Dolores, nearing the end of her second ambulance shift of the week, sits in a plastic lawn chair outside the back of the fire station. Between calls she often hangs around there, away from the television in the common room, which is always tuned at high volume to some story of calamity. Everything is terrible, Dolores knows it well enough.
The fire station stands on the corner of two streets. A break in the perimeter’s chain link fence allows pedestrians to cut to the back of the fire station, though people rarely use it, which is why Dolores stirs when she sees a woman lifting the gate’s latch and walking through.
The woman is around thirty years old—a little younger than Dolores—and heavyset, wearing beat-up sneakers, leggings, and a hoodie printed with an armor-clad knight, the logo of the high school up the road. Dolores has yanked up plenty of these hoodie sleeves taking pulses and injecting Narcan into kids around town. She stops about five feet away from Dolores and shoves both hands at once into the big center pocket at her waist. Dolores detects anguish in her pale face, in the networks of premature wrinkles around her eyes. Pinkish-brown freckles blotch her forehead and cheeks. She’s mousy, Dolores thinks, aware of the minor cruelty in thinking so. But it’s okay, Dolores is mousy, too.
“Can I help you?” Dolores says.
Dolores recognizes the woman but can’t place her. It’s a small town, just a few thousand people there. Dolores figures she’s seen everybody’s face by now—sometimes bloody, sometimes bloated, sometimes white as a fresh coat of paint on a picket fence.
“Do you work here?” the woman says in the thick accent of western New York, all her vowels straight through her nose.
Dolores nods. “I’m a medic. Well, an EMT. A volunteer.”
“I need to see somebody about that ambulance parked out front,” the woman says, her voice small and sad. “Please, I need to get inside.”
The determination in her tone unsettles Dolores. Behind them, the door flaps open and Ted, one of the staff paramedics, steps out. Dolores spins around.
“Dispatch,” he says. He looks at the woman and back to Dolores, then he serves his what-the-fuck face: a slackened jaw revealing a mouthful of black fillings like birdshot. All of his body fat is concentrated in the small paunch straining his American flag belt buckle. Dolores has never understood what gives Ted the right to be so condescending.
“Well? We got a call, Dolores. Let’s move it.”
Dolores turns to apologize to the woman, but she’s already halfway across the lawn, her back turned, scurrying away like an animal commanded to shoo.