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by Dustin L. Yocum

They wheeled him out of the house, restrained to a gurney. He struggled against the weight of the thick leather straps and writhed with such vigor the paramedics had to flank both sides of the stretcher to keep him from tipping it over. The chief of police appeared through the front door holding an empty bottle of whisky in each hand. He limped down the steps and made his way over to my uncle who was flopping like a fish on the cutting table.

“Did you drink both of these today, Johnny?” he asked.

Johnny screamed, the muscles in his neck enlarged and strained. “Let me go, you piece of shit!”

The chief sighed and glanced at the paramedics. Their bright white shirts collected sweat and saturated in the humid spring morning.

“Take him down to the hospital before the stupid son of a bitch hurts himself,” he said, with a halfhearted nod toward my uncle. “I’m frankly tired of his bullshit.”

The head paramedic opened the back door of the ambulance and prepped the mobile IV unit. The other white shirts lowered the gurney to the ground and stepped to the other side of the ambulance to grab a quick smoke. Across the street neighbors gathered to watch the chaos, a welcome respite from their monotonous lives. My uncle’s resistance soon faltered and his protestations turned to sobs as he baked in the unfiltered sun.

I watched as the chief talked to my grandfather — a conversation they’d had before and were certain to have again. Years earlier, when I was thirteen, Johnny held a double-barreled shotgun to his boss’ head because he believed my aunt’s unannounced work visits indicated a thief in his bedsheets rather than honest intentions. It took the police chief and my grandfather twenty minutes to coax the gun from his hand and another fifteen to get him in the back of the squad car. For the time being, Harold Brown got to keep his head. After Johnny posted bail a few days later, my family never spoke about it again.

Harold Brown’s daughter and I sat next to each other in homeroom that autumn. One morning, shortly after Johnny almost executed her father, I overheard her tell a classmate that she and her mom had stayed overnight with a friend and her mom cried a lot now. Two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, Harold Brown sat at his kitchen table, closed his timid lips around the open end of a pistol, and finished what my uncle started.

I wondered if Johnny thought about Harold Brown as he lay there, strapped to a board, booze and spit crusted in the corners of his mouth. Johnny always played himself the victim, never responsible for his shortcomings and unfettered by his demons. He considered trouble found, not created. I never understood why my aunt stuck around as long as she did. He could have tried to plead his case, make good on his promises. Instead, he sobbed and moaned a short time longer before he regained enough strength to put up another fight.

“I need my hat and sunglasses. Give me my hat and sunglasses, goddamnit.”

Tears streamed down his face and mixed with the sweat on his unshaved chin. The paramedics stomped on their cigarettes and made their way toward the gurney. I could see a smirk on the face of the head paramedic as he jumped down from the back of the ambulance and latched open the doors.

“I need my hat and sunglasses. Just give me my hat and sunglasses.”

“We’re going to lift you up now, Johnny. Don’t fight it or you’ll just make things worse,” the head paramedic said.

“I need … give me … my hat,” he whimpered as the paramedics counted to three and lifted in unison.

My grandfather, who had disappeared into the house, rushed to Johnny’s side holding a pair of aviators and a Fillmore Trucking hat. He slid the glasses onto Johnny’s face and slipped the hat over his head. He took care to push Johnny’s long unwashed hair behind his ears.

“Is she coming back, Dad?” Johnny asked in a quiet, half-whisper.

“I don’t know, John. I don’t know.” My grandfather squeezed Johnny’s hand as the paramedics slid him into the back of the ambulance and closed the doors.

I wrapped an arm around my grandfather’s waist and rested my head against his shoulder. We stood at the end of the sidewalk and watched the silent lights reflect off the neighborhood windows as the ambulance disappeared across the railroad tracks.

Dustin L. Yocum lives in Monticello, Illinois. He holds an MA in gerontology from Eastern Illinois University and currently works as a research compliance administrator for the University of Illinois.