Sunday, February 5, 2012

Magpie Tales: Fragile Life


There is always a crowd where dead bodies are concerned. The fresher the better. Neighbors lining fences watching the stretcher for some sign, perhaps a finger sneaking from underneath the shroud, to dispel the mystery life, that ends in death. Strangers seeking a simple glimpse beyond the pulled back veil, happy not to hail a ride, second saddle on the pale horse, this time.

They whisper. Some prayers. Others their version of truth, formulated behind the safety of lifted slats on the mini blind. "I just knew he was going to be no good for her. Why, I heard them yelling just the other night." "Did you know, I was told by..." And fifteen seconds in the lens of a camera to fill space on the evening news.

"When we get out of this car, you will see things you hope you never see. It will haunt your dreams and drive you crazy if you let it. Do yourself a favor. That body, it's evidence. Treat it with respect, but at the end of the day, it's evidence," and we are out of the patrol car, our soles wearing thin on sun hot asphalt.

Pill bottle, paper, half a CD, bills due. Plastic confetti glittered from every imaginable piece. A hat, a shoe, pennies, a paperback with a dog eared page. Fluid rainbow rivers running and every car slows to a crawl to take in the chaos of a car wreck. Against one back seat window a little face framed by hands flat on the glass and we are eye to eye and then gone.

This is my first time. Male, age 38, truck driver. From Alabama, by the license in his wallet. His kid's soccer picture tucked behind, orange and black uniform, posed with the ball before the goal. Fell asleep coming down the exit ramp, plowing the concrete center column of the bridge. Maybe he never woke up.

We gather everything, information in paperwork boxes for filing, keep traffic moving and are back in the car, on to the next and that evidence trick...it's like the lie we tell ourselves about leaving work at work...it just doesn't work.

this is a Magpie Tale.

98 comments:

The Silver Fox said...

I suppose it's hard for a lot of people to leave their jobs behind.

My very first ambition was to become a doctor. Then I chickened out, asking myself "What if one of my patients died?"

I was five.

The Silver Fox said...

And I was first, haha...

sharmishtha said...

i think i am not one of them attracted to death, corpses- i usually feel a bit selfish because of my desperation to avoid such scenes.

Wander said...

Brian, I got here early amazingly enough. I love the visceral feel of your story. Death holds such a facination for some, and for others it is the breath whispering from just behind their ear...The first, and only, dead body that I saw still gives me nightmares. Had I anything in my stomach at the time I would have lost it, My body still tried to expel the the emotion from my mouth.


You asked if it was worth it on my piece...Depends who you are asking, the narrator, Subject one(the one holding the stone)or subject two. all three would have a defferent answer.

Arian Tejano said...

You're right.

I changed the tense to present, and here's a great sample to find. I love reading your works. Storyteller's eye.

JANU said...

So much truth....touched!

Cinner said...

I just don't know what it is about people wanting to see or what is the draw to take a look. I find it very unsettling and hope that they are safe....hope you are over your flu like symptoms. feel better.

Wayne Pitchko said...

good one Bryan...thanks for sharing your words

Anyes said...

The fascination of death by the living...Trying to understand it so as not to be scared any more?

Margaret said...

Some prayers. Others their version of truth...

I suppose I do a bit of both. Will NEVER forget an accident we passed in WI... a van with childrens toys, drawing papers, crayons,, all over the street. SMASHED, total wreck. Ambulance already come and gone... My husband and my kids and I were stunned silent (faces and hands to our car window) just started praying... we still pray for that family and we have NO idea what happened. But yes, people on a job like this remember their fist few days...

As always, earthy and real. So, when are you publishing a book? I'd buy.

Leovi said...

Very impressive, yes life is hanging by a thread.

anthonynorth said...

Ah, those pressures we try to ignore. Excellent read.

Kay said...

wonderful piece..chilling....x

Anne said...

We like to view death like we view getting old, as something that happens to other people, but not to us. I saw a headstone recently, one for a man who died at 27 and on it was engraved, "Don't forget, I was once like you" I took a photo of that headstone. I won't forget.

ninotaziz said...

Dear Brian,
When I have conversations with my daughters about death, I remind them of the power of prayers.

As always, I raced to read your words, faster and faster to reach the conclusion.

Sue said...

I think this one will stay with me awhile.

Dave King said...

What a start! And to a write a bit different from your usual - and none the worse for that. You have put your finger on a vital pulse with this one, I feel. Cautionary tale par excellence I am now going back to read it for a third time to see what else is there.

rel said...

It takes a cold heart to leave it at work.
rel

Birdie said...

i'm one of those who are NOT fascinated by dead bodies or death ... i rather want to enjoy my time being alive here on our planet :-) happy days Brian!

ayala said...

A great write !

Zuzana said...

