Swing for the Heart

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Ambulance

David was in no hurry. He was tossing it around in his head, looking for every silver lining, but couldn’t help but feel disappointed. They liked that house. It even had a small yard facing south, with a tree. And a spruce in the front, the way Alice had wanted. David felt proud they’d saved the money for down-payment. Even though he was often able to predict the unpredictable, it didn’t even occur to him that their loan application might be rejected. They don’t have sufficient income? He knows people who are working in the warehouse, their wives also work part-time hours, and still they were able to put down a five-percent down-payment. How come they have to pay thirty percent? There must be some other criterion. “Thirty percent!” he yelled out loud. ‘In that case we might as well pay the whole thing’, he thought to himself. That’s why there are loans! All of it was running through David’s head and he felt saddened. He didn’t want to show his disillusionment in front of Alice, that’s why he made it sound better and sugar-coated it.

As he walked down the evening Burgundy Way, it all began to boil inside of him. Anger, frustration and a sense of hopelessness. David looked around and when he didn’t see anybody, he swore out loud, even though it wasn’t his usual way: “To hell with it, fuck it. Fuck all of it!” David took a deep breath of the spring fresh air, put his hands in his pockets and felt that dropping a healthy F-bomb made him feel better. Just a little. He was trying to look forward to his ambulance, but still was unable to dig up feelings of joy. At least he doesn’t have to study anymore. Four more weeks he has to wait for the exam’s result. Hopefully this time it went well. But one never knows. Still, David had to smile when he recalled at break-time a fellow physician writing the exam asking him: “How did you find it?” David thought he’d asked him whether he found the exam room. Because David found both the hotel and the examination room easily, he truthfully replied, “Piece of cake, my friend! Very easy.” The man sank, sadly walked away and offered no response in return. Only then did David realize the man had asked him something else. He wanted to know how difficult David had found the first part. Who knows how he’ll do.

David was almost there now. Walk past the fence now, and he would be in the yard. His discarded ambulance was waiting. David opened the door and stood in shock. In the middle of the floor was gaping his open suitcase and David immediately saw that it was largely robbed. The ambulance was messy, the portable heater and flashlight were missing, and there was nothing left in the suitcase but a few pieces of clothing. The dirty laundry he hadn’t had a chance to wash in the warehouse yet. Devastated and hopeless, David looked around the space of the upturned vehicle. He didn’t want that. No, this he didn’t want. On the floor lay trampled his family photograph from Pisa, someone had walked on it.

“What the…what?” he whispered to himself in disbelief. Someone had yanked him by the shoulder. David turned around and received an unexpected punch in the face that made him hit his head on the car structure. He’d never seen the man. There were two of them. The other one kicked him in the thigh, so hard David felt a sharp pain whip through his entire muscle. Another punch in the face and he stumbled. He has to remain standing. Or they’ll keep kicking him, he thought. David swung his arm in an effort to hit the first guy, but missed. The second man grabbed his arm and twisted it in a way that made David fall to the muddy ground. From the back a heavy boot kicked him in the thigh, and another in the shoulder. Like an alarm in the intensive care unit, in the deciding moment the physician awoke inside David. His thought process was cool, exact, medical. He knew he cannot let them kick him in the spleen. If they kick him there, he will bleed out without help. In the corner of his eye David caught the boot swinging again. David was able to take a hold of it. He clutched it firmly but the boot was stronger. It freed itself from his hold and David felt a burning pain in his shoulder. One of the men was in front of him and the other to the side, David was partially under the ambulance and was protecting his body. He won’t let them kick him like that. He was trying to extricate himself but was unable to avoid the heavy black boot. The kicks from the rear seemed softer, or at least they didn’t hurt as much. Evidently the guy behind was trying to get to his back, but was prevented by the step of the ambulance. David knew he had to protect his kidneys; he knew if the impact was on the renal arteries and ripped a kidney, he would bleed out behind the peritoneum and die in a hypovolemic shock. He turned after the leg behind him and hit the exhaust. His arm fell in pain into the mud. David reached into the frozen gravel, dug his nails into the sharp cool rocks and threw a full fist-full into the air above. He heard a howl, a curse and the kicks stopped. David quickly rolled out and tried to stand up. The other man grabbed his arm, but now David had enough strength to resist. He tried to pull him to the ground but the guy stood solid. David let go of the arm and went on all four to gather shards of rock. The one who’d gotten a dose in his eyes and face, kicked blindly and hit David’s ankle. David grabbed more gravel and threw it. And another dose. His fingers were bleeding; he scooped up another fist-full and threw it. The kicks stopped and David quickly stood up. His ankle gave out in pain, but he managed to remain standing. David reacted immediately. The man holding his face offered up his brachial artery and David abruptly fired his fist like a hoof, as strongly as he could, into the area below the right clavicle. The guy screamed in pain and his arm fell down, numb.

