Rocky Road: Tales from the Miracle Season 1.1

          It was after my first graveyard shift, I think.  I’d just recently moved  to the city and I didn’t know anyone except my patients, and it had been a hard night for them as well as myself.  Harder for them, I thought bitterly, remembering the lost look on Mrs. Cabrera’s face when she passed.  I don’t know why, but I always take losing patients personally.  The terminal ones are the worst, because I get to know them through their visits and eventual stays.  I fight like hell alongside them, and hold their hands when they don’t have enough strength on their own.  Lately there’d been too many losses.  Mrs. Cabrera’s son had missed her passing by just ten or so minutes, and so I’d had to go through it with him as well.  All I wanted to do is get home, take a hot shower, and crash—but first was this damned walk.

              It had taken a while for me to a find a place.  San Keros isn’t Manhattan, but it’s one of the bigger cities I’ve been to in my meager travels.  I spent the first few weeks bouncing from cheap hotel to cheap hotel, burning through more of my seed money than I’d care to remember.  Eventually, though, I moved into this small apartment not far from the college.  It was the cheapest I could find that wasn’t microscopic or condemned.  It was a glorified loft, but it left me to design the space myself, and that ate most of my spare time.  What spare time I had, at any rate.  The only real downside to the apartment was the lack of A/C, but that normally didn’t bother me.  Upstate New York doesn’t get Florida hot—usually.  That night, however, the air was pretty much choking me at home.  It wasn’t raining (for a change), but the air was pregnant.  Each time you moved, water collected on you.  By the time I was halfway home, I was drenched.  This is city water, even as it hangs in the air—it doesn’t have the same feel as the water back home.  There’s something oily, almost unclean about it.  It pastes your clothes to your skin in a slick, itchy sort of way.

         About five blocks from the building, I took a shortcut through Cargill Park.  The old gas streetlights were replaced by electrics ages ago, when they retrofitted the Warren, but they don’t lend a lot of light.  The whole place is dark and covered in shadows, since the areas around the park are all well lit.  The old library loomed to my left as I walked the path across the flowering trees by the pond, and I headed to the fountain.  There Zeus with his lightning and Poseidon with his conch did battle nightly.  I frequented this spot often on my way home from the hospital, the towering statues let me put my life and losses in perspective.

          I turned and looked into the gloom as I felt my hackles rise. I’d spent plenty of time working in the fields as the light died and the animals in the nearby forest decided to come out for a look see.  This felt like that, like something was nearer than it should be, and was watching.  I heard nails scratching against the pavement, but when I turned nothing was there.  I kept walking, and a few minutes later I swore I heard the sound again—but still nothing presented itself  when I swiveled my head to look.  I chalked it up to echoes from the spitting fountains.  By the time I got near the spiked iron gate that marked the park exit, I definitely felt someone behind me.  This felt intentional, intelligent.

          When I turned around to look, I didn’t see some strung-out junkie with a pocketknife.  That could’ve been a real possibility.  Ever since the library had moved down to Cherry Street, it was like a floodgate had opened.  The park was still the same charming, family favorite during the day but the night brought a different clientele.  There’d been reports of attacks the last few weeks, a few people arrested.  Drugs had been involved, but many of the park’s nighttime denizens were just homeless whose own problems gave them nowhere else to go.  I empathized, in that respect, but that didn’t mean I didn’t recognize the prospective danger for the unwary.

          I glanced around, torn between just bolting for the gate and the safety of the businesses outside, one of which I was sure must be open even at this hour, and approaching whoever it was and putting a stop to whatever they were trying to do.  Better I have the element of surprise than them, I reckoned.  I didn’t have the happiest expression on my face as I scanned the shadow-dappled park for my stalker.  Nothing seemed out of place until I saw a blur and then some bushes rustle near the gate entrance.  I walked closer, and the murk cleared thanks to the streetlight across the street.

          “I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to pull, man, but I’ve had a crappy night and I just want to go to bed.  Leave me be, yeah?”  No response came, though, and the bushes remained still.  It was all logic up to that point.  I should’ve just walked through the gate, grabbed some ice cream and made it my night.  Instead, I approached the bushes and it was pretty clear that nothing man-sized was going to hide in that small a thicket.  Ok, I thought, an animal, then…so rabid, maybe?  It was nothing as big as a deer, so maybe a raccoon or a possum or a skunk.  None of those sounded like a great idea to surprise.

          It’d been clearly following me, whatever it was, which wasn’t typical behavior.  If it was hurt, I wasn’t just going to leave it to fend for itself. Bracing myself for the worst, I pulled apart the branches expecting a slash of clever hands or the delightful spray of a startled skunk.  Instead, I saw two very hurt cobalt blue eyes that caught the light like thick, murky ice.  Neither eye was clear, as what looked like sticky tears had welled up and nearly occluded the brilliance behind them.  This was no cat.  In fact, even in the country where I grew up, animals didn’t have eyes like that…but every instinct in my body was telling me this thing, whatever it was, was in some pretty serious pain.  I’m a nurse.  This is what I do.

           I knelt down then, and after a moment it uncurled and cautiously approached me.  I breathed a short sigh of relief when I saw it was a dog, but it definitely must’ve had some wolf in it—that’s the only thing I could think of, looking at its size and those eyes.  Maybe a lab-mix, seeing as most of its coat was a ruddy butterscotch sort of yellow.  Whatever its pedigree, it weighed its options and took my measure.  For a brief moment I felt like I was back in nursing school, with some professor looking at me like I was some hick.  Like I needed to prove myself.

          When he finally approached me, he bowed his head and licked my chin.  At that moment, and to this day I really can’t tell you why, I was alright.  I mean, its not like things were suddenly perfect, but I felt like things could be.  My grief for the Cabreras, and the Matthews, and the other families I had worked with didn’t vanish, but it was like they finally weren’t the totality of what I was.  This mutt and I, we were two puzzle pieces that had never fit until we snapped together.  He came to me, I thought to myself.  I was shocked by how bowled over by that simple fact I was.  Out of everyone in this damned town, he chose me.  There was purity there.  This city had welcomed me, but I’d had my fill in the first few weeks of my “friends” I’d attempted to make here.  This one, though, didn’t choose me because of what I could do for him, or what prestige I could offer him or his pals. No, we were both there in the dark wet of the park that night because we both were hurting.  We sat there together in silence, each taking solace in the other.  Then we went for ice cream.  I’m not too proud to say we shared a cone.

          That’s how Sam came to me.  I live every day making sure neither one of us regrets it.

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