanced the old man’s way as they walked on by. Some cast their eyes back to their phones. Others just continued to briskly move on ahead. They had places to be, and someone else would surely help the old man.

I thought of my wife. Of the little boy who was on the way, maybe just about to be brought into this world. I looked to the elderly man, splayed and bleeding like some discarded fish. How would I feel if that were my boy on the street? I shifted the car to park, engine still running as I got out and ran over to the man. My hand removed the phone from my pocket, dialed 911, and my voice reported the incident. I hung up and stared at the elderly man. Just looked at his face.

Blood had already begun to drip from his lips, like rainwater slowly making its way down and into a sewer. There was a splotch of blood on the old man’s cheek, vaguely reminiscent of a heart. I leaned in, instinctively reached out to wipe it from the man’s face. But as I came closer, I saw that it was no splotch of blood, just a birthmark. The man looked gratefully into my eyes. As he did, I had the distinct impression that he was looking into me rather than at me.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”

I would’ve expected that to come from my lips in a time like this, but it didn’t. The old man said that to me. I just sat there, watching him. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do.

“She’ll be okay.”

My lips were sapped of all moisture in an instant. My stomach dropped and just stayed there like that.

“She?”

The old man just nodded. A smile crossed his lips. His eyes were lost and far away, like they were witnessing the most beautiful of sights.

“I’ll see you soon.”

And that was it. He died right there on the pavement just as the sirens wailed their song. The ambulance pulled up, its paramedics came out and shooed me aside. They had no chance of saving him, but they would try anyway. I walked to my car in a daze, taking brief looks back as I went. And then it all came back to me. My wife. My son.

I don’t know how I got to the hospital safely. That interim time is all a blank now. But I did. I found out where my wife was almost immediately after I walked in the door. My mouth did the talking and I just let it happen. Before I knew it, I was in the room.

She was there. Alive. Looking tired and spent beyond belief, but alive. A little bundle was there in her arms, quieter than silence. My wife spoke no words as I came to her, sat down on the chair at her bedside. She lifted the bundle’s blanket, and I saw the tiny person we had created together. His eyes were closed, lips moving as if they were trying to utter silent words. On his cheek a persistent splotch of blood, missed by the attending nurse. But as I instinctively reached to wipe it off, I saw that it wasn’t blood. Just a birthmark, formed neatly into the shape of a heart.

January 24, 2014 8:00 am

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