“You’re not gonna stomp on a picture of Alice and Kačenka, you son of a bitch!” Meanwhile he’d gotten hit in the head with some stick from the other guy, but he ignored it. David fired out another punch at the guy in front of him. The man wobbled, backed away with his arms hanging like heavy branches from his body. David turned to the second man. He bent to evade a punch, and so turned up his right temple towards a hit. Říha flashed a mental warning. He didn’t want to cause vagal syncope and thus cause an immediate cardiac arrest. Not that! From below David noticed an arm and a stick flying towards him, but he managed to duck so that the stick only slid down his back. He grabbed it, twisted and the attacker slammed his face into the ambulance wall. He turned towards David who now saw his bloody nose over the entire chin and mouth. The man pulled out the stick, swung his arm and wanted to hit David on the cheek. David swiftly threw his right fist from below, hitting the already broken nose. The man screamed and David enjoyed one more identical punch.

“For the way home!” yelled David and now he didn’t receive a payback. The first guy was approaching and wanted to extend his unsteady arm. David knew his numbness was temporary. Before both arms regained strength again, David placed another hit heavy like an anvil underneath each plexus. After that, he had no more attackers.

The numbed man barked: “Who are you? You’ve got money and walk around clean as a whistle? We don’t like you! If you have money, what kind of theatre are you playing here? You’re a cop, aren’t you?”

“Shut up,” yelled David, “shut up and give me back my stuff.” He was surprised where he’d found that kind of strength. Maybe the disappointment at the bank. The fact that he’s having a hard time keeping his promise to Alice. He wanted them to be better off. Nobody’s going to beat him up like that here! Walk all over their picture.

“Give it to him,” advised the one with the pizza for a face.

“You shut up too!” David was on a roll. There was nobody else, he could and had to act this way. He was angry at everything. He wanted it differently! Nobody’s going to beat him. Here or at the bank!

“Give me back my things right now. Everything!” commanded David. The one with arms like heavy ropes repeated his question more meekly.

“Who are you? Where do you wash yourself? Where do you get money? Why are you here?”

“Be quiet and give me my things!” Now he spoke quietly and slowly, in a threatening dark tone. Then David added something that came out of the deep, entirely outside of his verbal arsenal, “give it all back or I’ll off you both right here.” What did he say? How? With what? Who just said that for him?

Now even the ‘marionette’ evaluated the situation, a little later than ‘pizza’. Both of them staggered towards another discarded ambulance and David followed them. Nobody will dare such a stunt anymore. One can’t retreat from violence, just like one can’t retreat from fire and water. The one with the heavy arms struggled to open the rear door and there, on the bench, David saw scattered all of his suitcase contents.

“There it is,” said begrudgingly the dizzy one.

“You’ll pass it to me!” screamed David and himself didn’t know where it was coming from. He’d been fed up with everything. Hiding from Floyd behind a forklift and palettes in the warehouse, and beg at the bank. What did he do to anybody? ‘Pizza’ stood to the side and held his red ‘report card’ for his attack. The first guy climbed into the vehicle and gave David the pile.

“You’ll put it back where you found it!” ordered David.

