Table of Contents

Officer Down

  • Fiction by D.V. Glenn

After he is shot in the chest during the attempted robbery of a credit union in South Central Los Angelos, the fallen police officer, John Reynolds, tells himself that they're right, the tunnel everybody describes on all the talk shows is as beautiful as they say it is. This slow helium-drift toward an ivory light, with the faces of his family panning by to the accompaniment of wind chimes: here's his wife Jesse's beautiful chestnut-brown face floating away on crystalline, tremulous tones. And then the face of his mother who died last year of a heart attack drifts past with a low murmuring tone that actually sounds more like water flowing downhill over bone-white rocks than wind chimes. And others parade by too, he recognizes quite a few but can't find their names, his memory isn't working the same right now, but then it can't be expected to under the circumstances. One looks like Cousin Tookey's, Tookey the first one to get an advanced degree in the family and always fooling around, telling John he's too fat and black to be a cop and definitely too fat to be so young. John's waiting for the ivory light to speak to him, offer reassurance or even forgiveness, he's read that it happens like that and he could use a little of both right now. Reassurance for the journey he's about to take, is taking, with no map to guide and no destination to arrive at, alone in a landscape of shadows unanchored to substance. And forgiveness for all the dirt he's done for the three years he's been on the force. By dirt he means not that he's cheated on his wife with, for example, hookers, like so many other guys that carry a badge. No, not that, he's always loved his Jesse, though wishes things could've been different sexually. But that's not such a big deal, nobody has a perfect marriage and there'll always be regrets. Maybe that's not the right word anyway, something similar to regrets but without the shading of sadness. The dirt is what he's done to his own people, black people, just so he'd fit in, wouldn't be seen by others on the force as an outsider. Remembers all those times, after a bust, get the young scum back to the precinct and he, Sayles, McGee, maybe Mercer knock out their teeth and so on to teach them a lesson. And mostly, six or even seven out of ten, seems like the perps are black. Makes him mad that they're black, they lower the race and don't care. They make John look bad, hell, they make anybody with any color at all in their skin look bad, so when he takes his turn he really lays into them. Doesn't want the other cops to think he's not a team player, that he's a homeboy. Really lays into them because the guys are standing around laughing, drinking coffee, but watching him closely, the lacquer of their eyes all over him, waiting for him to flinch, show his true colors. He swings down, grits his teeth, his anger is a hammer, and then because most of them are just kids, the odds of what they're facing hits him the way dice hit a back-alley wall, a click, almost always happens, and the sharp memory of his own mongrel youth cuts a seam in his anger, rips it open and pulls out the padding and replaces it with shame. Then it all comes back to him: being a black teenager back then and trying to make it, find firm footing on the quicksand of those Chicago streets, the loaded-deck odds society stacked against him, hell, against all of them. Then more shame because what about the young punks' mothers, fathers, if any — well, of course, fathers, but John means, what about guys at home with these kids to kick their ass if need be? Their mothers and fathers must have their hopes for these kids sprawled and moaning on the floor, same as the hopes John would have if his own kid had lived. But he keeps swinging down anyway. So his guess is it's ironic that he's been shot in the chest by a drug-crazed adolescent, gangling black youth wearing a Mickey Mouse mask, some kid who could very well have been on the receiving end of John's trembling fist at some point. Either it's ironic or it's just that what goes around comes around.

He feels things happening around him, on the other side of his leaden eyelids, and just wants to be left alone so he can focus, make this whole tunnel experience real, have something to talk about in case he lives. He'll be able tell everyone that the tunnel thing is true, absolutely true. And angels, he needs angels, too. But he can't concentrate hard enough, knows he's making the whole thing up, the tunnel, the light, the wind chime faces. The only thing that's real is that someone's screaming. “Officer down, officer down, code three!” A frantic voice that's got pastel splashes of Spanish accent, must be his partner Sanchez, guy's always nervous and easily excited, or is it excitable. Anyway he tries to tell Sanchez to just settle down, take it easy, but when he opens his mouth to speak the bottom part of his jaw falls off and the words roll like limp marbles to the ground, or maybe limp penises would be more accurate — well now that's funny, guess that doctor who said everything was sexual was right, grandfather of shrinks isn't it, or somebody, but Jesse wouldn't think it was funny at all, certainly not. Jesse's been transformed, no, not transformed, but crushed after only three years of marriage. Acts like she carries on her shoulders a granite shawl of years, guess that's natural if what you've wanted more than anything else is to have a baby and you're blessed with one then the thing immediately dies. Not the thing, call it he, she, or at least say the baby. At first John said he didn't want to know what had died, whether it was male or female, and Jesse was crushed, just couldn't or wouldn't understand that he simply couldn't have taken it, knowing the sex, whether what was dead was a boy or a girl. Because then he's left with knowing all the things his dead son or daughter would never do, never be, never see, though there's probably a lot of things live sons and daughters don't do, won't see or be. Disagree with him even if he's Shakespeare, who gives a shit, it's not better to have known and lost than never to have known at all. Crushed because she's afraid he's cold, unconcerned, dead of heart.

