The Path

Jack kept staring up into the telling sky, waiting for something.

Anything.

Everything.

Jack stared and stared. Never once a blink. Never once a movement. Only a stiff board of a body, concentrating on the gray clouds forming above his head.

Jack waited and waited.

Jack knew it was coming.

Jack…

A year earlier…
A crowd gathered around the disheveled and limp body, sprawled across the wet, brown grass. Brown and old and dead, just like the body. Whispers flung about the sticky air in shocks and awes, just a little, maybe. Eyes were bold with worries and concerns but no hands dared to touch the body. One stranger knelt down, moved his head around a bit, extending his long, bird-like wrinkled neck, poking the body with his inexperienced eyes but never feeling it, only searching for something he knew nothing about. He rose slowly, cautiously, making a “TSK TSK” sound with his tongue to his teeth and turned to the crowd standing anxiously behind him.

“I think he’s dead,” the stranger said but had no clue.

“How do you know?” one called from the back.

“He’s not breathing.”

“Is there a pulse?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t check.”

“Then how would you know that he’s dead?”
“Because I can tell he’s not breathing,” an accent of sorts bursting through his agitation.

Maybe the stranger was right?

A dark-haired woman with weary emerald eyes, tugging the sides of her long red wool coat tight around her full body, with winter shivers down her back, pushed through the crowd until she was in front of them all. “Hold on, I’m a doctor,” her voice deep, authoritative, annoyed. “There’s always a doctor around at times like these,” the stranger mumbled, a sarcastic one. The woman shot him a look that said You asshole, a look that said Don’t test me, and marched over to the body, kneeled as the stranger had, checked for the pulse the stranger seemed to have forgotten about. She put her uncomfortable ear to the icy blue mouth, listening for any sign of breathing, any sign of life in the cold, stiff, lifeless body.

“No pulse. He’s dead,” she called to the crowd without removing her eyes from what was before her.

Sighs filled the air, a collective “I’m sorry for the poor guy” sigh that always found its way whenever a body was found.

“Should we call the police? An ambulance?” a question from the back.

“Yes,” was all the woman had to say before getting up and wiping away the non-existent dust from her pants.

Jack walked down the same path he always walked down every Friday afternoon in McKinney Park. The snow, pure white, untouched, compacted, perfect, now ruined by the crunch and steps of his heavy feet. It was a secluded path, an unknown path, a path that wasn’t even meant to be a path, to exist.

But he made the path and it was all his.

The Jack Sariel Path.

Jack named it after him, of course, and only to himself, because he discovered the path when it was just a straight line of nothingness cutting through petrified oak trees with fallen leaves and weeping limbs. It was narrow, so narrow, and dear Jack would scrape his sides getting from end to end of his path. But this didn’t bother Jack.

This didn’t bother Jack because he would sacrifice anything for time alone with himself and the earth.

But this Friday afternoon was unlike any other Friday afternoon in McKinney Park. This Friday was disturbed by a distant commotion and Jack, stopping in mid-stride, peaked through the trees with a squint so fierce, searching the blur of reds and blues and greens and whites and yellows and browns and all those colors of all those coats and all those people huddled together. Jack raised his left eyebrow.

Jack was curious.

Jack wanted to see for himself.

Moving quickly, so dangerously through the skeletal, teeming path, and shuffling his shuffle so carelessly, Jack made it to the other side, through the exit patched with branches, to the top of the hill, to the end of his path. He now faced the idle football field where everyone unexpectedly gathered, for the first time since as long as he could remember, no snow stretching down to the feet of these strangers but instead fading away on the incline. Jack could see everything clearly now, his view broadening by such a high altitude. He rushed down to the bottom of the hill.

The woman waited around for the ambulance to get there. She didn’t know anything. She didn’t know what happened but she knew she wanted to help somehow, somehow, maybe, to help this body. She can’t say anything more than what she saw, the body on the ground, and what she did, announce that he was dead.

