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October 29, 2007
Last Gig at Lookout Point

 

Last Gig at Lookout Point

Crystal Brodnax felt her heart beat in her ears with each foot placed in front of the other, the park’s running course kicking her ass this afternoon. But, if advancing years were to be kept at bay, she must keep running—if indeed her current pace could really be construed to be ‘running’. She recalled two little boys on skateboards who had passed her with no problem whatsoever, the little bastards barely slowing down to give her a sideways glance, as though she were but another park statue (without the benefit of decades of pigeon shit or cascading fountain to establish her presence). The breeze, still too warm to reward her rapid exhalations with prominence, nevertheless foretold the rapidly approaching autumnal season with a bite that seared her lungs a little. Soon, she would need to replace her silk warm-up jacket with more suitable woolen attire if she were to continue her early evening regimens, but with dusk fast approaching, her immediate goal included only getting back to Woodshire Boulevard without getting raped and/or murdered. 

Like any large urban park in the northeast, the expanses of trees, hills and undergrowth of Lookout Park provided ample opportunities for mayhem, should the unwary runner fail to exercise due vigilance, especially when the sun shone less brightly. Crystal’s daily ritual included the full four-mile course that required her to negotiate several laborious uphill sections of twists and turns in the path that led to the park’s namesake, Lookout Point. Fortunately, several years back an anonymous benefactor bequeathed the funding necessary to erect emergency telephone call boxes every half mile and pave the path, thus rendering the surface smooth and nearly free of unseen bumps or holes that could turn an ankle and leave a runner at the mercy of the elements… or whatever else might lurk under the veneer of the surrounding glade. It was a nice enough place, she figured, and her safety was not in question so long as she didn’t wander off the course.  Three years had come and gone since she’d first set foot on the Lookout Park Running Path, and Crystal Broadnax’s experiences on the course had all been positive, sore muscles or hours spent recuperating from the debilitating effects of coming down from the so-called ‘runner’s high’ notwithstanding.  Yes, she did feel the euphoria of endorphins cascading into her bloodstream, but like the concept of orgasms (which she’d never experienced), any pleasure derived was likely of short duration and intensity.  Plus, she didn’t enjoy the sweating or the rash produced by her abundant thighs, the female equivalent of jock itch, or so she supposed. 

But, run she did, if for no other reason than habit demanded it. Crystal Broadnax, full-time EMT and part-time theater arts student, displayed all the anal retentive characteristics worthy of her undergraduate nickname, Sphincter. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right… every time. Her reputation as a ball buster earned her a good deal of time alone, which was fine with her. Most of the men she knew were gay, married or both, and the few guys for whom she felt any attraction whatsoever were either unsophisticated, cheap-feel skirt chasers or self-indulged narcissists. It wasn’t that she didn’t like men, it was just that she had neither time nor inclination to finish raising any of the juveniles she’d experienced in her social life… she didn’t want to become anyone’s Mommy. In Crystal’s opinion, if you get close enough to any man to lead him to believe you’re willing to spend more than one night at his apartment, he’ll have you doing his laundry before the week is out. So she ran… and she ran… and she ran some more, even if she could be timed with a sundial.

Stoner’s Ridge marked the start of the ascent up to the Point. Not so much a promontory as a line of demarcation, it served to define the beginning of a constant uphill journey, the point of no return for slackers where many stopped and turned around or simply paused to watch the sun set over the hills in the background. Tempted as she might be to stop, Crystal pressed on past her inadequacies, intent on her objective, the summit. Certainly, the area had earned its name, the glens offering easy access to teenagers hoping for enough privacy to light up a joint or cop a feel… or both. The line of trees at the juncture of the two adjoining side hills formed a notch accentuated by a rock outcropping at the bottom, an area that looked out of place with its neighbors, as though someone had merely placed the boulders there to give the runners something to distract their view from the path—and the dopers in the woods. The picnic table atop the ridge sat alone today, its gray top and benches lusterless and uninviting, the perfect place for a quick pit stop to pull her socks up and catch her breath.   

A thin sliver of sun peeked over the hilltop, its refractory powers painting the sky an orangeish-purple and causing Crystal Brodnax to sit down on the bench as she reflected upon the scene with what little romance she still harbored for nature’s majesty. She would not allow herself the luxury of recognizing the romance of the colors or lamenting her perpetual single status, as hard as her subconscious might try. Ethan had used her ‘til he used her up, she figured, and no amount of sentimentality could alter her reality, so why give in to maudlin bullshit and let someone see her cry? Still, that sky was gorgeous and she felt the urge to—what the hell? At the base of the boulders in the notch of the valley, Crystal saw him.

