To support my husband during graduate school, I put my novel-writing dreams on hold and worked as a staff writer for a Fortune 500 bank in New Orleans. Technical writing is as far from fiction writing as driving a school bus is from race car driving, but the friends I made at the company kept me sane. As one of two staff writers, I became very close to the other writer, an Australian journalist named June.
When our company asked for volunteers for first aid and CPR training, I volunteered. Three months later, I got a call from the division head of personnel. He was in a full panic and shouted in the phone that I had to run over to his office. June, he said, had fainted. I ran. June was slumped over her desk, breathing in ragged labored breaths. I told the director to call an ambulance. He said a ride was on the way.
June’s pulse was weak and irregular. She was having a heart attack. I kept her awake and checked her eyes. Both pupils responded to light as usual, so maybe it wasn’t a stroke. Unless she stopped breathing, all I could do was watch her and wait for the ambulance. The division head announced that the ride was downstairs and he and I wheeled June in her chair to the elevator. The security guards and card-entry system downstairs would cause a delay we could not afford. We rolled the chair into the elevator.
“We’re going to Charity, right?” I asked. Charity Hospital had four large specialized emergency rooms and the facility stood three blocks from our office.
June rallied and shouted, “Baptist, I have to go to Baptist because my doctor is there.”
“You are having a heart attack. They can save you at Charity and move you to Baptist.”
“Take me to Baptist or leave me in this chair to die.”
I wanted to swear. June might die of stubbornness. “Minutes can mean life or death, June.”
“Okay, okay, June. We’ll get you to Baptist. Just stay calm.” The director tried to reassure her that her wishes would be followed even if it killed her.
Someone handed me June’s purse. June would need her identification and health care insurance card at the hospital. We rolled June from the security guard station to the large double doors that led to the street. The director opened the door to a yellow cab.
“This is just as quick and it will save her money.”
I grabbed his tie. “If she dies in this cab,” I hissed in his face, “then I will tell the world about it, so start praying.”
We hefted June into the cab and I climbed in beside her with her purse.
I shouted at the cab driver. “This is an emergency, get us to Baptist Hospital. I’ll pay any speeding tickets.”
The driver gave June a frightened look and launched from the curb like a man on a mission. He did not want anyone to die in his cab. We stopped at a light and June pointed to her purse.
“What do you need?” I opened up the purse toward her.
I dug into her purse and pulled out a pack of Malboro unfiltered cigarettes. I held them up for her. “You can hold them, but I refuse to light one.”
She laughed and rolled down the window beside her. She flung the pack out the window at the same time the cab started moving again. The pack hit a man standing in the median. He looked up at us and waved. He was one of the regular panhandlers who gathered at the library between my office and my parking lot.
We reached the emergency room entrance to Baptist Hospital in about eight minutes, possibly a new land-speed record for a cab. Two orderlies met us at the cab and moved June into a wheelchair. I turned around and grabbed June’s purse.
The cabbie came around to the passenger side. He was sweating. “She going to make it?”
“I sure hope so. Thank you.”
He handed me a clipboard with one of the company account vouchers on it. He had written the cab fare on the voucher. I added a fifty dollar tip to it and signed my name. Let the division head complain. I dare him.
The cabbie read the amount and glanced at the emergency room doors.
“That’s the rate the ambulance charges,” I explained.
The cabbie nodded.
I dashed into the emergency room and a nurse pointed to the doorway on her left. June was on an examination bed with two white coated men standing by her. They looked up at me and started talking.
“We need to admit her. She had a heart attack. Are you family?”
“No, but I can call her husband.”
Minutes later Clive, June’s husband of forty years, blasted through the swinging doors.
“Clive! Over here.” I stepped aside.
His face lit up when he saw June alive.
The doctors started talking to him. I walked back to the nurses’ station and picked up a clipboard. I completed the forms and fell into one of the ugly cushioned chairs in the waiting room. I had June’s purse in my lap and realized that I had no wallet or cash. I remembered that I could use the company’s cab account to get back to the office. All was well in the world. June survived the ride and she was in the hands of doctors.
Clive came out and sat beside me.
I handed him the clipboard and forms. “Sign here.”
He did. “I understand the son of a bitch cheapskate called a cab.”
“I tipped the cabbie fifty bucks.”
Clive grinned and hugged me. “She’s going to make it.”
“Too tough to kill.”
“Too stubborn to die.”
June recovered after a two-week rest. The director never mentioned the cab ride or the cab fee to me and I never brought it up with him. The legal department explained the concept of liability to him in terms and instructions he would remember and obey.
In the years I worked with June she was the keeper of birthdays. She published the birthdays of employees, not the year, but the day of the month, in the company paper. She remembered to send birthday cards to her chosen friends after she retired. I wrote to her about twice a year on her birthday and on Christmas to tell her the news of the company and the people she loved there. I retired from the company a few years later because I gave birth to my one and only child.
In the hectic life of being a new parent, I was late in sending June her birthday card. It arrived a day late. The day after she died. June died on her birthday and the fact that she missed my card broke my heart. I pray she did not feel forgotten because of my lateness.
Three years later when my husband and I moved into Winter Haven, Florida where he joined a medical practice, I received mail from my old company notifying me that the retirement plan held up in litigation was ready for dispersal to participants. All I had to do was get the enclosed form signed and witnessed by a notary and I would get my retirement balance issued by check. The original balance when I retired was five thousand dollars. I got a check for eight hundred because the company stock that backed the plan, had plummeted in the wake of a scandal at the upper level of the company. Those scoundrels escaped with bonuses and golden parachute clauses while the average worker, like me, got screwed.
I called the personnel department and talked with a woman who had worked there when I did. She had been the division head’s secretary and she had moved up to be the benefits administrator. We chatted for a while and I asked if she had heard from Clive. I explained that June had died and Clive had moved to New Jersey to live with their daughter.
She checked her records and quoted the bank’s policy about not giving personal information out. I reminded her that I was giving her personal information, information that she might need to disperse whatever June was entitled to receive. She told me that notices sent to June had been returned undeliverable. I told her that I would call Clive and tell him to call and to ask for this woman by name. She agreed to the plan.
It took two months for Clive to bother with the forms that bore June’s name. I received a card from Clive that read, “Three thousand four hundred and twelve kisses, love, Clive.”
Clive, his daughter told me in a call, was thrilled to have money of his own to spend. He died a year later and his ashes were flown back to Australia. The urn was lost on the plane, possibly behind a panel, the airlines apologized. In death, Clive was traveling the world.