The flashing lights of the ambulance got smaller and smaller until they disappeared into the hellish night. The sirens shrank lower and lower until all that was heard was the sound of unintelligible chatter, my own breathing and the tears falling to the pavement. There was a crowd of people, some had participated in the brawl and some were attracted by the crowd outside of the bar. Some people want to know the story because they’re concerned and others just like to watch suffering. Some just like to feel informed, as if they’re connected to the event, or just plain washwomen shit.
Uniformed police were in and out of the bar. Detectives in expensive suits with badges hooked on to their belts made rounds, questioning all the people we fought against. I couldn’t tell you any of the names of the cops who tried to talk to me except one, asking me my role in tonight’s events. The detective was named Jacovino, he didn’t talk to me like I was a perp unlike my usual encounters with the police. I was certain a cop or two there that night had previously locked up Ozzy and me a few years before. Not that that mattered. It didn’t matter then and it most certainly didn’t fucking matter now, maybe never.
I wanted to call Maeve. I wanted to tell her what happened. I was unraveling and needed to speak with someone, someone I trusted to some degree, I didn’t trust anyone completely. Who could you trust? How could you? Maeve was a good listener and she cared about me. She cared about Ozzy as well. She would be just as upset. Sometimes you need to vent, to unload these negative emotions, to unbottle yourself. I thought against calling her. I wished Kenny wasn’t in Ireland. Kenny was three thousand miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, with a five hour time difference Kenny may have been sound asleep in his bed. I hoped he was. I hoped he was safe and having pleasant dreams while I was in the midst of a nightmarish experience.
Ozzy got this I thought, no problem, no need to worry. We knew plenty of people who had been stabbed and they all lived and Ozzy was tougher than them. This was nothing. Ozzy was a beast, a fucking mack truck, an animal in the most complimentary sense of the term. He was solid, one of the most forcible individuals I had ever known. Mentally and physically Ozzy could conquer anything in his path. He was hard-nosed, especially when it came to his decisions on certain matters. If he didn’t like a person, he wouldn’t budge, he was never going to change direction on that. He always stood firmly by his principles. He was not a quitter. So why would I even doubt him? It was undeniable that something inside my heart felt awfully wrong. I thought to myself, if something was wrong, was death easier to accept if it occurred all of a sudden rather than knowing it was coming? Their answer is that the death of a loved one was horrible and tragic either way. There was never an easy way to endure that kind of loss. Why was I thinking about death? I guess I always did.
Before the ambulance carted Ozzy off to the hospital, he started to look worrisome, paler than he was a few moments before. I knew he wanted me to stay with him, but the EMTs said the patient or victim, under normal circumstances I would never address Ozzy as a victim, but in this case Ozzy was the victim of extreme cowardice, and could only be accompanied by a family member. I took two steps back, after Martin climbed in, so they could close the back doors of the dirty ambulance.
Family is a tricky thing. We were a family, in our own way but not legitimately, not on paper and not in blood, but that was irrelevant. Martin escorted him, as he rightfully should have. Martin was his brother, but what harm would have come if I rode with them? There was room. I knew that he would want us both there with him to wherever that ride took him. It brought to mind Emily Dickinson and that poem that Maeve loved of hers. The ambulance was death’s carriage taking Ozzy away, never to return. Death stopped for him when he should have stopped for me. How many times must I tell you that it should have been me?
Martin had driven to the bar in his father’s revered pickup, so he gave Viggo the keys and he drove me and Philip to the hospital to meet them. We were told not to leave but we left anyway. If they really wanted us the cops could come and arrest us at the hospital. No one spoke a word during the entire car ride. I sat at the window and Philip sat bitch. I looked up at the passing streetlights and watched the exhaling breath of the trees, and reflected on how I hadn’t touched Ozzy the whole time he stood before us bleeding out in the bar. No hugs. No embrace. No reassurances.
The rest of that night was spent in the crowded waiting room at Booth Memorial or sitting on the dirty floors of the halls. We had all been there before to get stitched up and have gotten casts for various broken bones. We snacked on vending machine garbage, and sipped on a flask, while waiting for him to come out of surgery. When Mr. Craven got to the hospital it was the worst feeling seeing the look on his face. Martin had called him and said little, he told his father that Ozzy had been stabbed and was admitted to Booth. That was all.
