ALL THESE STREETS ARE HILLS — David Amadio

And though I am rosy and hale, I am no Sisyphus. I understand that you are desperate, that you are in a tight spot, but I cannot help you. My time is valuable, more valuable than you can imagine. I don’t lend it out to just anyone. Besides, we hardly know one another. Until two minutes ago, you didn’t even exist to me. How do you expect a complete stranger to perform a job that not even a trusted friend would bother to attempt? You need to exercise more discretion in matters of this sort. You can’t just walk up to a man on the street and lay your troubles in his lap. Your intuition should have told you that I am not a charitable person. Is mine the face of a benefactor? No. You thought because I glanced at you in your helplessness that I’d be willing to halt the course of my day to take up your suffering. You were wrong. I have a meeting with a group of very powerful people and if I am late I will never hear the end of it from my supervisor, a ruthless man who flinches not at suffering. Yes, I see that you are bleeding and cannot walk. And yes, I know that the hospital is only a few blocks away. But all these streets are hills, and though I am well-built and in perfect health, I cannot carry you. The burden would be too great. 160, you say? Light as a feather? Impossible. Your clothes alone must weigh twenty pounds. I’m sorry, I have to go. The meeting will be starting soon. Please don’t tug at my sleeve. And don’t cry. You’re making a spectacle of us both. Is self-control so hard to come by these days? Since when did everything become intolerable? Perhaps the car that hit you will come back around and you can ask the driver for a ride to the hospital. He might agree to it, out of guilt. Or contact the police. I’m sure the police can help. Look, you’re standing, you’re up on your feet, there’s hope for you yet. Watch yourself, now. That’s it. You’re doing great. The hospital is that way. Just tell them what happened and they’ll take it from there. What are you doing? Why are you climbing onto my back? I told you that I am in no position to be—not my neck! If you’re going to do it, put your hands on my shoulders. And here, give me your legs. Move up some. That’s better. If I’m to be saddled with you, let me at least be comfortable. I can carry you only as far as the emergency room door, then you’re on your own. A line must be drawn. I will not allow you to further imperil me. And breathe the other way, your mouth is rotten. Tell the nurses to brush your teeth before they discharge you. And my suit: I’ll have to have it cleaned and pressed before the week is out. Yes, I know which way to go. I’m on intimate terms with these streets. I know what is required of a man to walk them, how hard it is to get from one place to another. But you wouldn’t know anything about that. The man society forgot. He who solicits compassion receives only crumbs. Compassion must be earned—and not by accident. Good, there is the hospital at the top of the hill. The muscles in my thighs are crying out. The bleeding has stopped, you say? Wonderful. You’re already on the road to recovery. Here we are: not a step more. These fine men in white will lead the way. What’s that? You don’t trust them? You want me to stay? You must not have heard me correctly the first time. I have a meeting to attend. You’re taking advantage of my generosity by asking too much. I promised to carry you this far and I have. These men are qualified technicians. Come again? No, he is not my friend. He is a homeless man. Can’t you tell? He was hit by a car. Let go of my hand. I said no. You don’t even have the presence of mind to explain yourself to these people! Don’t drag me in there. You’re acting like a child. Why are you so frightened of this place? Everything here is designed to help you, benevolence all around. I’ve used up my benevolence for the day, the year. Will he have to wait long? You’ll see him now. Good. We’re the room across the hall. Come on. I’ll sit by the door until the doctor arrives. No, I’m not sitting by the bed. You can hear me and see me fine. I don’t need to move. You want to hold my hand? Why? Are you dying all of a sudden? I thought you said the bleeding had stopped. All right, if it’ll shut you up. Give me the gloved hand. The gloved hand! Oh, hello, Doctor. Yes. Naturally. Do your stuff. The sooner we’re on our way the better. This man has caused me one hardship after another. You don’t know the strength it takes just to hold his hand. He is very needy. Keep it down! You want the wound to heal, don’t you? It’s only six stitches, a walk in the park. Squeeze my hand if it hurts, but don’t yell. There are people in here who are much worse off than you and you don’t hear them yelling. Presto! All done. I must commend you on your handiwork, Doctor. Nothing short of art. Is that a rhetorical question? Of course he’s not insured. The hospital will bill me? Me? I am not financially responsible for this man. I only just met him. He’s no one to me. Talk to the woman at the front desk. And her name? Arlene. Thank you, Doctor. Out of bed, let’s go. No, no wheelchair. I refuse to roll you through the halls when you are more than capable of walking. You’re woozy? You feel like you’re going to faint? Fine. Get in. But try not to look so feeble. Hold your head up and don’t slouch. Is your name Arlene? I was told to see you about this man’s bill. No, he’s not insured. How much? No, don’t tell me. It is better to be ignorant of these things. Here is my credit card. Charge me for the full amount now. I don’t want this ghost haunting my mail. You’re welcome, Arlene. The fluency with which I just made that transaction enrages me. I have stretched myself too far. The charade is over. I’m done. Get out of the wheelchair and don’t ask me for another thing. The doctor said you need rest? All you do is rest, every day of your life. You need work, that’s what you need. You’re hungry? I have fed you my time, my body, and my money. You are fat with me. What did I eat for breakfast? What a man eats for breakfast is his business, but if you must know, it was a Spanish omelet. Delicious. Yes. Two cups. Cream and sugar. My wife brewed it. Yes, I’m married. No, she’s at work, where I should be right now instead of standing in front of a hospital talking about breakfast with a homeless person. You’re in danger? You live on the streets. Every night is a gamble. The man in the car? The man in the car tried to kill you? What are you implying? Then go to a shelter. Hop a train to Florida. I don’t know. What did you say? That’s the most ridiculous suggestion yet. I’d be crazy. No, I told you I’m through. I can’t. I won’t. My wife will throw a fit. She’s twice as bad as me. Again, not the neck, the shoulders. Listen: you better not be lying about feeling woozy. And I have my doubts about the man in the car. I think he’s a figment of your imagination. I’m sure you suffer from some strain of mental illness, but then I might be jumping to conclusions. Yes, we have blankets, and no, you cannot use them. You’re staying in the back kitchen. And you’re leaving tomorrow. One day, that’s it. Mine is the white house at the top of the hill. Thank God my neighbors are at work. I wouldn’t know how to answer their stares. Follow me. Here’s the back kitchen. You can read the magazines in the recycling bin. They’re my wife’s. I read them when she’s not looking. The gossip sucks you in. Potato chips? Yes, you can have some chips, but stay in the back kitchen. No, don’t go in the living room. The living room is off-limits. I’m not even allowed in there. That room? That’s the guest room, but I never said you were a guest. You are an object of pity. I see you eyeing the bed. I’ve used it on those bitter nights with the wife. I don’t recommend it. The mattress is hard. If you insist. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get you those chips.

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David Amadio received his MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green State University in 2001. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nerve Cowboy, Avalon Literary Review, Packingtown Review, and Main Course PHL. He is head writer of the comedy troupe The Minor Prophets, one-half of the musical duo Klebe and Davis, and, along with illustrator Kevin McDevitt, creator of the comic strip Small Engines. He lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two children.