The shadow from the Fremont Troll grew as the sun moved across the Seattle sky. Cliff baked in the heat until the shadow reached him. The blood on his face dried and caked. His body relaxed and he enjoyed the tickle of the breeze through his scruffy beard.
Cars passed throughout the day. One stopped. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, approached him.
“Are you alright, mister?” the first one asked.
“You look hurt,” the girl added. “You need help?”
“What’s with your leg?” the boy asked. “Is that a broom handle?”
Cliff didn’t respond. The afternoon sun pained his eyes.
“Call 911, Billy,” the girl whispered to the boy. “He needs a doctor.”
“No,” Cliff snapped. “No doctor. I have no money. I can manage.”
He attempted to crawl away, but the pain shot up his leg and he grit his teeth, falling back to his side.
“You need water, sir?” the girl asked. “We have a bottle in the car.”
“And, some cookies,” Billy added, turning to the girl. “Get the box of Oreos, Dawn.”
Billy and Dawn sat next to Cliff, drinking water and eating Oreo cookies while waiting for the police car to arrive. Officers Peters and Hutchinson thanked the teenagers, who drove off after wishing Cliff the best of luck.
The officers squatted by Cliff and asked questions about his identity, which he declined to answer. They asked how he hurt his leg.
“Playing soccer,” he replied.
The officers stood to confer. Peters looked past his partner, studying Cliff’s features, before shaking his head. An ambulance pulled behind the police car. Sounds of metallic voices from several different radios competed with each other to fill the air. Blue and red lights bounced off the steel beams of the bridge and illuminated the Fremont troll. A reflection in the one open eye seemed to wink at Cliff as the officers huddled by their car.
Hutch walked back to Cliff’s side.
“Sure, you didn’t jump off the bridge?” he asked, squatting low and pushing his face into Cliff’s.
“Right,” Cliff said. “I’d be dead.”
“Someone jumped last night and survived,” Hutch said. “Someone who probably got a busted leg in the process.”
“Off that bridge?” Cliff asked, pitching his voice as if incredulous. “Anyone who jumps off that bridge is a gonner. Or at least all broken up a lot worse than a twisted leg.”
Officer Hutch looked at him dubiously as if weighing the image of a human body hurling through the air from the height of the span.
“Look at these dirty, brown socks wrapped around my leg,” Cliff continued. “I’ve been like this for weeks. I don’t know how I’d even get up on top of that bridge in my condition if I wanted to.”
“Where were you last night?” Hutch persisted. “What’d you see?”
“I was passed out,” Cliff changed his speech pattern to exude a more strung out persona. “I didn’t see anything. I heard the loud bang, but I didn’t even pop my head out to look.”
“What about the trunk?” Hutch asked, high voice edging with tension. “What’d you see when it popped open?”
Cliff hesitated, staring at the round-faced officer whose sweat dripped down his forehead.
“What about the trunk,” he answered. “It popped open when the guy landed on it. What else is there to see?”
Hutch bent to within a few inches of his face and looked menacingly into his eyes. He continued to stare at him until the sound of the ambulance door closing broke the silence.
“You going to arrest me, or what?” Cliff moved further into Hutch’s space. “I’ll take a night in lock-up. It’d be a lot nicer than where I sleep.”
Hutch stood. Cliff tightened his stomach muscles, momentarily expecting a kick in the gut. Instead, Hutch looked at his partner and beckoned for the paramedics to come help Cliff. As they walked in his direction, Hutch squatted with his mouth close to Cliff’s ear.
“You’d just stink up the jail cell,” he whispered, patting him down from head to toe. “Scumbag.”
As they wheeled the stretcher across the street and lifted him into the back of the ambulance, Cliff heard Winona’s voice, muffled, but distressed.
He heard her badgering the police officers. He could only make out a few of her comments.
“…my dead body,” she said. “I’m his life.”
He wasn’t sure he heard that last line correctly as it seemed like an odd thought. Soon after, the door swung open and officer Peters helped Winona into the back of the vehicle with him.
“She says she’s his wife,” he told the medic. “Take her to Northwest Medical with him.”
After he slammed the door closed, the ambulance left the bridge and the Fremont Troll behind.
“Where’s the…” Cliff started to ask.
“Shhh,” Winona cut him off, flaring her eyes at him.
“Where’d you go?” he asked her, more cryptically.
“My son’s pizza place,” she whispered. “Now, shut up about it.”
“You have a son?” he asked. “And he owns a pizza place?”
The Northwest Medical facility sat along the channel between Lake Union and the Sound called the Fremont Cut, the same body of water spanned by the Aurora Avenue Bridge. Winona pointed it out to him in the distance as they wheeled him into the facility on the gurney.
“What did you do with her?” Cliff asked as the wheelchair pressed against the contact to open the sliding doors.
“Just worry about getting that busted leg fixed,” she answered. “I got it all taken care of.”
They left Cliff in a hallway by himself. One of the office administrators stood nearby, gazing at Cliff every few minutes. Winona attempted to fill out a stack of paperwork.