“You can do that yourself!” retorted ‘marionette’.

“Put – It – Back.” Now he stopped arguing. The man took all items in his arms and dragged himself towards David’s robbed castle.

It was quarter to nine in the evening. Only now David realized he didn’t see Lord anywhere. However it was, he didn’t care. He’s not his caregiver. He couldn’t guess whether it’d been him who wrote up this script, or if it was a coincidence. Both men were now slowly leaving the yard.

“A moment!” yelled David after them as he stood in the rear door of his ambulance. He pointed to one and then the other, “you both are responsible for my undisturbed sleep tonight!” The one who’d lost feeling in his arms mumbled some curses, waved his arm and both of them trailed out.

Only now David sat down on the bench in his ambulance and examined his arms, ankle and other wounds he’d received. Everything hurt and his palms began shaking. The same hands that had once operated defective intraventricular septum, precisely and in sterile cleanliness, were now rough with work in the warehouse, dirtied and bloody by a fight. David leaned on the wall and closed his eyes. On the bench in front of him lay all of his treasures that he’d managed to defend. When was the last time he’d been in a fight? In the fifth grade? Maybe. It wasn’t serious. If his students could see him now. Like a vagabond he’s rolling in the gravel at night, brawling with some bums. If little Kačenka saw him, she would have to be ashamed. He opened his eyes, rummaged through the pile and found the photograph. It was dirty from a shoe-sole and also ripped. David placed it on his knee and cleaned it with his sleeve. Then he straightened the ripped edge into its original position and looked at the picture for a long time. In it, Kačenka is smiling with that smile she puts on if they tell her to smile. Alice has that expression: ‘not yet, let me fix my hair’. David is standing in his Bermuda shorts and all of them glow with comfort and happiness. Behind them to the right leans the famous cylindrical tower. He’d never looked at the picture so carefully as he did now. At the tourists, the fiats, the sidewalk and railing. Alice is wearing the blue dress she’s brought with her also here. It looks nice on her. Kačenka stands straight with her sculpted smile. He has to make it. He has no right to leave them at Mrs. James’ house. It all has to work out. What did the guy from packaging in the warehouse say? Airport. Yes, that’s an idea. He will work during the day at the warehouse and at night at the airport.

David was sitting on the bench and let his thoughts wander about the possibility of two employments. Why not. It will allow him to pass the night at the airport and thus solve two questions at once. He will earn money faster and will also have a place to sleep. He won’t have to study anymore, soon he will receive his exam result and everything will be different.

David was sitting on the bench, tired, the photo in his hand slipped out and fell to the floor, his eyelids dropping. In his mind’s eye he saw himself standing at the airport, working and handling luggage. Everyone is greeting him him and thanks him for check-in. He is smiling and wears a pilot’s uniform. Those entering the plane wave at him in respect and only now David notices that he’s tending to the conveyor belt in the elegant suit of a plane captain. He turns to the passengers who open their plane windows, and calls out to them: ‘But I’m not the pilot! That’s a mistake! I’m luggage personnel. I teach luggage handling at the Charles’ University in Prague’. The passengers exchange forgiving smiles, indicating they’ve got their own ideas. David is examining his sleeves with golden cufflinks and looks quizzically towards the plane. Only now he notices Alice in one of the windows and now he understands her: ‘David, get in already. Of course you’re the pilot. We don’t want another one. You’re the best pilot there is’. When he looks into the passengers’ faces, they are all smiling at him and he understands that they, too, insist that he fly the Boeing. David adds: ‘But I don’t know how to fly an airplane’! But the passengers close their windows and a beautiful young stewardess appears at the top of the staircase. But that’s Kačenka! She’s grown up already? And she’s a fly-attendant! She’s calling out: ‘Dad, you’re my pilot. Come on now’. David sets out for the plane, mounts the stairs, sits down behind the gears in the cockpit and countless dials and says: ‘Alright. So I will lead you. Let’s fly’! He puts the plane in gear and soon they are lifted into the blue high.

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