By Kathleen Latham
They found Moby’s body in the middle of Dover Road. He was lying on his back, one muddy boot tucked beneath his truck, his left arm resting on the yellow lane divider. Eyes open, mouth askew, as if wondering how the hell he got there. There was some talk later that he had to have known something was wrong. Dover Road isn’t the kind of street you stop in the middle of, not with all its blind curves and treacherous pines standing where there should be sidewalk. I didn’t know Moby well, but personally, I think he felt death coming. I think he sensed whatever horrible thing was about to go wrong in that heart of his, and he lept from his truck with the idea that he could outrun it.
Jim Donohue was the first on the scene—big, beefy Jim with his red face and his red hair, the kind of guy you see a million times hanging out at the rink or pumping gas, and you think he’s nice enough but probably not a rocket scientist.
Jim and Moby worked together at the Department of Public Works. They were heading for the same clogged storm drain on Pond Street, but Jim had gotten a later start. He’d hung back a bit at the Carby Street office, drinking coffee and talking to the younger boys about the Bruins’ latest collapse. Maybe because Moby knew how long Jim could talk once the subject got around to hockey, he grabbed a truck and headed out alone. It was a good ten minutes before Jim followed—ten minutes, though no one could really say for sure because Moby was that kind of guy, the kind that slips away when nobody’s looking. And Jim was the kind that just keeps talking.
I imagine the first thing Jim saw when he took the corner from Carby to Dover was that ugly, hunter green DPW truck idling in the middle of the road, its tailpipe streaming exhaust like an abandoned cigarette. I imagine him tapping his brakes and frowning, his brain trying to puzzle out what he was seeing—the stopped truck, the open door. Maybe he even said something like, What the— before his eyes dropped and he spotted the brown-shirted heap, flat-backed on the pavement.
By the time help arrived, Jim had been doing CPR for a while. I can picture him kneeling in the road, those powerful hands of his pumping Moby’s already-lifeless chest, his desperation and guilt about lingering over his morning coffee fueling his arms, driving them like pistons while he begged Moby to breathe.
He refused to give up. That’s what they say. He refused to stop pumping, even after the town paramedics got there and tried to take over. Max Smith had to pull him off and order him to stand by the police cruiser so the paramedics could do their job. He says Jim just stood there, the knees of his work pants dusted white with salt and sand, his barrel chest heaving while the paramedics barked out orders and went at Moby like they could prod him back to life with needles and tubes.
For most people in town, the story ends there. Moby collapsed. Jim couldn’t save him. The end.
But the thing I think about, the thing no one talks about, is what happened after they took Moby away, after the police and firemen climbed back into their rigs—ashen, shaken—after all the other drivers who had stopped to watch resumed the journeys they had been on before Moby’s death got in the way, what did Jim do then?
Did he stand defeated, arms at his sides? Did he get back in his truck and take his fury out on the steering wheel? Or was it the way I picture it. Big Jim, alone in the middle of the road, staring at those hands of his, shocked at the weight of their betrayal.
We all know Jim did the best he could. Chances are Moby would have died even if Jim had been trailing right behind him. But still. You can see the way it weighs on him. The way it weighs on the town. Maybe that’s why when we see him at the rink now or the Mobil station he looks away, as if we’ve caught him doing something wrong. As if the shame of it is just too much.
Or maybe not.
Maybe Jim sleeps like a baby. Maybe he still takes his time with his coffee and talks about hockey and whenever someone says Moby’s number must have been up, he nods along as if that’s the only conclusion a right-minded person could come to. Never mind that people survive heart attacks all the time if someone starts CPR right away. I don’t know.
The story’s got nothing to do with me. I understand that. But that doesn’t keep me from wondering. From stealing glances at Jim’s hands—those big, strong hands that can tie skates and lift manholes and fix just about anything. I wonder if he thinks of that day every time he does one of these simple actions. I wonder if he looks at those hands and thinks, I thought I knew you.
I know I would. I’d like to think so, anyway. I’d like to think being that close to death does something to a man, that it leaves some kind of invisible weight that makes your hands shake when you drink your morning coffee. Because isn’t that the way it should be?
Shouldn’t we want our pivotal failures to cost us something, some price that sets us apart from the front lawn voyeurs and rush hour rubberneckers snaking past an event that has already lost its meaning?
I hope I see his hands shake one of these days. I hope I see a lace snap or a set of keys fumble.
Just to prove something. Just to know it matters.