by Rick Pryll
“You know how you know you had a good day at a skatepark?” My tone is sarcastic, inappropriate for a parent. I know it, yet I’m unable to control the impulse. As I shut the door to the car, I can no longer hear the quarrelsome birds in the crepe myrtle.
My son, Sawyer, “No. How?”
“You don’t end up in Urgent Care.”
I can see him roll his eyes, same color as mine, same hue, in the rearview.
We have friends over. Graham, late fifties, stocky guy with rimless glasses, and his wife Celeste. Graham was a volunteer paramedic back in the day and it’s a good thing too. Retired now and making a swing through Dixie to visit old friends. We’re taking my son Sawyer to the skatepark. Graham and Celeste are so like that, Sawyer says, “I skateboard” and Celeste says, “That’s cool, where do you skateboard?” and Sawyer says “Grayson Park it’s down the road” and before you know it we’re all of us walking. To Grayson Park. Under the pines at the top of the berm that lowers into the concrete bowl, that’s when we see it. A boy face down. Motionless. At the bottom of the eight-foot funbox. Graham looks at me and we are both running. Graham says, “Don’t move him.” I’m an Eagle Scout for crying out loud. I’m glad Graham says it because it’s what we should do. The boy’s helmet. I tell you it’s odd. It’s at an improbable angle. Graham says, “I can’t get it,” he says reaching beneath the boy’s chin to try and release the clasp. I look up to see my son say to his mom, “Is he dead?”
The boy is face down. Motionless. Other skaters stop skating one by one and look over. The boy closest, a shaggy teenager, shirtless, his boxer shorts peering out over the tops of his dungarees, he leans toward the face down boy and says it so that we can hear it, echoing off the concrete skatepark features, where we stand at the top of the hill behind the bleachers, “You good?” The shirtless boy looks up at us. He shrugs. Graham’s off and running now and I am too. A girl’s crying and talking into her cell phone with a younger boy at her side. He’s chewing a fingernail, staring around at us with round eyes, fighting tears.
The helmet at that odd angle. The limbs akimbo, so awkward the shape -- you can almost tell that he’s unconscious. Graham can’t get the clasp under his chin -- not without moving him. “Don’t move him,” Graham grunts at me, “See if you can. Get the chin strap…”
I reach in and the boy moans. So slow it’s a growl. I’m not sure it’s anything more than animal reflex. It’s a sign of life -- I’m glad of that. No blood but he’s drooling, a puddle of saliva from the corner of his mouth like he’s been sleeping, napping on the couch under an afghan, but this is concrete, this is summer, the concrete fairly sizzles and he’s been down what now five minutes, six, maybe more?
My wife calms the young woman down, takes her cell phone, speaks into it. I can’t hear what she’s saying. “Hold his head still…” Graham tells me. “He’s moving,” I say. “Don’t let him move.” But that doesn’t seem right to me either. It is right -- if he could move we would want to immobilize -- he could have a spine injury. “Don’t let him move!”
The EMTs arrive before the parents do. We hear the siren start at the firehouse. The siren gets louder and louder, closer and closer. It’s an eerie feeling, kneeling on concrete, the grit digging into your knee skin, hearing the siren, not having to wonder where it’s going. The rig rolls up and parks blocking a raft of cars in the parking lot. The siren stops. The doors to the cab open. The EMTs don’t run. They walk. One, younger, stocky, smirking, is rolling the gurney down the sidewalk. They have on light blue shirts and dark blue pants, heavy black shoes. Maybe that’s why they have no urgency, the shoes are too heavy? Maybe they don’t want to sweat?
The helmet’s off now, resting on the concrete, the nylon straps wriggling beneath the candy bright shell. The boy has flipped over. We couldn’t help it, the growl turned into the boy pushing up on his hands, his eyes squinting, concussed. Despite our reluctance Graham and I might’ve done more harm than good fighting to stop him from turning over. Graham’s holding the boy’s head on either side. I rip my shirt off. I ball it to put under his head. If he was my son I would want his head on something soft. Not concrete. Graham frowns and shakes his head at me. Graham says, “Wake up, son. Wake up. You’ve had an accident. You hit your head.” I turn to my son. Sawyer shrugs, embarrassed. I toss the shirt to the side, on my knees, not knowing what else to do. It’s infuriating how slow the EMTs descend the stairs.
Graham says to the arrivals, “I’m a retired paramedic…”
In a tired monotone, the short ambulance attendant says, “Did you move him?”
“No. He moved on his own. He was face down, he came to, he flipped. I think he’s sleeping. I’m trying to wake him.”
“So he moved? Get the backboard. You can go now.” Flippant. Unappreciative. Arrogant. Graham shakes with indignation. Celeste acknowledges the hurt she sees in her aging husband, puts a hand under his forearm. As we walk away, the parents arrive. They’re horrified to see their boy on the backboard, two yellow foam blocks on either side of his head, the skinned forehead, the sister crying and crying, the boy strapped to the backboard with orange nylon belts, four of them. He’s talking to the EMTs, the boy, strapped down, awake. I don’t know what happened to him after that. He might have lived.
“Why’d you take your shirt off?” Sawyer’s tone is mocking. He’s at that age, his words’re sharper than he means to be, his friends must be cruel. I know not to react. I suppress the impulse.
“I don’t know.”
My wife, “It’s a good thing Graham was there. Those guys were jerks.”
My wife, “Do you think he’s okay?”
“I don’t know. Concussion for sure. Won’t be back at the park anytime soon.”
“The parents dropped their kids at the park. They have a landscaping company, they were working. Ten minutes away.”
“Gotta make money somehow, I guess.” I take a sip of water from the sweating glass on our front porch. Under the magnolia, a nuthatch, a wren, a pair of cardinals and another bird, one whose voice I don’t recognize. They are so are loud, it’s like they’re angry. Or horny.
About the Author
Rick Pryll’s work has appeared in Think Magazine, Optimism Literary and elsewhere. His hyperfiction short story “LIES” has garnered praise from the Wall Street Journal, SHIFT magazine, and several other publications in print and online. It is cited in seven books, and has been translated into Spanish and Chinese.