“First Name; Lucky,” she muttered to herself. “Last Name; Cliff. DOB; January first, 2000. Social Security 123456789.”
“I suppose he doesn’t have insurance,” the woman at the window frowned.
“He don’t even have a sleeping bag to piss in,” Winona answered.
The woman snatched the clipboard from her and closed the window. About a half hour later, an attendant wheeled Cliff further down the hall. Winona accompanied him.
Alone in the room together, Winona pulled a small plastic bag from her jacket pocket.
“I know you said you could fend for yourself,” she said. “Looks like you didn’t make it past the troll. I got you something anyway.”
“How do you have a son old enough to own a restaurant?” Cliff asked. “And where is this pizza place?”
“He don’t own it, dumbass,” she said. “He’s 15. He works there.”
She handed him a squished hard roll that must’ve sat in her pocket all day. Working on 24 hours without food, Cliff grabbed it and stuffed it in his mouth. From her other jacket pocket, she produced a bag of badly crushed Ritz Crackers.
“Your son’s 15?” Cliff asked, while still chewing on the bread and grasping the crackers from her hands. “And, you left her there with him?”
The door creaked. A tall, well-groomed doctor in blue scrub pants and a white coat entered the room. His stethoscope swung by the embroidered name “Kushnick” on his chest, just above his pocket.
“What seems to be the problem today?” he asked breezily before noticing the ratty broomstick tied to Cliff’s leg.
“I think it’s busted doc,” Winona spoke for Cliff. “Lucky here, took a big fall and couldn’t walk.”
“Did you do this?” he asked, with a pained expression, as he lightly tugged at the wrapping around the stick.
“Best I could do with what I had around me,” she answered.
Dr. Kushnick unraveled Winona’s handiwork and removed the broomstick. He rolled up Cliff’s pant leg and touched him in different spots to test where it hurt the most.
“Given the swelling in his ankle and the spots where he’s experiencing the most pain, I’m going to order an x-ray.”
“Busted, right Doc?” Winona asked.
“We’ll see,” he smiled.
The medical technician tried to bar Winona from joining Cliff in the room with the x-ray machine, but she put up such a foul-mouthed rant, he nervously glanced down the hall and gave her a nod to quickly join him.
“Looks like you’ve had your share of radiation anyway,” he muttered as she triumphantly stood next to Cliff by the table where he lay.
After the x-ray experience, they returned to the original room and Cliff ravenously chowed on the Ritz crackers, spilling crumbs all over the floor. Flakes coated his beard and clung to his chest like tiny thrill-seekers climbing the sheer face of a tall mountain.
“Well, the good news is that there’s no displacement,” Dr. Kushnik said, illuminating a large x-ray printout against a light box on the wall. “There’s a bit of a fracture down by the ankle. You must’ve taken quite a twist. I see a small tear in your Achilles.”
“He’s gonna keep his foot though, right?” Winona asked. “We know a guy…”
“Yes, he’ll be fine in a few weeks,” Dr. Kushnick smiled, almost laughing at Winona’s comment. “I’m going to put you in a boot. I’m also giving you something for the pain in your ribs. Your rib cage’s intact, but I believe you’re suffering a cracked rib. That’s when the rib separates from the cartilage. There’s nothing for me to do, but tell you to take it easy, avoid heavy lifting and relax as much as you can.”
An assistant entered the room with a large grey boot. It looked like a ski boot. Cliff recalled his company’s ski trip to Crystal Mountain when he lived his first life with his wife and daughter.
“I didn’t see an address on your paperwork,” the doctor said as he gently affixed the boot to Cliff’s injured ankle. “I can’t give you anything beyond today for the pain. But I want to follow-up with you to make sure you get by okay while you heal.”
“We’re between mansions,” Winona quipped. “We’re livin’ on our yatch til they finish building our place out in Kirkland.”
“I see,” he said. “Sounds exciting. Look, where do you usually stay? I think he’s going to recover just fine. But, if you don’t come back and something goes wrong, it would be better to catch it early.”
Winona scrunched her mouth as Cliff attempted to stand on the boot.
“I can give you a pair of crutches,” he said, helping Cliff to his feet. “Promise you’ll come back.”
“We get pretty busy in our line of work,” Winona said. “But we hang out under the Aurora, just behind the big ass troll. You wanna make a house-call, we’ll be there, you know, until they finish building the Kirkland house.”
“Got it,” Dr. Kushnick laughed. “The Fremont Troll. I live right around the corner. I’ll try to stop by in a couple weeks.”
He handed them two bus passes and instructed them to take the number 40 for two stops.
Cliff interrupted Winona’s constant chatter and spoke for the first and only time as they hobbled out the sliding door of the facility.
“Thanks for your help, Doc,” he said. “The world needs more caring people like you.”
“Take care of yourself,” he said with a pat on the back. “And hang on to this wife of yours. I can see how much she loves you in the way she cares for you.”