Moments after the child's born the doctor in the hospital approaches him and says “There were complications, I'm afraid,” and he asks the doctor not to tell him any details such as the thing's sex, but the doctor's about to speak so John thrusts his hand hard against the doctor's mouth, too hard, the poor bastard loses his balance and falls against the wall, drops his clipboard, papers flying like broken wings. Sorry but doesn't say so or stop to explain that he's not trying to hurt him for bringing the devastating news, and John certainly doesn't want the doctor to think it's because he's white, no, it's just that he can't bear to hear the baby's sex. And he doesn't stop and continues walking on ball-bearing feet down the lengthening corridor — tilting up, down, seesawing to her room. And enters and buries his face in her neck and whispers, “Don't tell me anything about the child, boy or girl, I don't want to know.” Now this is what he's pretty sure he says but by her reaction to everything later, he wonders if he actually says “I don't care” instead of “I don't want to know”?

And her tears needle the side of his face, spill hot stitches across his neck, she says, begins to say, “The baby — “ and he presses his hand against her mouth, too, but not hard like the doctor's, then he flattens his hands hard against his own ears, good, can't hear her, leaves the room. Does he go right home, doesn't remember doing that, must not have, probably does some boozing first, with Sanchez more than likely, though what's-his-name, Templeton, could have been the one. Finally ends up at home, and he's just sitting there alone, drunk in the dark spin of the living room when Jesse walks in with her sister. What's her sister say? Says “You bastard,” or something like that and stands there, statue of defiance, looking at him for a long time even as Jesse walks slowly upstairs. Just waits silently for his response and at the same time looks at him with venom spewing from her hissing eyes, challenging him to say anything at all. And he's too tired to explain that it's not that he doesn't care, it's just that it hurts too much. That's what he means by limp penises, he's no fool, he knows they don't roll like marbles, mixed metaphors and all that crap. He's a cop but not dumb, he's had a little college, not anybody's fault he didn't finish, of course he doesn't seem to be procrastinating when it comes to putting off this business of dying — and what, he's only twenty-five, twenty-six?

“I need an ambulance, code three officer down!” Sanchez screams, then frantically spits out the address. Sure, guess Sanchez is all right, good people after all, even with his being high-strung all the damn time, even on days when there's no serious action streetside. He's got John propped up somehow, he's in Sanchez's lap, belt digging in his neck but doesn't really hurt. There's not much pain at all but that's not a good sign is it, so he better finish getting it straight in his head before it's too late.

He means about the penises, limp, because that's what his is afterwards, after the kid's death. He keeps trying to explain to Jesse over and over why he couldn't stand to know the kid's sex, and then even asks her one night months later to tell him the sex of the kid, he can take it now, but she's bitter.

“You weren't there when I needed you to be there, John” — that's right, that's it, for the last few seconds he'd forgotten his name but it's John — “and now you want to know if it was a boy or girl. Well, I don't need to talk about it anymore, I don't need you to listen.” And he's never known what the kid's sex was, never, and a few times they even tried to make love, she was willing to and he even thinks she initiated it, but he couldn't. Suspecting maybe she's got a plan, wants another one, wants to have another baby, and that's what turns the blood in his veins to wet sand as she presses her body against his, moves her hands like rain over his aridity, if that's a word. That's what he thinks, “She wants another one,” and he can't make love, the penis weighs a hundred pounds, pulls him down, anchors him inescapably to the grave his child's in, becomes a headstone for that grave.

Poor Sanchez is still screaming into his radio, or else he's dreaming that Sanchez is screaming. But that feeling of dreaming departs rapidly, no, doesn't depart, but tumbles into sourceless reverse, and he feels something else happening. For a moment he believes it's going to be the glowing tunnel spreading open before him so beautifully, so beautifully, like the petals of his mother's favorite flower opening — she loved orchids, didn't she? But in the darkness that closes in on him, there's no tunnel, no buoyancy, no angels, no ivory light at all, just a blood-vessel pictogram wiggling across his retina that he pretends looks like the tiny body of the minute-year-old child he and Jesse had — that is, tried to have. And he even manages to pretend for a moment that Sanchez's yelling is the primal scream of birth, the convulsive wail of a newly born baby boy who stares at him, not with eyes like Jesse's — naked, hungry, frayed — and not with eye's like the eyes of those kids sprawled on floor at the station — naked, hungry, frayed — but with tender, compassionate eyes, as though forgiving John for something.

And then, he just doesn' t have the strength to pretend anymore.

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