The man’s figure rested between two large round rocks, his head and lower legs visible but torso obscured by the boulders on either side, as though he’d crawled into the crevice and couldn’t get out. The man appeared to be youngish, with a full head of curly brown hair, but she couldn’t see his clothing. A quick scan of the area around him gave no clues as to his situation. He wasn’t looking at her. In fact, he didn’t appear to be looking at anything in particular, if indeed his eyes were open at all. Only one thing was sure, he appeared to be in trouble, and Crystal’s inner EMT compelled her to investigate. Reaching inside her left jacket pocket, she took her whistle out and looped the cord around her neck. Then, discovering the aerosol can of pepper spray in its usual spot in the right pocket, she walked down the hill. Near the bottom, she jumped up on the rocks above the man’s head and looked down at him. Surprisingly, he didn’t move or acknowledge her presence. Truly, he was stuck there, although she couldn’t understand how he could have possibly arranged himself in that position, unless— there she stopped, noticing the blood stain on the rocks on either side. Someone had stuffed him in there, just a little more garbage to dispose of in the woods.

“Are you okay?”

The words seemed to revive him a little, and he craned his neck in his unsuccessful attempt to look up at her. Then, resuming his stare straight ahead, he muttered, “Oh, yea… what could possibly be wrong?”

His voice sounded resolute to Crystal… perky, even, as though absolutely nothing was peculiar about his dilemma.  High? Demented?  Crystal’s internal computer accessed memory banks of retained knowledge gained from twenty years of dealing with emergency situations in every conceivable scenario and decided to investigate further before deciding on a course of action for his rescue.

Jumping down from the rocks, she assumed a position where she could make direct eye contact with him, although the girth of the boulders prevented her from getting within three feet of his head. His arms still weren’t visible, although she could see the soles of his brown boots sticking out from between the two hunks of granite. Quickly, she tried to move the boulders, even jackknifing her body between them and trying to force them off him, all to no avail. Whoever put him here must have thought he was already dead.

 “Listen, I’m going to get you out, I’m a paramedic. What’s your name?”

The question seemed to perplex him a bit. “Will my name have an effect on your efforts? Would you approach the task differently if my name were Alfonzo than you would if it were Jeremiah?” 

“What?” The question made Crystal angry, although she didn’t know why. Why do I always get the drunks?

“Do you need me to repeat the question? Oh, wait… maybe English isn’t your language of choice. Sprechen sie Deutsch? Parlez vous Francais? Habla Espan—“

“You don’t need to mock me, dude. I’m just trying to help you.” Crystal snapped.  

This caused the head to close its eyes and try to laugh, ending in a coughing, hacking expression of dismay. “You want to help me… how nice. Where were you when I needed help in Toledo or Scranton? Where were you when things got ugly during my second set in Springfield and the broad in the third row kept calling me a Communist? Now you want to help me? Well, there’s no helping me, lady, get used to it.” Again, a few haggard coughs escaped, causing his eyes to bulge.

“Bull!” Crystal roared at him. “I’ll call and have ten paramedics swarming this place in fifteen minutes.”

“Honey, you can get a thousand paramedics out here and a hundred doctors, too… but there ain’t a damn thing that can be done for me, except humor me for a few minutes. How about turning on your best Clara Barton charm and show me that bedside manner you folks have become so famous for. I could use a friendly audience as much as anything right now,” and his voice trailed off, as though he were finishing an insignificant thought.

“Be quiet for a second,” she cooed, all the fight gone from her voice. Reaching over the boulder, Crystal gently pressed the tips of her fingers to his neck, feeling for a carotid pulse, and was rewarded for her effort with a slow, thready beat. I need to get him flat on the ground as soon as possible. “Let’s start over, Sweetie, what would you like for me to call you?”  Not waiting for his answer, she crawled down and started to examine his feet, pulling off one boot and revealing a nightmarish blood-soaked sock. Slipping it off carefully, she revealed a cold purple foot. Obviously, he had an injury to his leg that had cut off all circulation. Crystal slid her hand under the boot as far as she could, noticing that the earth gave way underneath, and the soil felt wet… he’d lost a lot of blood.

“Call me… Ishmael.”  Then the man started to laugh; a natural, unforced chortle that caused his lips to quiver. His eyes opened and he looked for her. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I figured you’d enjoy the Melville reference. You are a woman of letters, are you not?”

Maybe if she could dig out from under his legs, she could force his release by pulling him out the bottom if his upper body wasn’t stuck. Since she couldn’t see his arms, there was no need in even trying to pull him out the top. Hurrying now, she began to scoop the dirt out from under his legs, sickened as she was by the red, sodden debris sticking to her hands. 

In the waning light, a passerby might have confused her for a large dog digging for a bone as dirt flew behind her from between her legs. As her digging progressed further and further toward his butt, the dirt became firmer and harder to scoop, but the area directly under him stayed open, and she realized his upper body was lodged. Crystal reached around his leg from underneath and tried to pull down with all her might, hoping that she could feel some movement or some reaction from him. Nothing.

For the first time in her adult life, Crystal Broadnax felt totally out of control. Breathing deeply to keep panic from overtaking her, she stood up and looked at his face. Incredibly, a pale pinkness remained and his expression held no question. He seemed quite comfortable. “Who did this to you?” Crystal asked him.

Ignoring her question, he continued. “See? I told you there’s nothing you can do. If you’d listened, who knows what level of understanding we could already have reached, what plane of existence we could even now be sharing. It’s not as if we have a lot of time, you know. Would you answer a question for me?” His eyes were open again, and they implored her not to look away.

