by Susan Henderson

Knees first, then head, he fell to the sidewalk, his yellow hard hat spinning beside him like a tossed coin. A paper lunch bag crushed beneath him, then emptied out a can of soda, which rolled to the curb. I watched the man from my high school's parking lot, where I had been slouched on the bumper of a car, cramming for a test. He lay there so still as I watched--closer and closer until my tennis shoe touched his dirty work pants.

My finger marked my place in my Physics textbook: Gravitation. My test was next period. I knelt beside the young man, started to roll him with my free hand, unsure about touching him and overwhelmed by the smell of bananas--he would have had one for lunch, and a Mountain Dew. I turned toward his lips, they were dry and parted, his face caked with dirt the color of mustard, so thick on his hands, I mistook them for gloves.

I could see he shaved that morning. His front tooth was chipped, fillings golden. I thought his mouth smelled foul, noticed the relaxing of the cracks around his frown, never met his eyes. One by one, a crowd gathered, all stopping to look at the man, at each other, asking "Why doesn't anybody do something?" "Doesn't anyone know CPR?"

I knew CPR. I practiced it on a plastic fellow last summer at the pool. I tilted the head back, blew into a clean red mouth piece, blew through laughter and pretend kisses, and the dummy's chest rose easily. He was saved, I passed the test.

I knew I could not breathe into this man. I just didn’t want death on my lips. And my head was filled with Physics, too many formulas in there to remember how many breaths and how many pumps to the chest, and which go first. I wondered if I had enough breath even for myself.

Putting my hand to my mouth, I breathed to feel some life. It was there, in gallons. Suddenly I felt the spin of the earth, my Physics book being pulled to the ground, my finger squashed in the pages. I stood and circled the body, aware that my finger hurt, I was hungry, I hated bananas, and oh no, my test.

Over his body, I opened my Physics book just enough to see a formula. I practiced calculating the velocity at which his head hit the ground, by guessing its mass and the distance that it fell. Reciting the formula again and again in my head, I moved quickly toward the school, hoping I might still pass my test.

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