Happy Monday dear Brian.;)
Yes, I could not have an occupation where the line between life and death is so narrow and so reinforced every day.
Your words always paint vivid images in a readers mind.;)
Have a great day dear friend,
xoxo

Valerie said...

I just got back from seeing an accident. Fortunately the young lady was okay, maybe a break somewhere and shock. But other car drivers were curious and the police had to force them to drive on. I drove on without being asked. The motto I live by, based on personal experience, is if you can't help, don't stop and stare.

Tigerbrite said...

Amazing descriptive piece and so true ..
Why people want to gaze on accidents I don't know. I wonder if they give themselves nightmares ?

Laurie Kolp said...

This reminds me of the time when I was growing up that a woman was killed in a car wreck in our front yard. I was the one looking through the slats b/c my parents made me stay inside. Love the title, too, Brian.

Daniel said...

Yeah, I kind of felt this one deep in my bones.

Lorraine said...

sanskrit sates that there is a place (I'm forgetting the word, it'll come back to me) anyhoo those volumes contains the memory of the Universe including every thought, every action, every words shouted or whispered...In the big book of Life, we are naked when the word comes I'll come back it's so stupid I know it like the back of my hand

Pat Hatt said...

As much as we all don't want to look
Many have to if it happens at their nook
Whether to gossip later, which many do
Or just to turn blue
Seems to be a common theme most anywhere
Something bad occurs and it's like sending up a flare
Leaving work at work does work
When I work at a place where I just lurk..lol

izzy said...

Funny how we turn different corners- I really expected you to go a different way- although you are never predictable! I especially love the beginning. On a ride we aren't ready to take just yet! Thanks.

Heaven said...

I was late this morning to the office because there was an early accident in the freeway. Isn't it chilling to see such a scene? You wrote this very well, without being sentimental about death.

the walking man said...

Seen enough of them on the streets, highways, alleys and abandoned houses. and funeral homes to ever want to see another. I will never forget the biker with his boot sticking out from under the blue tarp, we're to cheap for blankets here.

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

Not me. I have to look away and avoid. I can't bear seeing other people's pain.

Lyn said...

"Happy not to hail a ride"...indeed! A great ability to go so deeply into our common experience, our lies..finality..

CiCi said...

People are curious, and many are not curious enough to help or have a job like this one. It would be very difficult to face these kinds of scenes every day just doing a job.

Suz said...

interesting magpie
look at it, look away
doesn't matter

Kathe W. said...

wow- a tiny piece of a job that must be very hard to leave at work.

Brian Miller said...

a few older readers probably remember me writing on this accident...it was the first one i worked...like 15 years ago...but i can still see the guys face...

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for sharing the wisdom Brian. I was fortunate in that my first training officer harped on a similar message about mentatlity--"someone has to be able to do the job no matter what and that someone is you."

My first was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head--m/w in his 20s. His mom found him--and could not be consoled.

Reena Walkling said...

Trying to make sense of senselessness ... very nice.

DCW said...

Truth told in a manner that is matter-of-fact but memorable. A fine skill.

LadyFi said...

Oh gosh ... how very very difficult to deal with this.

Such compassionate writing .. and sad.

Claudia said...

i even find it difficult sometimes to leave my work at work..can't imagine what i would do if i had a job like this.. they deserve high respect for doing such a work..very well written brian..the little face on the backseat pane made my heart stand still

hedgewitch said...

Living in the moment and letting go are two of the hardest things ever--and knowing when to apply and not apply them, even more so, as you show here. Strong narrative, bri.

Magpie said...

Is it ingrained in our dna to try and learn something from another's death? Sad piece and hard work.

tera said...

A lot of people who do what I do say they take the job because they "want to help people". I suspect it is more the fascination with the underbelly. The same reason people watch "COPS" (and "Real Housewives" and "Jersey Shore"...)

I like to think, though, that for some of us, it's to remind us of our frailties, and that we don't live forever, and we better make it count.

Tara Miller said...

Sometimes it's impossible to leave work at work. Especially in your field and in those that directly touch and shape the lives of others. Some of this "work" is not meant to be left at work or else we will implode from not letting it out...

Tammy said...

Brilliantly written. It happens, people fall asleep at the wheel and never come home.

Myrna R. said...

The depth of your writing always leaves me astonished. This one gave rise to so many thoughts about life, death, our fascination with both. So human.

rosaria said...

This is too close for comfort for me. I'm still in fragments, pieces of that puzzle of mine are still missing.

Tess Kincaid said...

How is it we draw more people dead than alive...

manicddaily said...

You make the jump well here between the eagerness of onlookers (from a distance) and the fascination/pain of onlookers upclose. It's a very interesting dichotomy. K.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I have never written about the murder that took place here in the kampground a few years ago. Really, that old adage about any publicity being good publicity ..... not so much. But, it is a story I would love to know more about. I had no interest in seeing the body, I wanted to know the back story behind it. I have since discovered some of it and it begs to be written, but not on my blog that is easily found by campers ......