“Sure…” she allowed, “ask away.”

“Which Stooge do you think I most resemble?”

A meaningful pause ensued, then, with snot flying out her nose, Crystal gasped and put her hands over her face, laughter engulfing her.  After a few seconds, she looked up and he was smiling, too. “Larry,” she offered, “definitely Larry.” Then, she turned her head away, feeling tears starting to well. He’s going to die, and I’m powerless to stop it… and he’s trying to make me feel better. I can’t let him see me cry.

With a few quick steps, Crystal scaled the boulder and placed her head close to his, staring directly into his eyes. “But, I think you’re much more handsome than Larry, and obviously better educated.”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, sure, butter up the guy who can’t move. Roll these boulders off me and I’ll show you just how mistaken first impressions can be. When the time comes, would you please be sure to tell the coroner that I’m leaving my body to science fiction?” Both sides of his mouth moved slowly upward into a small, sickly grin.

Smiling back at him, she drew her legs up underneath her and sat Indian-style in an area where she knew he could see her. It’s my turn to talk now. “Who are you? Please tell me. If you do die here tonight, I need to be able to tell someone who you are. Don’t you want your family to know what’s become of you?”

The question seemed to confuse him momentarily. “Ah, yes… who am I… the eternal question, isn’t it? Who is any one of us, really? We come, we go, and if we’re lucky, we have a little fun in the interim. Let’s talk about you, anyone who’d bother to stop for a stranded comic enjoying his last non-paying gig has to be much more interesting, and probably funnier. Besides, I don’t have any family.”

“Okay, have it your way, but I warn you, I’m high-maintenance.” Noticing that his eyes were now only about half-open, she gently stroked his cheek with the back of her hand.

“My name is Crystal Broadnax. I’m originally from Parkersburg, West Virginia, I’m a 41-year-old paramedic and I’ve never had an orgasm.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph… you’re beginning to sound like every woman I’ve ever known, not that the list is lengthy. I think I liked you better when you were threatening me with paramedics. But, since you’ve taken the time and effort to stop by my clinic, I suppose you’d like to hear some psychobabble about human sexual response—but I’m required by law to warn you, any reproduction of the details, pictures and accounts of this game without the expressed written consent of the American Medical Association is strictly prohibited.” 

Crystal grinned at him. “Is there a man on the face of the earth who doesn’t have that damned disclaimer memorized?”

“Yea, there are a few. In fact, one of them probably cuts your hair, but I doubt he’d be too interested in your little problem. Let’s press on, shall we?” 

“Hey, pallie, I never said it was a problem— it was more a statement of fact. You know, a little tidbit of information about me that I thought might interest you, might make you more likely to relate to me on a closer basis.”

This caused the man to think for a few seconds before responding. “Oh, I see… you want to get close to me, I should have realized that. What lady jogger who comes across a gut-shot comic while she’s taking her afternoon run, doesn’t automatically start spilling her guts to the poor bastard? You start by telling me that you’ve never had an orgasm, then I tell you that I’d spend three weeks of non-stop foreplay with you trying to make it happen, then you tell me that you’d like to but you don’t know me that well, then I’d explain that the chemistry that we would have would just make not knowing each other all the more exciting. Then, you’d look into my eyes and say that, indeed, we could probably make all that happen… if only you knew my name, address, blood type, any chronic diseases and last, but not least, the location of my next-of-kin, then I’d tell you that my name doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to anyone, and we’d be right back at square one staring at each other, with you still trying to find a way to make it all better.”    

Now the smiles disappeared.

“Is it such a terrible thing that I’d like to help you?”

The man shook his head a little. “No, it isn’t. I’m sorry… but there’s nothing you can do, Crystal. Do you mind if I call you Crystal? You’re the last person I’ll ever talk to, and I don’t want to argue. My vision is starting to fade, but I do want to let you know that I consider you very pretty. I’d also like you to know that if I had more time, I’d make a serious run at you. Honestly, I can’t understand how any man who’s ever seen you would ever let you run by yourself.” 

Overwhelmed by the honesty and nearly overcome by her own emotion, Crystal summoned all the courage she could muster. Stroking his hair, she softly cooed, “If I’d found you, I wouldn’t be running at all.”

The man tilted his head toward her, obviously enjoying her tenderness. “My name is Chuck, but you can call me…” He blinked his eyes and turned his head to the side, making eye contact with her one last time.  “…Larry.” 

Crystal once again checked his carotid artery for a pulse. Finding none, she jumped down from the rocks and walked up the path to find a call box.  By now, darkness had overtaken the landscape and her mood. Isn’t this just my luck? Finally I find someone I think I might be compatible with and the bastard dies without me lifting a finger to help him. Irony, thy name is Larry.       

Suddenly feeling tired and old, Crystal Broadnax sat down on a rock to wait for the coroner; and she longed for the days when she was but a simple Sphincter, who neither knew nor cared about orgasms… or sad, dying comics.  Then, she wept.

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