Monday, September 6, 2010

Pink Hats 1:The Treasure in the Trash

It's funny, the things that go through your mind, Chuck thought. He and his dog, Chester, were still catching their breath, having nearly been knocked to the ground by a classic Pontiac GTO convertible racing by in complete neglect of the speed limit. Country roads near his home were narrow, most qualifing for the name "road" in name only. More like glorified dirt tracks, they were paved over remnants of an era when rapid transit meant a fast horse.

The houses told the tale. White clapboard and brick, many with attached barns, double doors wide open to the breeze, tractors peaking from the shadows. Signs marking 25 mph looked as out of date as the traffic they were once supposed to regulate, except on days like this when there wasn't a cop in sight and taking a walk meant taking your life in your hands.

Driving like a bat out of hell was an understatement. It seemed the car barely slowed before rounding a left-leaning uphill curve, but as it did, a passenger heaved a large, black plastic bag off the side. "The dump is on the other side of town," Chuck shouted angrily, and of course, the car was gone before his words could catch up. "A problem my physics professor would have loved," he said to no one in particular.

A few minutes later, the two were standing near the same spot, perpendicular to a small, grassy, rapidly-sloping space between the trees that ended in a perilous 30 foot straight drop into the river. Had it rolled a little further, he mused, whatever's in that bag would be on its way to the ocean, no doubt what they intended. In fact, it was snagged by the exposed root of a white pine that looked large enough to have been a sapling during the Civil War.

"I guess we ought to do something," he said to his dog, who smiled in assent, "but I think it's too steep to handle together. You stay here and I'll be right back." Be right back was their signal for dog guard duty and Chester took his seriously, watching intently as Chuck cautiously worked his way to the bag, wishing he was wearing hiking boots instead of cross-trainers.

Though far from full, the bag was heavy enough he was surprised it hadn't exploded on contact with the ground, chaotically scattering its contents every which-way. Chuck scrambled back up the slope with more care, not wishing to slip and find himself imitating Greg Louganis on a Sunday afternoon sans Speedo, falling headfirst to the river below.

Back on the road shoulder, Chester greeted him with happy licks as he wiped sweat and congratulated myself on being heroic, even if a little foolhardy. It was the same kind of thing he'd have done as a teenager, but back then the idea of falling would have triggered an adrenaline rush. It still did, but it was also coupled with the vision of his medical career coming to an abrupt and unpredicted close. "They were in an awfully big hurry to get rid of this, weren't they? I wonder why...shall we see what we've got? You know the saying, one man's trash is another's treasure."

The bag had built-in tie handles, but they must have been done in haste, because the knot unraveled quickly. At first he only saw dirty, soaked wads of paper towels and what looked like bloody rags. Before Chuck could stop him, Chester stuck his nose into the mass and in the confusion of trying to extract him from the bag, the trash shifted and Chuck saw a foot. A human foot about an inch or so long. His pulse rate racing upwards as rapidly as the escaping GTO, he dug deeper and found another, then two more, attached in pairs to infants with their umbilical cords dangling.

"Thank you, Lord," he said, grateful that somewhere out of the jumble of medical school minutiae, the basics of his advanced life-saving course surfaced. He called 911 on his cell, then held sunglasses to each face to check for breathing, felt for a pulse, and stripped off his T-shirt to wrap the twins the best he could and holding them to his chest until help arrived. Afterward, Chuck said he wasn't sure whose guardian angel whispered in his ear, but Chester leaned gently against the newborns and together, the two formed a neonatal sandwich there on the side of the road.

The ambulance and local police arrived, took his report, packed up the neonates -- both girls Chuck realized when he had calmed down long enough to look -- and headed off to Portland and Maine Medical Center. He visited them in the hospital the next day while Chester, sadly, remained in the car. He did receive a visit from one of the nurses, though, herself a dog owner who happened to have a Milk Bone in her car. It wasn't exactly a medal, but Chester didn't seem picky. The GTO was stolen, naturally, and found abandoned a few days later with no sign of its occupants. The treasure in the trash, as Chuck called them in a moment of irony, were another matter.

(Creative Commons image of Maine barn by HuTDog83 via Flickr)
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