Blinding Lights

We’re cramped in a room that’s too small to be a walk-in closet, gathered around a bed covered with a blue sheet; a woman lays there naked from the waist up. Neon red buzzes and flickers from the ceiling while my camera lens cups her face in its reflection. Click. The strobe of white drowns out the red above.

“Shit, my eyes!”

“Sorry. Just need a few more pics.” Everyone knows the drill.

Her face is a delicate oval with skin of light brown caramel mottled with blotches of green and gray. She was…is beautiful. I wonder if she knew or did it all happen in a flash? It doesn’t matter. Only thing left is to file it and clean up. Strands of shoulder-length hair, black as her dilated pupils, fall disheveled over the bed. She carries a smile that’s starting to give the faintest hint of a grin. I almost smile back as a reflex.

“I hate it when they do that.”

“Do what?” I know the answer, but still ask my stupid question.

“Smile. Fucking rigor mortis.”

Click. Her glassy stare shines at me like two lonely stars for a second before going dark again. There’s a small gaping hole at the center of her forehead surrounded by a purple bruise. Under her head, a dark red stain has spread and soaked over the blue sheets.

“Poor girl got a .38 kiss, probably a few days or so by the looks of it.”
“And the smell. Jesus.” You never get used to it. Not really.

“Yeah.” I chime in while I look at her through the camera’s viewfinder.

“Third one this week.”

Someone lights a cigarette, mingling the stench of smoke, blood and more than a tinge of singed rotting flesh. Click. White over red, red over blue. Click, click, click. I wonder what’s her name.

“Somebody call the morgue. Tell’em were sending a ripe one for cold storage; she’s starting to stink up the place.”

Sweat trickles down your chest, your body crying in fear. Run, run, run! Satan’s hell hounds are not far behind. The lights from speeding cars blind you, but you can’t stop. Only you can fulfill His work, ingrate as it is. You feel the gun’s warmth in your hand. Another sinner cast out, a junky corrupting his flesh, and some time ago before, the harlot who tempted your purity. But you were stronger than all of them, and their red blood is spent. Now they’re on to you, these devils in blue; you’re out of breath.

“Stop, police!” Out of time.

Row upon row of glass, brick and mortar buildings encroach upon you, caging you in. “Drop the gun, drop it, man!” There is no escape.

“Do it now!”

Gnarled trees on the sidewalk shiver their leaves. There is no fear. You turn around, catching the glint of a cross in the distance. It rests faithful atop Christ’s house. You raise your divine instrument; you shall not go to your just reward meekly.

“Oh fuck, fire!”

Flashes of light tear your body, then darkness.

“Yeah, man, shit went down! I was walking on 5th when across the street a group of cops were chasing some guy inna black trench coat, right? Ok, good. Yeah, they cornered the poor fucker, but instead of giving it up, the guy starting talking shit. Sumthing about God, crazy talk, y’know? The pigs were shouting at him like crazy too, ‘drop the gun, lay on the ground’, all that bullshit. Man, their faces were red and blue. But he didn’t listen, cool as ice, he raises the gun. Was he gonna shoot at them? Fuck do I know? Anyhow, it was all over in a blink, man. Bam, bam, bam, lights out. Dead fucker’s on the floor leaking all over, prolly crapped his guts out too. Cousin told me dead people do that, just empty themselves. After that cops were all like ‘Show’s over, move along.’ They were shining flashlights all over the place, almost blinded me. Buncha assholes, fuck’em. Anyways, I gotta deliver some fine Colombian white flour before this rain drowns me. Laters.”

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Waiting

We’ve been sitting here for hours and hours. A man dressed in white pushed another man in a wheelchair, all bandaged and had blood everywhere, he looked scared. I don’t like hospitals. It’s all cold, boring, smells funny, nose itches. Gran’m looks down at me, smiling. “They’ll probably call us any minute now. Do you want a piece of candy, dear?” She smells nice.

“Yes!” She always carries grape gumdrops, m’favorite. She’s making an upset face, uh-oh, I almost forgot. “Please?”

She smiles again and pulls up her big purple purse. She puts her hand in, and comes out with two gumdrops! “Thank you, Gran’m!”

A lady dressed in white goes to where we are, she seems to be tired. “Mrs. Henderson?” She looks down at me and smiles, I smile back. She seems nice.

“Yes? Is my daughter still in surgery?” Mom fell from the stairs this morning. I was playing out on the garden when mom screamed. Gran’m said it had been an accident.

The lady doctor shakes her head. “No, she’s out, recovering in the ICU, but there were complications. I’d like to speak with you, in private.”

Gran’m squeezes my hand a bit too tight. “Oh God…”

“Is mom alright?”

The lady doctor smiles again. “Your mom is resting right now, but you’ll be able to see her soon enough. Right now I have to speak a bit with your grandma, is that alright, James?” She smiles like mom, but her hair is blond. Mom’s is black.

“Uh-huh.”

She turns to look at Gran’m, but she’s not smiling anymore. She should sleep. “If you could follow me, Mrs. Henderson, it’ll be just a minute.”

“Wait…wait for me here, dearie. I’ll be back in a minute, ok?”

“M’kay, Gran’m!”

***

Dolores Henderson was not a bad person, at least she hoped she wasn’t, according to how she had lived her life up to this day. There were certainly mistakes that she had made along the way, nobody was perfect. Maybe, maybe even one or two that would be judged harshly if people knew, but then it wasn’t nobody else’s business. It was an accident, plain and simple, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. She would never hurt her daughter. Not once did she ever spank her whenever she got in trouble, though more than once she sent her without supper to her room. She only meant to grab ahold of her daughter’s arm, she was walking away angrily, but the staircase… It was an accident.

St. Reuben’s Hospital has that strong ethanol smell that she can barely tolerate, and they’ve been waiting for close to two hours, with poor little James confused, probably scared, especially after seeing the man in the wheelchair -covered from head to toe in blood, no less! Some candy will probably make him feel a bit better, something to distract him. “They’ll probably call us any minute now. Do you want a piece of candy, dear?” The last time she was here was when Herman died of cancer, five years ago, she wasn’t keen on hospitals in general.

The little boy’s eyes light up and looks up at her. “Yes!” Please and thank you were sacred staples in her house, of course she raised her daughter with them. Dolores frowned down on James, she was in no mood for discourtesy. “Please?”

After giving him the gumdrops (“Thank you, Gran’m!”) Dolores saw a young woman, a doctor in her white robe, exit the ER, when she saw them the doctor started to walk towards them. Finally, some answers.

“Mrs. Henderson?” Dolores catches her weary expression, those long hospital shifts, but the doctor still manages to smile at James. Maybe things went well in the operating table.

“Yes? Is there any word on my daughter? Is she still in surgery?” Dolores’s looks at the doctor’s face trying to look for an answer in her expression.

The doctor shakes her head. “No, she’s out and is recovering in the ICU, but, there were…complications. I’d like to speak with you, in private, if possible.”

“Oh God…”