by Oscar Anon
Obvious Signs of Death
Jamal is sweaty and dense, round as a pie. He moves as though he is pulling his feet out of thick mud. After a few days of EMT class he is visibly in love with me, his pie face glowing softly as he turns his shining pie eyes to me, which he does every few minutes, sure of my ability to unlock the mysteries of the world. Today is compression day which should take only forty-five minutes but since there are ninety students in the class and eighty-nine of them are not the sharpest tacks in the box it will take us four hours, until lunch, and then after lunch we will have to review, and then it will be time to go home. At the break yesterday Jamal brought his registration packet to me, all twenty-four pages, and said, What does this say? and I looked at it and then at him and then I took it, as though I were going to read it out loud to him, and then I said, It doesn’t really say anything at all. You know it’s, like, not your responsibility, says my roommate Savannah, bugging out her eyes in the mirror and drawing thick black arcs across the lids. There’s, like, only so much you can do for people, and you’re, like, paying for this class too. Just don’t, you know, sit next to him tomorrow. She looks at her pumpkin-colored mouth for a long time and I look at her face in the mirror and wonder how I got here, to this moment, in this bathroom, in this life. Do you think this is, like, too orange? I don’t think I can wear orange, I can’t believe I bought this lipstick, it cost sixteen dollars, can you believe I bought it? I should have made them put it on me in the, like, store.
Later I call my father and tell him about the earnest and gentle face of Jamal. It took me a long time to explain the registration packet to him, I say. And then I realized he can’t read, I say. Amy, says my father, Amy, I am so proud of you. I could see my father in my head, rheumy and wheezing, wedged into his favorite chair and wearing a weeks-dirty shirt. I could see him pouring himself a drink, and then another, and then just one more. But I’m not sure I’m going to have time to help him every day, I say. I mean, there’s a lot of homework and stuff. It’s not like he can do the reading, I say. Amy, my father says, I think it is a wonderful thing that you are sharing your many gifts with this young man.
The next day I sit next to Jamal again.