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Gismond, Splash, and Enrico
New York City, 1991--The homeless guy I dragged out of Fifth Ave. traffic mumbled that he hadn't eaten in weeks. By the time I had pulled him halfway to the curb, a boy wearing a backpack stopped. Together, we tried to drag the man all the way out of the traffic. A policeman stopped, then a crowd of onlookers--curious to see why we'd bothered to help the homeless guy.
The policeman stuck his doughy face an inch away from the homeless guy's and shouted, "Do. . . you . . . speak . . . English?" To me, the homeless guy didn't look at all like an immigrant. He had a long, thin grey beard--so matted that parts of it had become dreadlocks--a wizened face and eyes that sparkled like ancient geodes. He was wearing a standard homeless person's outfit: a woman's fake fur coat several sizes too small that his huge wrists stuck out of, a tight-fitting ragged blue watch cap, dirty jeans and Docksiders without socks. In response to the chubby cop's question, the homeless guy glowered and shook his fist.
"Yeah, I speak English, and a little Tongolese."
The three of us managed to pull him to the sidewalk as if we were dragging a great big seal to a rock. The homeless guy acted like he wanted to rise to his feet. He motioned very dramatically with his arms for us to help him, but on his way up, he tottered like a Russian nesting doll, then fell down. This happened several times. Each time, we tried to pull the man up, as if together, the three of us were a crane, and he an unbalanced load. The last time we tried, the old guy lost his balance completely. His Docksiders skidded on the pavement and he toppled back down to the ground. Somehow the policeman, who had been behind the homeless guy propping him up, slipped too. The cop tumbled to the cement, landing on his back with the homeless guy sitting partly on top of him.
"Caw, caw, caw," the homeless guy laughed and sprang to his feet, suddenly steady and agile as Gene Kelly. The boy with the backpack and I stooped over to try and drag up the policeman while the homeless guy did a little dance, and then went to sit down on the curb where he sat chatting with himself. The cop waved off our attempts to help him up.
"My back, my trick back," the cop cried out in a weak voice. Then,
more angry, "Get me a fuckin' ambulance. And call the fuckin' precinct."
"You better," I said.
"I've got an officer down," the boy said.
"Whattaya mean, shot?" rasped the voice on the radio.
"Ah no, just a back problem. Ah, he slipped," the boy said, looking at me for approval. We slid a copy of the Manhattan Spirit, the free weekly I wrote for and happened to have a copy of, under the cop's head. Then we heard the clop, clop, clopping of hooves as a mounted policeman rode up.
"Well, what have we got here?" the cop on the horse asked, chubby and dressed in the same blue uniform as the one on the ground.
"A lack of balance," I said to the cop on the horse, pointing to the one on the street. "An innocent accident, I assure you."
The two cops apparently knew each other.
"No worries, Gismond, I got you," Charlie said.
"I had no idea this would happen," he said.
"Relax kid, you're not under arrest."
The homeless guy was still muttering to himself on the curb. We pointed him out to the cop, and explained that he had told us his name was "Splash." The cop wrote this down. I told the cop I was a Manhattan Spirit reporter who lived near Washington Square Park.
"So you got yourself a human interest story, huh? You wanna interview me?" I was about to ask him whether the boy and I were free to go when the ambulance pulled up.
Two paramedics--young guys with stethoscopes dangling around their necks-- expertly lifted Gismond off the pavement and put him on a stretcher. They hoisted him into the ambulance and drove away as the siren keened and echoed off the Saks Fifth Avenue wall. From his horse, Charlie shooed away the spectators gathered, yelling, "Okay, okay folks, show's over, show's over. Let's get moving." Then he trotted off.
About a week later, I was walking down Fifth Avenue again when I saw Splash sprawled out in the traffic just like before. Taxis drove around him and pedestrians rushed past him. He was waving a bottle of liqueur in his hand, splashing some of it onto the ground so that it formed blue beads that caught the afternoon sun. He had kicked his Docksiders off and was waving his feet in the air, wiggling his toes. I noticed he was wearing the blue-and-white-striped fuzzy woolen socks Enrico and I had ducked into Saks to buy him after the ambulance drove Gismond away.
Ellen Lindquist's flash fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous online and print publications such as Pif Magazine, the cafe irreal, and The Small Pond Magazine. She lives in Atlanta.
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