The Jakarta Post
A woman works as an ambulance driver. She saves lives every single night. (JP/Budhi Button)
A woman works as an ambulance driver. She saves lives every single night. Every morning she goes home and crawls into bed happy.
But one night something terrible happens.
One night the woman’s out driving the ambulance — rushing a heart attack victim to the hospital — when a boy steps out from behind a parked car.
She hits the brakes, but it’s too late.
She runs him over.
It all happens so fast — the woman can’t believe it. She jumps out and runs to his body. She picks him up and loads him into the ambulance. She drives to the hospital as fast as possible.
She stands by the doctors as they work on him.
She keeps standing there after they walk away.
She keeps standing there for what seems like a lifetime, until the nurses come and lead her away.
The woman goes home. She doesn’t know what to do. She sits on the edge of the bed. She looks at the TV but finally turns it off.
None of it makes any sense.
The next day the woman sees a notice in the paper. She goes to the boy’s funeral. She doesn’t know what to do or how to act. She stands against the wall in the back.
Up in the front, she can see the boy’s mother standing there beside the casket. She wants to go up to her, wants to say something but can’t think of how to apologize.
So in the end, the woman turns away and walks home. It’s cold out; the wind whistles by. She goes in and sits down once more on the bed.
After a while, she closes her eyes.
At work, the people are understanding.
It wasn’t your fault, they say. It was a terrible accident. It could’ve happened to anyone. Take some time off. It’ll all be okay.
The woman takes some time off, but time off doesn’t help, so she goes back — it’s all she can do. And she has to do something; she has bills to pay.
But she can’t drive the ambulance the way she used to.
Somehow, the city’s become a different place — a nightmarish, crowded, endless maze; every turn the woman takes seems a trap about to spring, people and cars and bikes darting every which way.
The woman tries to quit, but her boss is insistent — he’s an old friend and is trying to be supportive.
It’ll get better, he says. I promise! Hang in there!
But the woman dreads it more every day.
Then one night, while she’s heading into the break room, the woman overhears two drivers talking. They’re discussing the mother of the boy she ran over.
Did you hear? She killed herself, one of them says.
Shh, says the other, as they notice the woman.
Sorry — it wasn’t your fault, they say.
The woman doesn’t answer.
She takes a step back.
Then she turns. Her keys fall to the floor.
Outside the hospital, the woman walks down the street. She gets to the corner where she usually turns for home. But this time, she doesn’t turn — she just keeps on walking. She keeps going, aimlessly, alone.
She walks through the night, and then through the morning. Finally, she sits on the curb. She hasn’t eaten anything, hasn’t even thought of it. After a while, she gets up and walks on.
Later that night, the woman lies down in a tunnel. She watches the cars go by. At some point, the cops come and move her along. She doesn’t argue, just trudges on.
Time goes by and it begins to snow. The woman pulls her hands into her sleeves. She lies down and curls up in a ball by the curb.
But then the cold seems to leave.
Late that night, the woman takes a breath and lets it all out in a long plume. She watches it go, melt away into the air.
Just then a car pulls to the curb.
The driver leans over and rolls down the window.
Are you the ambulance driver? a voice says.
The woman doesn’t answer. She lies there, unmoving.
The door opens and the driver gets out.
The driver walks over and stands by the woman.
The woman blinks — it’s the boy’s mother.
You, she says. I thought you were dead.
Shh, don’t talk, the mother says.
The mother opens the rear door and helps the woman in. The woman lies down across the backseat. The mother takes a blanket and drapes it over her.
Then she stands back and swings the door shut.
The mother climbs in front and starts up the car.
I’m so sorry, the woman says from the back.
I know, the mother says. I hated you for a while. But I just couldn’t leave you like that.
She puts the car in gear and it slowly moves off. As they go, they start to pick up speed.
Ahead, an old man is crossing the road.
And they move right through him like the breeze.
Ben Loory is an American author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin Random House, 2011) as well as Tales of Falling and Flying (Penguin Random House, 2017). He is currently working on his next story collection.
We are looking for contemporary fiction between 1,500 and 2,000 words by established and new authors. Stories must be original and previously unpublished in English.
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