Keeping Count

by Jennifer Meade

(A beat cop wrestles with the haunting memories of lives he didn’t save while adding another loss to his list.)

The signature on the bottom of the Incident Report is barely legible, it’s consonants jagged with my exhaustion. Tap, tap, tap goes my pen at the end of the Y, beating a rhythm I need to find my breath. The station is hollow with fluorescence and waiting.

Seven.

A lucky number.

“When are you going to introduce us?” Number Two shoves what’s left of his face through the report, unseeing eyes fixed on mine. I crease the paper up over the hole in his cheek from his brother’s shotgun. He slips the rest of the way through the desk, drawn upwards as I sit back.

“Overdose,” Two says. The words of my report slip through his pale skin like oil through water. “Such a problem in this county.”

I lean back, staring at the ceiling. A light spasms, its bulb well past the replacement date. Cohen should be in from her patrol with her arrest soon.

“Boring. Drugs are a stupid way to go.” Six sprawls on the floor beneath Cohen’s desk, across the aisle from mine. She writhes, standing.

I shift, spinning my chair to the side so I don’t have to see where the car ran over her midsection.

My coffee cup is as red as the stains smearing her legs. I grab it anyways. Four more hours in the shift. One cup and then back out before the quiet brings more ghosts.

Three hovers near the pot. He presses his hand against the heat pad on the coffeemaker, his skin already burnt black. He says nothing, just watches me, eyes the only part of his face not sloughing off.

I scoop coffee. The dry rustle of the grounds sounds like his skin as he mirrors my movements.

“It’s not stupid,” Five says. “Overdose is a splendid idea. I’ll finally have someone normal to look at, unlike the rest of you broken freaks.” She sways beneath the flag hanging by the Captain’s door. Her left arm is skewed the wrong way; her forehead is caved in around a half-moon shape.

I found Five’s car on the graveyard shift. Back road, past the Michalski farm. Beautiful during the day, with sheep dotting the fields and sycamores holding up the sky. Wrapped around one of the biggest, her car was, with her forehead smashed into the steering wheel. Her blood was the same bright red as the bottle of wine smashed and dripping down her dash.

I’m not thirsty anymore.

Four sits in my chair grinning at me. “Were you five minutes late for him too?” she croaks through ruined vocal chords. The rope didn’t stay but its mark around her neck did. My eyes trace the scar.

Minutes, each of them.

I’d kill for a station full of rooks right now. Noisy, wigging, pink-cheeked rookies who can’t decide if patrol is the high of their lives or the way they’re going to die.

I stopped being a rook when I realized it didn’t matter if I die, the beat’s going to kill me anyway.

“Have you told your wife about us yet?” Two asks. He sinks through the screen of my laptop, making it flicker and jerk.

I haven’t told anyone. My head feels heavy in my hands. Hi, honey, I’m home. If I’d turned right instead of left at the stop sign, I’d have saved a teenager dying on the sidewalk tonight. Maybe next time, right?

“Shame, that,” Two said. I could feel him near my hand, his cold seeping into my fingers. “I’d like to meet her someday.”

Five cackles from her perch on top the flag post. “Are you daft? Keeping silent is the only way he’s going to get out of the murder charge when he finally snaps.”

A tug on my shirt spreads ice through my chest. I press my palms into my eyes, focusing on the red sunbursts from the pressure. Number One was a little girl with lips shaped like saltwater taffy, plump in the middle and with a twist on both ends. A little girl with her hair braided down her back in a thick, crimson braid the same color as Five’s face.

“If he did say something,” Two counters, “he could plead insanity.”

The tug grows more insistent. I stand and my chair topples behind me. “If I say something, they’ll force me to quit!”

The station door slams. Cohen bursts in, shoving someone cuffed in front of her. “What’s that, Allenby?” She tugs the man’s bound hands up for fingerprinting. “Getting fired for selling crack on the side? Watch it—” she elbows her suspect, “—Officer Allenby’s going to push you and your janky weed out with the good stuff.”

“I like her,” Seven says, bloodshot eyes latched on Cohen. His normalcy is harder to look at than the tattered edges of the others. He should be alive still. Would be if I’d been a minute or two faster with the Narcan.

“Guard your tongue,” I say to Cohen and Seven. She winks at me and pulls her man to the holding cell, hooking his cuffs to the bar on the wall. He jerks at it lazily. Three erratically mimics his movements, his arms fading in and out of view. Raw skin flashes through black.

Cohen glances at the report on my desk, looking right through Two. She lets out a slow whistle. “How many now?” She doesn’t look at me.

“Seven,” I say.

She touches my shoulder, her grip warm. “And how many saved?”

I feel the tug on my jacket again and look down.

Innocent eyes look up, saltwater taffy lips perfect except for the dark blue. “Three hundred and twelve, daddy,” One whispers.

I nod, shrugging out from under Cohen’s hand. “I don’t keep count.”

(Bio: Jenni Meade is a writer, construction company owner, and mother of four with an imperfect heart and cluttered dreams. She can be found at her author’s page.)
https://freedtothrive.com/

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