Doc in a Box

Sometimes stories present themselves.

It was just past 11am, Sunday, a sunny, beautiful day. They were leaning against the railing that separated the sidewalk from the train tracks, a middle-aged woman with a sallow face and a similarly-aged man in a polo shirt.

"Are you from around here?" the woman asked. Her face was weirdly calm. She was holding her forearm at an odd angle.

"Uh," we said, but we stopped walking.

"I think I might have broken my arm," she said. Some part of me had instinctively avoided looking down. There, in the middle of her forearm, was an uneven ridge, three or four inches long, purple and swollen. It looked like an eggplant was sprouting from her arm.

"Our ride's coming," she said, nodding back to the street. Somehow I doubted that this was true. "Can you tell me where there's a doc-in-a-box?"

I didn't really know where to direct her--what exactly is a doc-in-a-box? I half expected to point to a dumpster and see a man with a stethoscope emerge. So many questions. I directed her to the clinic across the way and she smiled and nodded, cradling her arm closer to her chest.

"Have a nice day," she said.

We kept walking, and the further we got from her, the more I kicked myself for not getting the full story. They were positioned just so on the train tracks--maybe they had hitched a ride on the Starlight and she'd barrel-rolled out the side? And what had happened to their mysterious driver? Had someone dropped them off on one street, and they'd somehow gotten ensnared in some urban imbroglio by the next street? I could just imagine their driver, a flustered familiar, maybe a niece or nephew, rolling up alongside their aunt and uncle and sputtering, "But I JUST dropped you off!"

Michelle was with us and she pointed out that their clothes were not too soiled; perhaps they had not jumped the train but rather been jumped by someone. "That arm was broken hours ago," she said. "They had to sleep it off, whatever it was."

All the potential explanations swirled in my head for the rest of the day. It was Choose-Your-Own-Adventure reversing in my mind. Surely there was some simple explanation for it; she probably just stepped off the curb wrong. There was something to the very ordinariness of it all; as if this was the kind of thing one did on any given Sunday--leaned casually against a fence along the train tracks, nursing an arm the size and shape of a small eggplant.

By the time we had walked back at the end of lunch, the couple was gone. It gave me pause. Maybe their ride had come. Maybe they found a box with a doc in it.

Or maybe, they'd hitched a ride on the next train out of town. I think I hear it now.