The Salvation of the Last Good Man

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The year is 2120, and the world as we know it is drenched in a full-scale philosophical revolution of "restoring human morality" in order to counteract the harsh effects of "human mortality." The following story takes place just before this revolution, in a time where most humans can only operate under the worst intentions.

Submitted: April 17, 2012

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Submitted: April 17, 2012

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Before the revolution, people used to call guys like me the “world savers”—the ones who wanted to make a genuine contribution to society by helping people. As a veterinarian, I was grouped in with well-meaning service occupations like doctors, teachers, social workers, nuns, or community activists. That term was used back then because it implied that the world needed saving. Nowadays, if anyone called themselves a “world saver,” someone would say to them, “Why do you need a life jacket if the ship is unsinkable?”

You get the picture.

Well, anyway, this was right at the cusp of the revolution. So I was still qualified to be a “world saver.”

But I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do this. I just waited for the moment to find me.

And it did. In the form of a young man named Addison Brown.

I was sitting home in my recliner chair on a rainy Saturday night in November— feet propped up, cold beer in hand. My plan for the evening was to watch some college football on my telecomputer until my buddies called me to go barhopping and chick-searching. These were the nights I lived for.

Just then, a series of knocks came furiously pounding at my door. Baffled, I glanced at my watch. It was only half past eight. My friends weren’t planning on coming over until at least ten.

Reluctantly, I set down my beer and trudged to the door. Behind it was a young black man covered in blood, using the sleeve of his T-shirt as a tourniquet to nurse a gunshot wound in his chest. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was drenched in what appeared to be a porous mixture of blood, sweat, rain, and tears. He panted heavily as though he had just sprinted through a marathon course.

Agape, I struggled to form words. “Man, are you OK?”

Clearly he was not. But how else are you supposed to greet a visitor in his condition?

“Doctor? You a doctor?” he asked roughly.

Unless this man was part-Labrador, I was certainly not his type of doctor. However, I understood the desperation of the situation and did not want to turn him away.

“Yes. I think I can help you. Come in, come in please,” I moved out of the doorway and tried to usher him into my apartment hospitably. I ran to the linen closet to grab a blanket and some towels to make him comfortable.

I had fleeting flashbacks of a first-responder course I took in college. I don’t remember much, since that class was on a Friday morning, always the ugly dread after a Thursday night out drinking. More often than not, I was trying my best not to throw up in the classroom, let alone actually retain any information about saving lives.

It’s funny how so little of education actually occurs in school, while so much more of it occurs on the streets of the real world. The hardest tests are the ones you have no way of studying for.

As I was filling a water cup for this strange man on the verge of death on my living room floor, I had another flashback. I remember a night out drinking at a bar in New York City, also during my college years. We were in a dangerous part of Brooklyn, and a young, drunken girl stumbled in with a gunshot wound in her chest.

I was a child of nineteen at that time and knew I had no business meddling with this victim. The only thing I did on that particular night was offer my barstool space to clear the floor so she could collapse in the rotunda. I took my pint to the back of the restaurant and continued my poker game.
However, I do remember one thing. I remember a man yelling, “Does anyone have a credit card? Or a license? We need something to cover the wound!”

At the time, young, stupid, and drunk as I was, I chose to focus more on the royal flush I held in my hands than the poor woman who died on the floor of Fast Eddie’s that night.

No one pulled out a credit card or any piece of plastic in an attempt to save her.

I guess everyone there had something else to focus on, too.
Anyway, I hadn’t thought about that night much until this very moment, when I heard the man’s voice echo in my mind about covering the wound with a small plastic card. I reached into my back pocket, searching frantically for my wallet.

Not there.

I checked the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, and all the closets. I checked other pairs of pants. I checked the laundry.

Not there.

I gave up on searching and went to check on the man in my living room. There he was, clutching his chest and heaving. His pace was slower now, his motions less deliberate. I seemed to be losing him.

I called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher the situation. He told me to “sit tight” for a few minutes because they were understaffed, but a rescue team would be there as soon as they could.

Sit tight?

I’ve got a dying man on my hands. No one is sitting tight.

Desperate, I knelt down and tried to tend his wounds as immediately and efficiently as possible. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had the best of intentions, and I was relying on that to replace any human medical credentials I should have had. Unfortunately, animals are a whole different ballgame.

But human and animal patients do share one common trait. They both have that same sense of hope in their eyes when they look up at you when you’re treating them. It’s a longing to keep on living. It’s the power of confidence they are instilling in you to keep them breathing. It’s a silent and desperate plea, an offering to willingly hand over control of their lives, trusting you to do the best you can.

