“911, what is your emergency?”
“My husband … he’s not breathing. He’s blue. His lips are blue. Jerry, wake up! Wake up!”
“Ma’am, did he choke on something? Tell me what’s happened so I can help you.”
“I think it’s his heart. He has a bad heart. He didn’t take his pills today. Or maybe he did, I don’t know. This doesn’t matter! Help me, goddammit!”
“I’m trying to help you. Where is your husband right now?”
“On the bed. He’s on the bed,” the caller says.
I look at the clock. Sixty seconds since the call started. Nineteen minutes until my shift is over.
“Okay, an ambulance is on its way. What’s your name?”
“Okay, Linda, I’m Hollie. Before the ambulance gets there, we need to do a few things. Can you listen to his chest or feel if his heart is beating?”
“I can’t. Oh, his lips are so blue.”
“Why can’t you listen to his chest, Linda?”
“Because … he has a chest plate on.”
“A chest plate?”
“He’s dressed up. It’s Batman night.” Excellent. Oh, Batman. Your timing is impeccable. I’ll have to do yet another karmic inventory to see where I screwed up. I hear my father’s voice: It’s not all about you, Hollie. Guilt squirts into my gray matter.
“Listen to me, Linda. Check his neck. Two fingers alongside his neck.”
“His chest plate goes up his neck.”
“We gotta get the chest plate off so you can check for a pulse and maybe start compressions.”
“Hang on … I gotta put the phone down.” Shuffle, shuffle, grunt, curse. “I can’t get it off.”
This is bad. If we can’t get to his chest, dude’s gonna die. If he’s not already floating to the bat cave in the sky. “Linda, can you cut through it?”
“He’ll kill me if I ruin this costume. He paid a fortune for it.”
I want to tell her that he probably won’t ever know because at this rate, his brain is guano. “Linda, listen to me. We need to do CPR. You said he’s on the bed?”
“Can you drag him onto the floor?”
“He weighs 300 lb.! I can’t lift him,” she shrieks.
I’m supposed to be in control here, but that flash of powerlessness never goes away. Unless you’re Les and then nothing bothers you because your soul oozed out of your pores years ago and that mass in your chest formerly known as a heart is now nothing more than an algae-encrusted river rock. With boogers.
“Linda, did he take any drugs tonight? Did he drink anything? Anything I can tell the medics so they’ll know how to help?”
“Umm … Viagra. And some scotch. It’s Batman night …” Linda starts to cry.
Despite the fact that Batman night is over—abruptly—I feel bad for Linda. “I want you to put the phone down and try to do chest compressions.”
“But the chest plate—”
“Work with me, Linda. He’ll forgive you for wrecking the costume if you save his life. Okay?”
The rest of the call does not go any better. I do hear later, however, that Batman Jerry (deader than a fruit bat in the vegetable aisle) had a stiffy that would make Zeus jealous. Details I don’t need. Note to the world: Viagra + scotch + heart condition = dead with a boner.
That disgusting feeling of I just listened to somebody die washes over me. It’s gross. Been at this job for two years, eight months, sixteen days, since disappointing my union-loving nurse father—yes, my dad is a nurse, so get your jokes out of the way now—and leaving school early secondary to questionable financial management. I am the only person in the family who faints in the presence of blood, an unending source of ribbing at those insipid annual family gatherings. Whatever genetic predisposition to medicine that runs like plague through my family? Yeah. It skipped me. Working 911 was the easiest compromise—I sit in a room and listen to blood, but I never actually have to see it.
But dead people never get easier, especially the ones who are already dead when the call starts. Aneurysms. Heart attacks. Strokes. Embolisms. Mother Nature is a clever, clever girl.
I lean back in my chair and slurp on the remnants of a long-ago melted iced coffee. Les is staring, those beady little eyes fixed on me. I know he’s going to do it when I see his hand move to the chest pocket of his ugly brown flannel button-down. The mothballs and Old Spice piggyback a puff of recycled air.
I shake my head no.
Don’t do it, Les. Don’t pull it out.
He does. The Black Book of Death. He’s going to put a goddamned checkmark next to my name. Again. To show that I’ve killed someone else.
It would be funny if he weren’t such a raging, infected prick. Little stooge goes into advisory board meetings every two months and pulls out that confounded book to gloat about how many lives he’s saved, and how many I’ve lost. He doesn’t mark down Troll Lady’s dead people, but I suspect it’s because she’s playing his skin flute in the unisex bathroom during their lunch break.
I’m not sure what disgusts me more: watching Les pull the greasy black comb out of the back pocket of his Wranglers to straighten the twelve hairs still sticking out of his head, or thinking about Troll Lady’s smudged red lips wrapped around his member.
It’s a tossup. I feel sick to my stomach.
I’m now twelve minutes into overtime. I will be reprimanded if I reach the thirty-minute mark—“Budgets are tight! Cuts are coming!”—the same war cry from administrators who make six fat, beach-house-owning figures a year. Sorry. Batman died. What was I supposed to do, tell his Catwoman to call Robin for help?
The tiny vacuum starts up. My signal to go home. Troll Lady is aggressively rearranging her collection of frizzy-haired beasts, using the handheld vacuum to suck the dust free and keep their multihued coifs at attention. Because she’s been here the longest—pretty sure she started with 911 when they were still using pterodactyls as messengers and Flintstone cars for ambulances—she gets away with shit that would never fly for anyone else. I’ve heard that people have lost their jobs over complaining about her troll collection, the dust it collects, the simple fact that they’re horribly ugly, despicable little demon spies for the CIA. She compromises by keeping the troll army small and dusted daily.
“This one, my pride and joy. Elvis. I spent $400, not including shipping. Straight from Graceland! I’ll bet Priscilla touched it. Wouldn’t that be something?” I try not to listen, but she is loud. Really loud. And my console abuts hers. The troll looks nothing like Elvis. Maybe fat Elvis. Right before he died, drugged out and on the shitter. I wonder what that 911 call sounded like.
I unplug, log out, power down. Grab my logbook. Lock my drawer so the dispatcher due to my console in thirty-nine minutes won’t steal the last of my Lucky Charms. I’m the one who painstakingly separated all the boring cereal from the delectable marshmallows, so I’m the one who gets to eat ’em.
Grab the report that confirms Batman Jerry didn’t make it through our call.
Sorry, Batman Jerry. Rest in peace.