Just An Observer

I sit on a bench, watching. Its concrete legs curl stoically from the ground to hold the wood slats whose peeling pale green paint chips litter my clothes. I draw my legs up to my chest, my arms wrap around them, and my chin rests on the pedestal they create. My stark white peasant top and patchwork maxi-skirt cover everything but my head with its fiery red curls twisting like cavatappi pasta down my back and my feet with their leather thongs. Even my hands, wrapped in the folds of the skirt, are protected from baking in the sun.

Black tire marks document the path of my car from the intersection to the crumbling sidewalk on the wrong side of the road, the stop sign tagged by the back of my Gremlin. The back seat is crumpled by the impact, making me grateful my daughter is visiting her grandmother, and the cargo area where I stashed my groceries looks like the site of a food fight among pre-teens. The chrome luggage rack on the passenger's side stretches toward the sky, a second antenna; the broken glass from the passenger side windows is strewn over the faux-denim, orange stitching and copper rivets of the Levi's trim package.

From my perch I face my open door where the mic of my CB radio dangles to the ground. My personal vanity meant the driver's side window was cracked open only an inch or so; now it's smeared with red.

I didn't call for the sirens that are approaching. I don't know who did but I am grateful as one of the wailing vehicles brakes beside me and parks on the cross street. The irony is not lost on me that destruction and deliverance both came from the same direction; separated by moments and meaning yet both making me an innocent observer.

The back of the engine blocks the scene of the two-vehicle accident. The passenger door of the engine is so close I can almost feel the breeze created when it is swung open and a tall, lanky man with a black hat boasting a white stripe stretches his legs to the ground. The captain, for I assume that's what he is as he is so obviously in charge, talks into a handset then directs the men around him. Their uniforms indicate readiness for a fire but, as I scour the scene, I am relieved there are no red-gold tongues worshiping in the heat of the day. There is talk but the sounds are like sitting in a class with Charlie Brown's teacher yak, yak, yakking away. There are no cars, no buildings, no other people; just the accident, the responders and me.

Two mustached men move as if joined together by unseen wires to pull the coiled hose off the side of the engine and drag it to where the battered green Thunderbird T-boned the passenger side of my Blue-Sky Baby. As they approach one of the Siamese twins breaks away from the hose and raises the hood of each car momentarily. Then he pats his partner on the shoulder, and takes the lead on the hose. His partner is now subordinate to his moves as they spray the gasoline, the oil and the offending debris off the asphalt. Steam rises as water and heat tango with unreserved passion, coaxing sweat from the ardent laborers.

The matching red truck maneuvers between the rear of Thunderbird and the curb, barely coming to a stop in front of my vehicle before two blue uniforms make their way to the driver's doors on each vehicle. I turn and see one of the blue uniforms remove his helmet before dipping his head into the T-bird then, placing one hand on the door and another on the hood, he stands bowed and silent for but a brief moment before shaking his head. I look in the direction his eyes gaze and his expression is mirrored in the eyes of the man at my door. He motions for help and the other man moves from car door to car door.

The water has been turned off, the hose laid down, and all the men gather around the kneeling blue shirts. Another man appears from the driver's side of the engine. I hadn't noticed him before and wonder what he had been doing while the twins and white-stripe and the blue shirts have been so busy. I can tell the blue uniforms are working furiously but I cannot see what they are doing, my vision blocked by the standing figures whose bulky jackets bear the tell-tale signs of past responses.

All at once, I'm no longer satisfied watching from behind the wall of men. I draw a breath, the swift intake of air filling of my lungs so abruptly it nearly raises my whole body off the ground. My eyes open like someone yanked the string of an old-fashioned window shade and I see soft blue eyes fringed by the strawberry blond hair I had observed from the sidelines now look down on me. A smile crosses his face before it is replaced by two brown doe-like eyes and a lopsided grin.

Then there is more. Pain. I feel pain. Detached hands around my throat; not strangling but restraining. My arms are immovable at my side, one hand warm and sticky. I choke as my stomach rises into my throat; a gentle hand eases the panic. My head aches as words flap with unseen wings around me while the sharpness of their beaks peck my mind to consciousness: "ambulance ... make it ... good job." As I am lifted like a mattress, it hits me what has happened and I try to call out "thank you!" But I'm shoved into the back of the ambulance and my cry fades as I lose consciousness.

But I know I am alive.