It was a scary call.
“People are people trying to get in my house,” the woman told dispatch.
Dispatch gave me the address and cranked up my poor old 2001 Impala. I had to, I felt like, because it was an elderly woman and someone was trying to get in her house.
Dispatch called back. “30?”
“She said there are people in her house. Trying to get in and also in.”
I pressed the car a bit faster.
“They’re by her bed. They’re trying to set her on fire.”
Oh, my Holy God.
I cranked the hell outta that damned car, teed it up way past what the administration probably thought prudent.
And I don’t care how fast that car was going, it wasn’t fast enough. The flashing lights were flashing enough and the siren damned sure wasn’t loud enough. Nothing short of Scotty’s transporter on the Enterprise was going to be enough.
When I got there – and it seemed like hours later – I parked down the lane from the isolated farmhouse and approached as quietly as I could.
I heard nothing. No screams. No pleas. No flames. Nothing.
And standing on the front porch: her husband.
I went in, introduced myself, and went straight to the woman. She was bedridden, cancer eating away her skull from the inside out. She had a patch over her left eye, along with some staples or stitches or something. That eye was milky and clouded and moving of its own accord rather than in sync with the right eye.
I thought she was going to cry. “I’m so ashamed. I can’t believe I did that.”
“Did what, ma’am?”
“Well, there was someone in your house. You should have called.”
Her husband shook his head. He’d told me that he’d been at the store getting some things. He got back and she was hysterical. He’d found no one in the house and when I asked if she wanted me to check, she said no.
“See, it’s those pills.”
“Well, my home nurse told me they might give me hallucinations, but I didn’t believe her. I took two before she left, but it still hurt so I took another one. Those men trying to set me on fire were as real as you are standing there.”
“What kind of pills, ma’am?” I asked.
“Vicodin,” she said, a tiny grin playing at the corners of her mouth.
“Ah,” I said. “Yep, those’ll play with you.”
“Have you had them?”
“No, ma’am, but my wife took some once. Gave her hallucinations so bad she thought I was good-looking AND rich.”
The woman laughed so hard I thought blood and pus and God knows what all else would start leaking from the cut above her eye. Just the thought of that scared me half to damn death.
Her good eye rolled around and caught me. “I’m really sorry, I should have known they were playing with me.”
“Well, you call anytime, whether you think it’s real or not.”
Then we were done. I asked the husband one last time if he wanted me to check out the house.
“No, we’re fine.”
No, they weren’t. She is in a hospital bed in the living room, a bandage around most of her head, a wound over her left eye that probably leaks fluid, that same eye completely useless. A small house that once have been mighty fine, but was no just forgotten and left to rot. Not much food that I saw, sad and tired clothes, a truck with more rust than an abandoned Indiana steel mill.
They were not fine, and there was noting I could do for them. My job, that day, was to solve their problem…that day. Short term. There was nothing long term I could offer.
For all I know, sitting here on July 8, she might already be dead. I’ve not kept up with her and in fact, can’t even remember her name. I just remember how embarrassed she was to have to call me, how she almost tossed some tears because she was so embarrassed.