Addison had that look. Before I even knew his name, I knew him. I saw everything he had ever seen in his eyes as he gazed at me. I saw the pain. And suddenly, I knew what to do.

I got to work on controlling the bleeding. If I couldn’t use a credit card, at the very least, I could find some other means of applying direct pressure, whether it be with my hands or some form of airtight plastic. He was still maintaining consciousness, with spaced, slow-paced breaths, and occasional half-coughs. I saw his chest rise and fall, which at least gave me the assurance he didn’t need rescue breathing.

I knew the importance of keeping him still, but he was squirming in pain. I tried to steady him, but he continued writhing and coughing. From my limited experience with gunshot victims, he did seem surprisingly active in his movements. He flapped around like a fish out of water.

And it was his incessant flapping that ended up convicting him. Otherwise, he might have gotten away with it.

He turned over to the left in a quick seizure-like spurt, and that’s when I caught the familiar brown leather of the wallet in his back pocket. My wallet. It slipped out of his back pocket, opening slightly to reveal the familiar bar of the Massachusetts driver’s license with my goofy face smiling back up at me in the left corner.

I gasped. The man had stolen my wallet. A thief!

Suddenly, nothing made sense. This man—was he even legitimately shot or was he faking it? If he was really dying, how would he have had the brain power or the time to grab my wallet? And if he didn’t intentionally steal it, how did it manage to make its way comfortably in his back pocket?

Had I just fallen for some kind of elaborate mugging scam?

Who was the victim here—him or me?

All of these thoughts occurred within a 15-second contemplation session. In that fleeting moment, I had forgotten that there still might potentially be a dying man in my living room floor.

Admittedly, yes, there was a lingering part of me that wanted to kick him out of my house—or at least trying so hard to save his life and just wait around for the paramedics to deal with him.

But something stopped me. At the time, as I told you, I was in this naïve mentality in which I believed—despite all the rampant crime and overall shittiness that was the condition of the pre-revolution world—that people were inherently good. It was hard to say that with a straight face when I lived in a city in which people used gunshots as alarm clocks and crack houses as directional landmarks. But nonetheless, in my idealistic youth, I still maintained a certain creed of goodness in all and for all.

Especially in times of need, a fellow man is still a fellow man, no matter where his moral compass points or what crime he has committed against you. A human is still a human, and every human deserves the opportunity to live.

I remembered the look in his eyes. The look of utter hope and trust. The look a child gives when he reaches his hand out for his Mommy to help him cross a congested street. The look a puppy gives when his owner comes home from a long day at work. It is a look that commands its receiver to care. It is a look that says, “I’m here. I need your help. I expect you to care.”

So, I had to forgive him. And in less than twenty seconds of uncovering my stolen wallet, that’s exactly what I did.

I grabbed my license and covered the wound. The laminated plastic was enough to make it airtight and stop a sucking wound effect that might occur when the victim starts to breathe out of the air hole created by the gunshot.

I coached him slowly, giving him breathing suggestions to help pace himself. I assured him that he needed to remain still.

The only confirmation I received that he could hear me was that he followed my instructions.

I held him closely as I waited for the paramedics to come. They took their leisurely time and showed up fashionably late almost twenty minutes later as if it were some kind of cocktail party.

“Someone called about a bullet wound?” the white-coated EMT asked with a flippant cadence more suited for the question, “Someone ordered a pizza?”

I gestured hurriedly to the victim on the floor. A team of EMT responders crowded around him curiously.

“Any ID on him?” one asked.

Another removed the license from the wound and picked up the leather wallet at his side. “Yes. We have a Grad Wrentworth.”

I snatched the wallet hastily. “No,” I corrected, annoyed by his overlooking of the obvious. There were some stark contrasts between the man in the photograph and the man lying on the floor. “That’s me. That’s my wallet.”

I hoped they would be more attentive to medical observations than they were to acknowledging the difference between a white man and a black man.

“Oh. Well, what is your relationship to this man? Do you know his name?”

“No. He just showed up at my door shortly after he got shot. He was looking for a doctor.”

“I see. Well, you did the right thing.”

The EMT crew was checking his vital signs—pulse, breathing, circulation, and spinal and neck injuries. He was slipping in and out of consciousness.

They lifted him onto a stretcher and wheeled him out to the ambulance.