After what seemed like an eternity trembling in her long red wool coat on the field near the body with only a few strangers now waiting for the next step, the box-like white ambulance finally arrived. Two brawny men, in blue down jackets and blue slacks, holding red bags and their composure, exited their van and headed towards the woman. One of them called out into the endless sky, “Ya found a body?”

“Yes. He’s right over here,” the woman responded with a slow move aside, the men now in full view of the body, the dead body across the dead grass.

No one knew the body’s name. No wallet found to identify him. No marks to say who he was, if anyone recognized him. For all they knew, he was homeless, a wanderer, a lonesome drifter passing through McKinney Park. They all had stories for him.

“Maybe he was a lawyer who knew too much.”

“No, maybe he was just a messenger who got caught up in the game.”

“No. No. He was just a business man in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Of course, they’ll never know who was right but their imaginations didn’t care.

“Let’s bag it, Sam,” the man said, the man who made initial contact with the woman, writing information down on a white pad, on a metal clipboard. His partner, Sam, walked out from the back of the ambulance, a black body bag slung over his shoulder, over to the body, the dead body.

“D.O.A?” Sam asked.

“D.O.A.”

The box-like white ambulance left the scene, that pitiable scene, with the body in a bag on a long stretcher in the back. The woman, the emerald-eyed doctor, turned to watch the van drive off, their sirens blasting and slicing the air like a sharp knife. She stood, she stood a long while watching nothing but the blue turn to black, the sun turn to the moon, the cold turn to a chill. The woman stood watching and in her watching, a new stranger emerged. Had he been there long? She didn’t know. But he watched her too.

He watched her with a smile. “What happened here? Was some hurt?” The new stranger questioned from far off, from his post closer to the hill, as he followed the ambulance in the distance with his inquisitive eyes. “No. Someone was found dead,” the woman inched closer. Jack’s eyes shot straight to her.

“Really?”

“No one knew him. There was no wallet. The coroner’s probably going to mark him with a ‘John Doe’ toe tag.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yes. And I’m a doctor. Every time I think can handle these types of things, death and all, I am always wrong.”

“You never get use to your job.”

“I guess.”

This stranger, the stranger she hadn’t seen when the crowd was full bodied, in full swing, introduced himself. “Well, I’m Jack Sariel. And you?”

“I’m Audrey Abel,” the woman said, but her name didn’t matter. They never did.

Present day…
Jack turned his head away from the woman, clear tears, panged tears, staining his pale, ghost-like cheeks, angelic in the moonlight glare, and looked up to that telling sky once more, knowing, knowing so painfully what squall was ready to pass, a squall he’s met before. He closed his eyes, closed them tight, closed them tighter than he ever had, closed them tighter than he should, more tears escaping in a flush, and waited to see if the message was clear. It was and he could not hide from it. But he hoped he was wrong.

He hoped but he wasn’t.

The woman, with the tails of her long red wool coat flapping in the bitter wind, put her red gloved hand on Jack’s chin, a strong chin, a fearless chin, but an exposed chin, and turned his face to hers. He could feel the cold of her delicate fingers through the thin, so thin, so useless, cloth. It shall be done, his thoughts no longer attached to his memories.

“What’s wrong?” The woman was confused.

Bewildered.

Attracted.

Concerned.

Jack’s shadowy black eyes stared harshly into hers, a chill felt through the outskirts of the path. “I’m sorry,” and he was but his hushed tone could only reveal what could only be revealed.

And with this, Jack made a slow sweep closer to her, her silent, desperate plea, her silent, desperate “NO,” deafening. She knew him all too well now, without knowing him at all, and knew what was about to come but didn’t want it, she didn’t want it, but she couldn’t stop it, and she knew. He lifted his right hand, his right hand so use to this final moment, dreading it, over her frightened heart.

Those same winter shivers she felt a mere year ago were back, back down her spine and into her toes.

She was cold, incredibly cold, and was freezing in the muggy, searing air.

Her eyes, her beautiful emerald eyes, closed.

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