Mr. Craven’s stomach dropped at the sound of the phone ringing. There is a delicate span of time and in that span when the phone rings it never sounds for anything good. The only solace Mr. Craven had with the news he was given was the hospital was better than others in the area. Otherwise, no parent wants to get that call at the witching hour that only brings forth bad news. A parent’s worst thoughts are actualized by the trumpeting of telephones, in the darkest hours of doomed nights. Mr. Craven looked as if he aged years in the time since he hung up the phone and during the cab ride that brought him to us. He looked sallow under the poor lighting of the hall’s fluorescent bulbs. His hair looked grayer and thinner, and his eyes looked gaunt. He always carried himself in a way that appeared strong and in that hallway he looked frail, he had been pierced and filled with hell.
I felt incredibly guilty, as If I stabbed Ozzy myself. We all shared that guilt and it would grow to a monolithic scale. One of the hardest things I’d ever had to do in my life is look at that man, who was also like a father to me, in the eyes and have no answer to his question. He never said anything to make us feel any worse than we already did, but then again he didn’t have to. His eyes said everything. We asked ourselves all of those questions. Where were we when Ozzy got stabbed? Why was it only him? How did we let this happen? Did we get the person responsible? Could all this have been avoidable? When will we grow up? Not a single question seemed unreasonable to me. Ozzy was our brother and we let him down. The self-reproach that stoked inside me must not have compared to the iniquity Martin must have housed in his heart.
The wheels of the hospital’s beds and the nurse’s sneakers squeaked on the stained marble tiles, mopped with a bucket of lemon scented cleaner and dirty water. The incessant beeping and hum of machinery. The rustling of patients’ charts and lab coats as the doctors made their rounds. The soft whispers of bad news being delivered to family members and the receiving howl of mothers. I wanted my truck tire. I wanted to unload on it, until it was smashed into smithereens. I wanted the whole world to become my truck tire.
Then Ozzy’s doctors appeared out of different rooms but all told the same sad story. Ozzy was gone. They offered their condolences and they meant it, but what does condolences do for a grieving family, nothing. They explained that there were major complications regarding his wounds, that Ozzy had lost a devastating amount of blood which they couldn’t replenish fast enough, in the end the damage was irreparable. Ozzy was pronounced dead as we stood in those hallways hoping for the best. It is such a weird, morbid notion to pronounce someone dead. Ozzy would never be pronounced man and wife, only deceased. How many things was Ozzy cheated from partaking in, robbed from experiencing? Cassette tapes had a longer lifespan than Ozzy Craven. How fucked was that? How fucking unfair could life be? It should have been me.
That night would forever be implanted in my memory like the name and date etched into the face of a marble headstone.
Ozzy had gone toward the front of the bar when the fight broke out. I wished I had gone with him. Maybe things would have turned out differently. The kid who caught the first punch from Viggo and took a knee, rose up and charged at Ozzy after swiping a bottle from a table within arm’s reach. He was tall, tan skinned and frail looking. His name was irrelevant. He broke the bottle over Ozzy’s face, Ozzy ate it like the champion that he was, he then lunged forward and grabbed the kid, in a sort of bear hug Ozzy lifted the kid up over his head and slammed him hard to the ground. Ozzy fell on top of him, but quickly propped himself up with his right hand and punched repeatedly with a heavy left hand. Knuckles to cheek bone. Knuckles smashed into the soft cartilage of the nose. Hand to eye socket. Ozzy was paying back for the bottle. He meted out some punishment but that too was also cut short.
Carlton could have done things differently. There were options. He could have tried to remove Ozzy and break up the fight. He could have jumped in, thrown a punch, some swift kicks, any of us would have understood where he was coming from, we’ve all been there. Who hasn’t jumped in on a one on before? Ozzy did appear to have the upper hand. We could even excuse the bottle. No one was going to die. No one was frightened by a little blood. Just a good old fashioned bar brawl. Cowboy shit.
Carlton brought the knife into the bar because he was a coward. He removed the knife from his pocket and while Ozzy was preoccupied and unaware, Carlton lifted up Ozzy’s sweatshirt as if it would not penetrate through the fabric, and plunged the knife into Ozzy in three quick hard stabs. Carlton made a willful decision. When the fighting subsided, and we noticed Ozzy’s bloody face we came running and that was when we noticed the knife for the first time, thinking that Carlton had simply drawn the weapon and not in fact used it on Ozzy. The crime was committed. The damage was pending. Three darts and three wounds changed our lives forever. It was an action that necessitated a reaction. We had botched our revenge. We had to think this through. For what died a son of Queens? Nothing. For absolutely nothing.
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