Mystic_Mom said...

Two words: Wow and More! :-)

Rebecca S. said...

First off, love the coffee poem! Deep dark espresso, long run Americano dream...yes we are young in her (or him).

I like in this death poem how I felt sometimes in an episode of a tv drama and sometimes in a scene from real life. Well crafted.

jabblog said...

Very telling - emergency services at an 'incident' is not something I'd like to be involved in. So many people love to 'rubberneck' at road crashes - it really slows the traffic and doesn't help the police, ambulance and fire crews.

Steve E said...

The easiest, most certain, most painless way to die, I was told, Is to hit a bridge abutment at high rate of speed. Don't really know, never tried it...yet.Last week, lying in the street, I glanced at some of the onlooker Peeps, and had the distinct impression, some wanted to watch me die.

I sure disappointed them folks....

Brian, you have that singular wa y to describe an even, whether the Peeps are alive or dead--as if you have BEEN THERE! Amazing Write-Man you are...................
PEACE!

AmyLK said...

Its amazing the way people crane their necks to see the carnage at an accident. Not me. I don't like Blood and death.

Your words as usual tell an amazing story.

thingy said...

I got a lump in my throat from this. Such a sad piece.

happygirl said...

I used to do autopsies for a living. I was a pathologist's aide for Cook County hosp. I was 19. It took the mystery of death away forever. Your words were spot on. How do you do this?

^.^ said...

Your blog is a lifeline in my life at this point in time, Brendan ... more than you'll ever know ... thank you ... Love, cat.

Stafford Ray said...

Your bits of stroy about what a cop feels is worth developing. The sparse but clear writing that expressed the horror and how they handle it was real to me.
Now I will scroll down to treat myself to a WS1 Poem.

Rae said...

Very thought provoking. I've dealt with death far too many times being a hospital intensive care nurse. It is never easy. I never understood the fascination of bystanders to peek in on it.

G-Man said...

Somebody turn on The Light!
It's a little dark around here today...

Linda said...

I like the contrast between the fantasy of the prompt and the reality of your prose. I enjoyed the short, direct language and the imagery from the details that added to the realism. Nice Work, Brian.... thanks for sharing.

LIZZY said...

Get back in the car..
BACK IN THE CAR!!!!
...Sheesh Brian

FrankandMary said...

We are all always(nearly) adopting & reusing ideas, but this is rather original. I do enjoy your writing, Brian. Some work I can leave at work, that sort, no.

Sheila said...

It no wonder so many cops take to drinking (or so I've heard)

Luke Prater said...

I'd call this prose poetry rather than straight prose - and how wonderful that it is. The first stanza in particular is very poetic in phrasing, aural and visual. Now I know why you called it D'Verse...

Heather said...

Ooh this is a sad one
I'm off to re-read it

Daydreamertoo said...

It is amazing how some have a fascination with death and bodies. It's like we don't want to watch or, be a part of it yet, we need to know what's happening.
This hits all too close to home for me though.
Another amazing write from you.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I saw a movie last year - can't remember the name of it - about a couple of women who cleaned up houses after someone died. They would talk and imagine about the life of the person who was now gone.

♥ Braja said...

Yowza!!

I wonder how many people actually read of death and believe it's going to happen to them?

:)

KB said...

I don't know how people can do those jobs but someone had too.

RD said...

sterility is key...the evidence must remain.......pure

a job better suited for machine, than man

Peace

Who Is Afraid Of Miss Lovett? No, Mrs.Lovett... said...

"Strangers seeking a simple glimpse beyond the pulled back veil, happy not to hail a ride, second saddle on the pale horse, this time..."

Hi! Brian...
The image compliment your very beautiful [poetic,] thought-provoking, and Oh! so true[Magpie Tales:"Fragile Life"]...[words] poem.
Tks, for sharing!
deedee :-(

Christine said...

it is a fragile life, we become numb to the real hardness of death, and yet voyeuristic as we drive by at the same time, interesting write, provocative

Lolamouse said...

So true, Brian. We are somehow drawn to those things that scare and repel us.

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

Each time I pass by an accident, I whisper a prayer for those involved. Those are people with stories to tell!!

Speaking of stories to tell, I told you I'd come by so, I would love for you to email me the answer to this question or post it.

How did your life change after you became a pastor? What led you in a direction away from pastoring. (I know, two questions. smile)

Unknown Mami said...

Leaving work and work just doesn't work...ain't that the truth.

The Empress said...

I couldn't leave this work at work, either.

I am fascinated, fixated, by how things change on a dime.

Today, a mom blogger passed away: 35 yrs old, leaving behind 2 boys: ages 3 and 5.

She posted last week, and now she is gone.

My neighbor passed away Nov 25, after being sick since August. She left behind 14 and 11 yr old girls.


