The scent of ozone pushes from where the lightning has split the air, across the fields and woods, against my face, through my nostrils, and flat against the uncontrollable part of my brain.
The woods are empty and stunningly soft in the last light of this evening as the season's first thunderstorm rolls in from the big lake and until certain gray matter is attacked by this smell in this light I am slipping into a quiet trance.
Roger was the guy you wanted to work with on a night like this and Colin was off and so was Joey and so I said, "you and me pal," because it was one of those glorious early warm days when the plantings in Bronx Park were starting to pop and Roger, who had turned an Iowa State football scholarship into a degree in Botany of all things before coming home and being a cop. A cop who knew the names of all the plants, who could describe everything about what grew along the banks of the Bronx River or take you on Mr. Wizard-quality tours of the salt marshes where the Hutchinson River met the Sound. And on an afternoon like this, with so much to see if the radio would cooperate, I used my "I went to college in the Midwest too" line to get the partner I wanted.
I stand frozen at the tree line, caught out of time, and trying to pull down the personal control menus I need at moments like this. "Stay in the present," the shrinks all say. "Remind yourself of where you are." But that is the problem. Where am I?
The call had interrupted a deep lesson in the differences between natural flora of the type that flourished along the unkempt riverbed and the survivors of the deliberate plantings of those early twentieth century urban idealists who had designed a middle-class wonderland with pseudo rustic parks never more than six blocks from any apartment. No. Not really. First the explosions of lightning and thunder had interrupted that, sending those in the park scampering back into the neighborhood and, in the way of sudden storms, turning a slow Tuesday evening into a momentarily silent one.
Part of my brain is working. Part of it is. I'm working to recall other spring moments. Peaceful spring moments. Elegant spring moments. Transcendent spring moments. Surely I have lived some of those. But it is a hard fight. Once certain buttons are pushed...
"Dispute, the downtown platform at Gun Hill and White Plains," and we'd gone, lights and siren in hopes they'd hear it and disappear but it was boyfriend-girlfriend and they were passionate, I suppose, and were focused on each other and screaming and hitting at the far end of the platform and even our approach made no difference: of course not, she was being accused of sleeping with someone else and he was being accused of being an asshole and the rain was pouring down and Roger tried to talk to her pushing them apart and I tried to talk to him, pushing him the other way, and lightning flashed and the ozone smell rose up and suddenly I got scared and turned to see if Roger was OK.
It was a little knife the guy stuck into me in the moment my back was to him. It was little but it was sharp and he got me on the side where the vest didn't cover, and it hurt beyond belief but as he tried to run past me and she screamed I tripped him as I fell and Roger, thinking much faster than me pistol-whipped him, knocking him out so he wouldn't move as he came to help me and the bitter taste of too much adrenaline bit into my mouth and I heard Roger yelling into the radio and I think now I heard a siren but if I did it was probably unrelated, and then I suppose I was out.
In the woods I am soaking wet. The scene has played itself out. There might be the antique sound of a needle scratching against the end of a vinyl record or a film flapping free from a projector. I am not awakening in a hospital bed, but here, at the tree line, in the stunningly soft woods. It is today. I walk slowly back to the house. Go inside. Dry off.
copyright 2005-2006 by Ira Socol
a slight re-write of a piece from a year ago