Please be forewarned: This post is graphic and ugly. If you're looking to get your happy on, go here instead. No joke.
Friday night was going to be a good night. Another week of twelve hour work days was over, and it was my first free weekend in longer than I cared to remember. I had tickets to see The Avengers with The Squeeze later in the evening, but with a couple of hours to wait, I decided to splurge on a new book and a sub from the shop where The Squeeze works. Not wanting to deal with street parking, I parked in the garage around the block from both the bookstore and the sub shop--the first hour is always free.
I grabbed a book and checked out just as the clerks were ready to close, and then headed over to the sub shop. I chatted a moment with The Squeeze and his coworkers, got my sandwich, and left. Next to the building is a well-traveled, well-lit alley that leads to the parking garage and the entrance closest to where I had parked.
As I turned the corner of that alley, I saw three people and a pile of clothes. I live in an artsy-fartsy neighborhood, so my first thought was that it was some kind of guerilla art. After all, the three people seemed placed very carefully around the pile. My next thought was that they were tourists. We get plenty of them; you see people with luggage all over the place, especially on the weekends.
I was going to have to walk past them to get to the garage entrance, and I sort of felt like I was going to be in the way of whatever it was they were doing.
I suddenly realized it wasn't just a pile of clothes or luggage. There was a person in there, all crumpled in on himself. His legs were folded under him like he'd collapsed in the middle of a prayer. The rest of him had sort of settled between his knees. His brown plaid golf hat had fallen a few feet away, leaving his thin, white hair messy and uncovered. His iPhone still balanced precariously in his back pocket.
The two people on either side of him--men--were both on the phone with 911. The woman, who had stationed herself in front and to the side was very studiously not looking. I wanted to be able to do that, too--not look.
"I didn't see anything," she told me. "I just heard a thump."
Another woman approached. I think she'd been there a while, but I hadn't noticed her. It didn't matter, faces were all a blur anyway. "I think he's just really drunk," she said. No one else seemed to agree with her, but then, not a one of us had actually seen anything.
Couples dressed for dinner and groups of excited, chittering teenagers downtown for the movie kept passing by on their way to or from the garage. Each suddenly fell silent and hurried past. Whispers buzzed, "jumped."
Workers from some of the nearby restaurants appeared, hoping to help. One of the phone-calling men had apparently said the pile of clothes was still alive, but that was several minutes ago. Eons ago. He certainly didn't look alive. How could he be? No one believed it.
Some idiot in a minivan drove down the alley. The brown hat was crushed under a tire.
Finally, the paramedics arrived, with their muted lights and muffled sirens. There were a lot of them in the ambulance, maybe five. Or maybe there were fewer, but they were moving so fast, it was hard to tell. They approached the pile of clothes, reached out. After a moment, one of them pulled the pile up by his armpits and the pile turned into a man, but not a real one. He looked like a puppet, all dangling limbs and no resistance and cottonball hair. His shoes dragged loose on his ankles.
I turned away.
I didn't stay. The paramedics had no interest in the four of us who were there first. And what would I have to tell the police when they came? I didn't see anything. I didn't hear anything. Thank god. (Or I saw and heard too little or too much, oh god, but still nothing useful.) I went home. I ate my sandwich. I went to the movie I'd purchased tickets for. Because what else was I going to do?