It’s just a street, a city street. There’s no reason for him to be buttonholing strangers, grabbing their arms, saying, Don’t you see?
And of course he doesn’t. But he must be imploring them with his eyes, because they keep veering away, a young woman in a gauzy white dress even crossing against traffic to avoid him, the diaphanous sleeves fluttering behind her.
Or maybe it’s not that; maybe he looks unkempt, having risen at three to get the animals fed and turned out before making the long drive. He picks a stickseed burr off the shoulder of his shirt, the cuffs still buttoned even though the sun is already warm, the air down here soupy.
So they swerve aside, hurry on their way—to the office or to an early lunch, he figures. To the P.O. down the block, maybe to send back a pair of pants that didn’t fit or had a defect. To courier over some documents, to pick up a package, to get back home, possibly to bed after a night shift, to safety.
One hand rakes through his hair, finds another burr. Something under the Chevy started rattling when they regained the interstate after detouring onto Daniel Webster to avoid the toll. He’ll fix it once they’re back at the farm. Those acres of apple trees and hay had become the one real thing, that and her. Now there’s only 70 Francis Street.
The truck stuttered and pulled when he turned down the ramp into the garage. Like a colt shying, he thought as they circled to a lower level, the light dimming. Then he gripped the wheel more firmly, chiding himself: A horse is only as steady as its rider.
Somehow it’s just a city street, concrete and asphalt and the glass-walled building; across the way and up, three-story row houses with peaked roofs, the Stars and Stripes waving from the porch of one, as if this is any neighborhood, as if it’s a small town.
He’s waiting outside the structure where she was prepped; on the other side is the tower with the patients’ rooms. How will she get there? he’d asked the surgeon that morning. He couldn’t imagine her being wheeled across these two lanes, between cars and buses, on a gurney, still in the blue hairnet that made her face look waxen.
The surgeon smiled. He was young—not too young; about the age their Jimmy would have been, if not for Iraq. Plenty of experience, all the framed diplomas on the wall of his office. A good man, surely.
The ground now the ceiling, the ceiling the ground.
He paces, stepping unevenly, keeping near the building’s walls. He glances at his watch, sees nothing, looks again.
A few hours more.
The surgeon smiled reassuringly when he asked his question. They were in the hallway, and he crossed his arms and leaned one shoulder against the wall. “You’d never know it, but there are forty-eight operating theaters beneath Francis Street,” he said. “State of the art.” He was in his scrubs already, Crocs on his feet, the skullcap low on his forehead. “You should’ve seen it,” he added, standing upright, his shoulders back, “a few years ago—how fast they were all opened and fully staffed, after the marathon bombing.”
The arches of his feet cramp. He doesn’t want the soles of his shoes—even his good shoes, his Sunday shoes—to touch the sidewalk above her.
A rapping from behind spins him around. A tall woman with chestnut skin stalks past, her stiletto heels stabbing the asphalt. He flinches, ducking behind one shoulder. From the other side, an Eversource lineman in steel-toed boots breaks into a jog to cross before the light changes, each stride concussive.
Her chest sliced open, her breastbone cracked and pried apart. He tries to picture the device. Compact and precisely calibrated, but also strong enough to hold. Steel. His mind skitters; he thinks about various farm implements and how often they’re used for something other than their original purpose. The back of his throat swells and he curls forward, his stomach heaving.
People keep moving past as he straightens up, tries to swallow, his mouth dry. Right beneath their feet, her beating heat is shrinking from air it was never meant to feel.
His left knee buckles, and he catches himself: It wouldn’t be any different if they knew.
About the author:
Bonnie Thompson is a freelance book editor based in central California. Her work has been published in several literary journals, including Ascent, the Antioch Review, and Elysian Fields Quarterly. She is heavily involved in habitat restoration and believes that native plants can heal the world.