Lawrence University Creative Writing Club Spring Serial Story: Part 3
Everyone in Potterfield knows everyone in Potterfield. You can hardly take a breath without thinking about which of your neighbors inhaled that oxygen already. There’s comfort in that for some people, I guess. Not for me, though. I begged my mom and dad to move away from here in middle school — I’d just read this great book called “The CIA Document of Human Manipulation,” so I guess you could say I was in need of an outlet.
But then I came back. I don’t know. Being an EMT flips the world on its head. I just thought it would be worth it to see Potterfield in a different light.
Thursday was slow, as most days at the clinic are. It’s this old, wooden place that might as well be a saloon — even the desk downstairs where they check patients in looks like a bar. Old Martha had nothing to do at the mortuary, so she came over. She skipped up the stairs to the second floor. She must be at least 60 but she always dances up the stairs with a grin on her face. Then she turned a chair around and sat bent over the back. We played cards for a while. Her elbows kept slipping off the back of the chair, and she dropped about a dozen cards. Lately, I’ve noticed that her left arm keeps tensing up. She always plays it off like something startled her.
She asked me how the job was treating me. I told her about this one story I wouldn’t tell anyone but her: A month ago, Mr. Bellarose fell down a flight of stairs and broke his foot, and the family insisted that a bodyguard I’d never seen before ride in the ambulance with me. The bodyguard had something off about his eyes. He told me to take special care of Mr. Bellarose and not get too nosy. All that week, I swore there was a car following me.
Martha said it was nothing. “The town gets claustrophobic for everyone,” she told me.
Just then, my pager buzzed. Downstairs, a yell. “Enough of the cards, Derek!” said Pete Hubbleman, the paramedic I run with. “We’ve got work!”
We were called out to Lonny Cranston’s farm, where a few of his cows were sick with something. A veterinarian from a few towns over was there, too. He told me it wasn’t mad cow disease, or BSE as he called it. But that wasn’t the reason we were called out. Turns out, one of the sick cows was giving birth, and since it wasn’t BSE they didn’t want to put down the cows, so the veterinarian needed help delivering this thing. Farmer Cranston said he didn’t even know the cow was pregnant. We spent a good hour helping it give birth to a stillborn calf.
But trouble in Potterfield always comes in twos. Not more than a few minutes after the calving, me and Pete were called out to the diner. It was early afternoon when we got there. A small crowd had gathered inside, with one fry cook standing towards the front. He looked almost catatonic. Pete went into the restroom, the scene of the crime, while I talked to the fry cook, whom I’d gone to elementary school with. I couldn’t remember his name.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“He’s been in there a few days. Food poisoning,” he blubbered. When he wiped his tears away, he got ketchup in his eyes. He screamed, “Ah! I’ve poisoned myself! They’re gonna get me!”
“Calm down,” I told him. “No one is out to get you. Now tell me what—”
I stopped short as I noticed several other members of the crowd I didn’t recognize. Tough guys, trying to blend into a town where everyone knew each other. I handed the cook some napkins and went inside the bathroom.
I didn’t immediately remember the name of the man Pete found in the stall, but a few minutes later I realized it was Henry Elliot. He was a businessman who’d been staying at the Bellarose house — rumors were circulating that he and Celia Bellarose were having an affair. The body was certainly dead, but it wasn’t even pale and it didn’t look like there was a scratch on him. The smell was god-awful, but not because the body had decomposed. I agreed with the fry cook — food poisoning must’ve been involved.
“Let’s get him back to the mortuary,” Pete said. “Autopsies aren’t exactly like riding a bicycle, and Martha could use some work.”
My old middle school social studies teacher was outside of the bathroom and kept giving us a hard time. Since I’d left, he’d apparently had a mental breakdown. Mr. Marlin was now Detective Marlin, apparently. He wouldn’t let me or Pete leave the scene until I dragged him off to the side and told him the council had to pass an eviction notice or something like that. “The body has to stay in there a few more days,” I lied, while Pete loaded the stretcher. I panicked when Mr. Marlin asked about the covered stretcher being wheeled out — I told him it was a “red herring.” He looked at me like he’d just had an epiphany and ran off.
I drove the ambulance back. By this time, it was dark. I noticed along the way that there was a black car tailgating me, right on my bumper, which really threw me off. Driving an ambulance is pretty stressful, believe it or not. So I was a bit preoccupied already when Pete told me, “This guy’s got lipstick all over his neck! Guess those rumors about him and Ms. Bellarose were true, huh?” But all I could think of was one month ago, inside the ambulance, lipstick on Mr. Bellarose’s lips that I hadn’t told anyone about, the awful glare from the man riding in the ambulance with me, like threatening death, as he wiped the lipstick off Mr. Bellarose’s lips. I remembered the strange man’s eyes clearly — deep brown into black, with the biggest pupils you ever saw, barely any space for fleshy-pink whites.
All the sudden this animal ran out onto the road. It looked kinda like a dog, but skinny and clumsy, like it barely knew how to walk. It was soaking wet, too, slimy and rabid-looking. I didn’t have time to hit the brakes and swerved instead. The car behind me swerved, too, drove off the road, disappearing into one of Farmer Cranston’s fields of corn. I drove faster, knowing we’d be called back out for an injured driver as soon as we’d dropped off the body, but we never got a call.