He Was Running On Fumes by Marck T. Wilder

Okay, hang on, sorry, hon, just give me a second to breathe here and collect myself. I, uh—I just… Okay, so look, so I’m on my way home, right, and I see this car parked along the sidewalk with a garden hose running out from the driver’s side window around back to its tailpipe. I mean, I never seen nothing like that before—just like that, out in broad daylight for everyone and their mothers to see—but you know, you hear the stories, so I pull over to check it out.

I run over and rap on the window—rap, rap, rap—but this guy—the guy inside—he’s just sitting there, head slumped back limp against the chair, not responding to nothing. So I yank the hose out the window and I’m just about to—you know, just bash the thing open with my elbow—the, uh, the window, I mean, not the hose—but then I see the little lock thing—you know, like those golf tee looking things they have on these older cars? Well anyway, that thing was sticking up, and when I tried the handle, it opened—boom—just like that.

Now this guy sitting inside, I mean, wow, what a mess—he had this yellow puddle of snot and barf and whathaveyou all dribbled down the front of his shirt. Just poking my head in there, the smell alone was enough to burn my eyes and get me coughing. I pulled my shirt collar up over my nose, and then I grabbed hold of the guy’s shoulders, right, and I’m shaking him—you know—just going to town, shaking him hard, going, Hey, brother, can you hear me? C’mon, buddy, listen to my voice, but I don’t get nothing out of him except another spit-string of yellow slime. So naturally, I do what anybody in that situation would do, and I take out my phone and I dial 9-1-1. So I’m crouched there, right, and the phone’s ringing, and then I see this little folded up scrap of paper he’s got there—no bigger than one of those little books you like to read—safety-pinned to his shirt like a prom-night boutonniere or something. And the whole time this phone’s ringing, I’m just staring at that little yellow sheet of lined paper he’s got.

 Eventually, some lady on the other end picks up and she asks me if I can hold, and I guess just, you know, force of habit or whatever, I say, Yeah, alright…

Well yeah, hon, I know, I probably should’ve said something while I had her there on the phone—I’m not stupid—but it’s like I said: force of habit. I wasn’t really thinking. Besides, it was 9-1-1 for Chrissake—what, you think I’m the only guy in the city with an emergency? There’s a system to these things…

 Well okay, I’m getting to that…

Well that’s what I’m about to tell you here if you just give me a second to finish the story.

So anyway, so she’s got me on hold and I’m squatting there in the open car doorway, right, and nobody’s around, and I didn’t hear no sirens or nothing, so yeah, so I just—I don’t know—I just unclipped the safety pin and unfolded the thing…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, look, I know how that sounds, alright? I mean, I’m not exactly bragging here. I’m just saying, if you were there, you might have done the same thing. Or maybe not, I don’t know, but that’s what I did.

So yeah, so I read the thing. It was only the one page, but it’s longer than you might think judging from its size because the writing’s so small, he got two lines of writing in between every line on the paper. That guy—the, uh, unconscious guy there—he’s a good writer, smart too—I could tell just reading it. So there I was, going through this thing and, you know, while I can’t exactly say I agree with all the stuff he says in it, I wouldn’t have the first clue how to argue any of it with him. That make sense? I mean, this guy was past the point where you could tell him anything about playing the cards he was dealt or about all the lemonade he could still make out of his lemony life—and it wasn’t like his note was all, you know, Poor me, my wife’s screwing around, or, You’ll be sorry when I’m gone, or like, some artsy-fartsy poetry crapola. Nothing like that. It wasn’t very emotional at all, if you can believe that. It was calm…

What do you mean, calm-like-how? It was just calm. Calm like calm. Calm like—I don’t know—I guess maybe like a mechanic explaining to you what’s wrong with your car, and then telling you exactly why it’ll never drive again. That make sense? I don’t know. I’m no good at this kinda stuff.

So where was I?

Oh, so then I folded his note back up, and I stuck the needle through the same holes I took it out of, and I pinned the thing back onto his shirt—actually, wait, let me back up here a minute. I was in the middle of reading his note thing when the 9-1-1 lady picked up. She asked me what my emergency was, but I was really into that letter at that point—you know?—so I told her—well, I guess what I told her was—well, it sounds kind of weird saying it now, but I told her, “Whoops.

Huh…?

What? Yeah, that’s what I said. You know, “Whoops”…

Whoa, why are you getting so wound up? I just—I told her, “Whoopsie,” you know? “Wrong number. Sorry for the inconvenience.” And then I hung up…

Well, yeah, sure, maybe. And maybe there are about a thousand other things I could’ve said or done different, okay? But jeez-Louise, hon, what would you want me to do? You weren’t there. You know? You didn’t read the thing. I mean, you just don’t know what it was like, babe.

I mean, god, just reading that letter of his, it felt like—like… You ever see a baby bird that’s fallen out of its nest? He’s just lying on the ground there on his side, still blinking, still breathing and everything, but you can’t put him back in his nest, and you can’t take him home and nurse him back to health. There’s nothing to do. Nothing you can do. You can’t help. Once he’s down there, there’s just no such thing as saving him. You know?

Like, I don’t know, hon. Until reading that note, I just always thought that a guy killing himself was just about the most selfish goddamned thing a guy could do—or, you know, a lady could do. But reading that thing—those words, his words, the way he wanted it, how bad he wanted to just stop everything—the way he saw it, suicide didn’t look any more selfish than, say, a haircut—like, everybody you know just loves the haircut you got, but you just feel that it isn’t for you. Simple as that.

So anyway, by that point, the air in there was getting to me until I’m sick to my stomach. I wiped my eyes dry with my sleeve and took a quick look around the place to see if anybody was watching, but nope, nobody. Before I left, I checked his gas gauge. The needle hung there, just right over that little red square there; he was just running on fumes at that point. Maybe another five minutes before the engine cut out. Maybe ten, I don’t know. Looking back now, I’m not sure why I even bothered to check, or what difference it would make even if his tank was full, but whatever—I did it, and I guess it was just one of those little details that sticks with you. So I shut his door, doing one last scan around for any lookie-loos, and then I picked up his garden hose and I snaked it back in through the window slot, and I walked back the way I came, and I climbed back into my car, and I drove the rest of the way home, and yeah—now I’m here, telling you…

Yeah. Well. Who’s to say? Maybe you are right, but I did what I thought was right at the time.

 

 

*Marck Thomas Wilder has spent the last decade working dead-end customer service jobs and, frankly, he is sick of it.  He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where he earned his bachelor’s degree studying creative writing at The Evergreen State College. In addition to his prose work, he has also written, produced, and directed two stage plays and a short film.