She wouldn've been 45 Dec 8.

A blogging friend of mine lost her son, only 12 yrs old, to a rushing flood. He was only able to attend the first day of school.

It's fascinating because with a snap of a finger, a flip of a coin, we can be snatched up and gone too.

Just fascinating.

Lady In Read said...

like Margaret said, when you publish, I will buy..
as always, your words do not fail at all...

Christine said...

WEll done... you capture the humanity of people when these events occur.

Ginny Brannan said...

Quite the story you have shared here. Our dear friend Paul is a Lieutenant on our local P.D. He has shared very little of what he's seen, except to tell our boys (his and mine were best buddies growing up) about the H.S. kids he's had to extricate from cars, drinking and driving, some just weeks shy of graduation that will never get to wear their cap and gown. People who work as policemen, firemen, EMT's need more credit and recognition for what they do. Empty and thankless when they have to bring such news like this to a family.
As always Brian, well-captured, makes us think and helps us to understand.

Lydia said...

Geez, this is just great. I would swear you had been a cop at some time in your life, this is so real. For some reason this is the line that pulled me into the moment the very best: Against one back seat window a little face framed by hands flat on the glass and we are eye to eye and then gone.

I followed the sounds of many sirens only once in my life, to a town four miles from mine. Came upon a man and woman lying dead in the street. Hope I never see anything like it again.

adeeyoyo said...

Not easy to separate working world from personal world, Brian. I don't know why ppl flock to see accident scenes if they can't help...

Katherine said...

Hello there Brian, I hope you & your little family are all well. That was so magnificently written as usual and it proved to be a very heavy read for me. In some jobs, it is next to impossible to leave work at work. The nature of the type of work that you & I do makes it difficult to switch off when you get home. I think one would have to be made of rock not to think & feel for the lives of those we care for.
I personally don't find anything fascinating about death & I hate to see the pain of others faced with it.... it's just something I will never get used to.
When I pass accidents on the road, I say a prayer. I've done this my entire life. I believe we need to respect the dignity of others at times like this...I for one know that I would not want a thousand eyes upon me when I was at my most vulnerable but I certainly wouldn't mind a few well intentioned prayers in my corner. I love how your stories make others think ... great Magpie.
Sorry I've not been by in some time, I've not been feeling the best but am hopeful that surgery at the end of the month with put things right again for me.

kenny said...

Wow, it's really good! Ended up in places I hadn't seen at the start.

I found a 'magpie' I thought you might like.

http://awakenedwords.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/roses/#comment-728

william said...

In the field you work in Brian it is hard to separate the workplace from personal life, but I think you find a fine balance..

Helen said...

Yes ... this is thought provoking. I didn't think I could handle the death of my mother, however as she slipped away I cradled her in my arms as I would have held one of my children .. it was an intense and beautiful moment.

tracy said...

Brian, this is remarkable. I was sitting here reading and thinking "Wow" and then I got to the middle and I went "WOW'. You wowed me.

Doc FTSE said...

Great first line. You sure know how to hook the reader.

myheartslovesongs said...

whoa! your matter-of-fact cataloging of the truck driver's belongings... then the image of the little face... then the photograph of his son...

very poignant!

brilliantly written, as always!

Helena said...

This gets a Hey! Hey! Wonderful piece, Brian, covering both dignity and reality within.

I've said my farewells to many a friend or family corpse but I'd struggle with a child. Any child.

Katherine Krige said...

The last lines are the most telling one here,
"it's like the lie we tell ourselves about leaving work at work...it just doesn't work"

Knowing that it happened many years before, gives reason why there is less graphics, but you can still feel the underlying tension that just won't go away.

Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil said...

Oh, man, this was brutal in some ways. The naked truth of some kinds of employment... yet you laid it out so factually. Impressive. Am watching "Departures," about a Japanese cellist who changes jobs and begins to learn the ceremonial preparation of the dead in traditional Japanese style... funny the timing, and I'll finish the movie tomorrow. Check it out! Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/emotional-dyslexic/

HyperCRYPTICal said...

Wonderful write Brian and it would be a cold soul who did not bring this kind of work home.

Anna :o]

PattiKen said...

Powerful, Brian. When I was about nine years old, I was traveling with my father on a highway when we came upon a terrible accident. One of the vehicles was a pick-up truck, the truck bed loaded with migrant workers. We were the first to arrive. My father was a US Public Health officer with medical training and he stopped to see if he could help. When he got back in the car, he was covered in blood. It's not something I'll ever forget.

ds said...

Terrible when the pale horse takes a rider. I like your sensitive, observant cop (the face in the car window held between two hands--superb). Do you think we could see more of him? Although I like ALL of your stories. Tremendously.
Thank you.

Mimi Foxmorton said...

I always love what you write.

Beautiful insight.

The Collage Pirate