“He’s going to be OK. You did the right thing,” the same man said to me. “You’re a good man.”

I didn’t understand why I received such approbation for my actions. I thought I was just doing what anyone else would do.

But unfortunately, that was apparently not the norm.

The ambulance zoomed away with flashing lights and sirens, a scene I had become numbed to at this point living in Dorchester. More often than not, the only way it affected me was as a minor inconvenience during a traffic jam when I had to veer to the right side of the road to make way for the ambulance parade to pass.

I didn’t hear from Addision Brown for almost two months after that day. And at the time, I didn’t even know his name. So it came as a surprise when I received a letter shortly after Christmas from a strange man with a strange request.

I had wondered about him every day after that. I had replayed the scene in my mind thousands of times, like an endless film reel playing in my head. I told friends and family the story, demanding some kind of answer for what exactly the real story was. I had even called the hospital later that evening to see how he was doing, but it was difficult to get a clear answer without knowing the patient’s name.

One snowy morning during the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, I trudged begrudgingly to get the mail. I threw my parka over my pajamas, boots over my slippers, and braved the bitter cold to walk a quarter of a block to the mail center. I secretly hoped the trip would be justified by the delivery of some belated, cash-stuffed Christmas cards from relatives. I made a mental checklist of aunts and uncles who I had received gifts from, raking my brain through the family roster of those who were still ending.

A handwritten scrawl on a small blue envelope read my address to me. There was no return address or any other indication of its sender. The envelope did not look quite large enough to contain a greeting card, but I wasn’t losing hope yet.

I tore open the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper, carefully folded into a perfect square.

With an unassuming shrug, I unfolded the note and was immediately surprised by its brevity.

Dear Grad,

Thank you for saving my life. I have something I need to tell you and would like to see you again. Please meet me at Dorchester Park on Sunday at 9 a.m.

Yours,

Addison Brown

For some unexplainable reason, my first reaction was just to laugh. I even came close to ripping the paper to shreds before I even reached the signature.

Clearly, it was one of my idiot friends or brothers playing a stupid trick on me. They knew I had been obsessing over this guy for months and probably wanted to set me up into thinking I had the possibility of getting my questions answered.

Visions of my brother Lon snickering as he crafted this mysterious letter flooded my mind. “Oh, yeah, he’ll read this and be enough of a gull to actually go to the park… and then when we show up instead, boy, will his face be red!”

With clenched fists, I walked back to my apartment. As soon as I got inside, I planned on trashing the letter and calling Lon to reprimand him for his distasteful joke.

But during the short walk home, I talked myself out of it. I read the three sentences carefully a couple more times.

“I have something I need to tell you and would like to see you again.”

What could he possibly have to tell me?

The angel on my shoulder said, “Maybe he felt guilty about stealing my wallet and wanted to make amends and apologize.”

Scoffing, the devil on my opposite shoulder butted in, “Or maybe he wants to steal again since you’re clearly a known gull.”

It was Thursday morning. I gave myself a few days to mull it over, and on Saturday, I made the decision to commit to this so-called Addison Brown’s appointment. I told no one, for fear of this all being a hoax. I decided if it really was Lon playing a cruel joke on me, then I could still redeem myself by at least not excitedly fussing over the prospect of this being a genuine invitation.

Sunday was New Year’s Day. Waking up early on New Year’s Day would mean I’d have to make it a relatively early night on New Year’s Eve.

A couple of my buddies were going down to New York City to ring in 2130. Another group was heading to downtown Boston to go barhopping.

I chose to do neither, and I’m glad I did. There ended up being a huge shootout in Roxbury that night, killing fourteen people in a crowded club. News reports were calling it our “Boston Massacre.”

In reality, it seemed to be some kind of inter-gang brawl that got out of hand. Gangs were rampant in Boston back then, especially in Roxbury.

The way the media reported it was with mock hysteria and concern. It disgusted me so much so that I flipped off the telecomputer and went to sleep at 11 p.m. on Saturday. I didn’t even get to see the ball drop.

Sunday morning came quickly. I woke up as soon as there was sunlight and walked to the park. I brought a couple of e-readers but couldn’t focus on anything for longer than a minute before my mind drifted back to that rainy night in November. I don’t know if it was the goddamn bitter cold of the chilly morning or just the anticipation of this meeting. Either way, time passed slowly.

Around 8:45. A man approached distantly dressed in winter attire. He had at least four layers of sweatshirts and long underwear under a huge red overcoat. He wore two scarves and two ski hats. From the looks of it, he seemed to be wearing ever piece of clothing he owned.

He did not look like the bloody man who showed up at my door two months ago. Yet I knew before he even inched near me that it was Addison Brown. I recognized that look immediately.

“You’re Grad Wrentworth,” he said neutrally as he approached my bench. It was a statement, not a question. He also seemed to recognize me immediately, though I don’t know how that was possible since he was a little bit out of it the last time we met.

“Yes. Addison Brown?” I reached my gloved hand out to shake his, although I’m not sure if our relationship called for such a formal greeting. He didn’t seem to think so, since he did not extend his arm to receive it. This made sense, for after all, we had already shared a pretty traumatic experience together. This was not a business meeting.

Addison began speaking and his eloquence initially caught me off guard. He spoke like an erudite college professor, not like the “guy from the hood” who I thought he was. His tone remained formal and detached throughout his introduction.

“Thank you for meeting with me. I asked you to come here, because I needed to tell you this. Please listen closely. You are an exceptional man among a terrible, cruel world. Most people would have shut the door in my face or left me on the street for the corrupt doctors to save. Most people would not have considered the fact that a doctor probably wouldn’t take a second look at me if he knew I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t pay to foot the medical bill. Most people would have dismissed me as one of the many fallen young men of this time and gone on living their lives with little to no regard for my well-being. I asked you to come here, because I needed to tell you that you are not most people.”

I waited for a pause in his monologue to allow me to speak. “Sir, thank you for your kind words. But I was just doing what I believed was the right thing to do. You see, I’m a veterinarian, but I still thought that maybe there was some way I could help. You had just been shot. How could I turn you away?”

Addison smiled as though he knew a secret I wasn’t telling. “But you almost did when you saw the wallet.”

How did he know that? That inner-conflict had gone on exclusively in my mind. Maybe I had voiced it, but I don’t remember doing so. Defensively, I protested, “No—no. I was surprised to see it in your back pocket though. I’ve never been mugged before, but I didn’t understand how a man in your condition could have--”

Addison chuckled. “You thought I stole your wallet?”

I didn’t respond.

“Grad, you left your wallet on the counter of the liquor store when you came in earlier that evening to buy beer. I was standing behind you in line and tried to run after you before you left the store, but I couldn’t catch you. The asshole cashier behind the register tried to grab it from me, and when I tried to stop him, he pulled out a pistol and shot me square in the chest. I stumbled almost a mile to the address on your license to try to bring it back to you. But by the time I got there, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to tell you that whole story.”

My jaw dropped. Wow. I never saw that one coming.

I struggled to form words. Here I was hailing myself as this hero for saving the life of a man who I thought was a criminal. Here I was thinking I had aided a thief in my own mugging. And all the while, this unbelievable human being had risked his own life to return my wallet to me. He was the exception—not I.

“Addison—Mr. Brown—I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “I had no idea.”

“Of course you didn’t,” he said. “But you still did the right thing.” His words echoed those of the paramedic.

I didn’t respond. I was still taking this all in. I examined Addison’s expression closely. He was sincere.

Addison waited a few more seconds for me to reply. But when I didn’t, he took the opportunity to talk again. “Grad, I think you and I are very similar. We both want to help others, which is a rarity in this messed up, malicious world. Helping strangers is not something that people are comfortable doing—especially if it puts themselves at risk or even out of their own comfort zone. Everyone is too busy looking at the bottom line. How will this affect me? That’s why this world is so messed up. Everyone is too goddamn selfish. But you and I are cut from the same marble. We share in a genuine desire to commit unselfish acts when we are called upon to do so. You showed me that in November.”

Instead of accepting this outpour of praise, I instead regarded each word as a pang of guilt jabbing my ribs. This man of great selflessness was regarding me as one in the same. I thought back to the night in Brooklyn where I had acted just as selfishly as everyone else in the bar had when I played a part in that girl’s death by not playing a part in saving her life. If Addison had met me on that night instead, he would see that I was certainly no saint.

Addison was still talking. “You need to be involved with the movement that will change this world. It is people like us who are going to make a revolution possible. Are you familiar with the teachings of Saphius?”

I shook my head slowly. “Is he one of those old Greek philosophers like Socrates or something?”

Addison laughed, and I immediately regretted even making that guess. “Grad, let’s take a walk.”

What followed in that next hour is a conversation that instantly changed my life—not just my perspective of the world but also my entire lifestyle. Religiously, philosophically, ethically, and emotionally, I was to be converted.


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