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Plastic Bottles
by James Lewelling

I saved a man's life once. I was working at a pharmacy. I hated it. I didn't mind working. I hated sitting in front of the counter waiting for someone to approach. I could chit-chat with the other guy when he was around, but he wasn't always there. When he wasn't around, I ate the mints out of the plastic jar on the counter. When he was but we didn't have anything to say to each other, I hid in the basement. I think, if I hadn't saved this guy's life, the pharmacists would have fired me sooner or later. They would have fired me because I spent so much time in the basement and because I stole mints like a maniac. I can still taste those mints. But they couldn't fire me after I saved this guy's life. I saved his life right in front of their pharmacy after all. It happened like this: This old guy came in for medicine, got it and left. Then there was some kind of ruckus out in front of the shop. A woman came in and asked if anyone knew CPR. As it happened, I had just finished this training course in high school. If it had happened even a week or two later, I don't think I would have done anything. As it was, I was incapable of getting out of it. After all, those were the exact words that began the drill: does anyone know CPR? I was on the spot. I had to do something because to do nothing would have been a lie. I didn't mind lying too much, but in this case, the lie would have been the same as killing this man myself. I didn't want to save the man but I didn't want his death on my hands either. So I said, I know CPR! (Just like in the drill), and walked out to save his life ardently hoping he would have recovered before I reached him. In truth, I didn't want to have anything to do with it. Besides, I couldn't really remember how to do CPR. It was the numbers that screwed me up. You are supposed to push so many times and count so many times and push so many times and count so many times. That was all I knew. The numbers were completely beyond me. The old guy was lying on his back on the sidewalk twitching like an epileptic. His tongue was stuck in the corner of his mouth. His mouth was bleeding and yellow stuff was coming out too. I still don't know what that yellow stuff was. Mostly, I knew, you could leave epileptics alone. My father had had a seizure once and in the emergency room they told me all about it. An epileptic can twitch all day long and you can leave him alone. It's not dangerous or at least not in the same way a heart attack is. In any case, there's not much to do if the epileptic is breathing. But this guy wasn't breathing. You could tell he wasn't breathing because he wasn't making any noise. It was strange to see him twitching and writhing there in complete silence. In the drill, you kneel down next to the doll and put your arm under its neck and push the head back. You do that to open the airway. I did that and it worked lickety-split. This man's tongue receded and he started coughing and gagging like there was no tomorrow. I was saved. I was saved because you can't do CPR on a person who is breathing no matter how much they're gagging or spitting blood or yellow stuff or whatever. I got up and went back into the pharmacy and stood behind the counter. A few minutes later, I started to go out again and see if the guy was really OK but by that time an ambulance had arrived and the cops were waving everyone away. The other guy was standing behind the counter but I didn't want to talk with him, so I headed for the basement. I used to hide in the basement quite a bit at that job. There were all these plastic bottles down there in this cage. I liked to sit down there and put the caps on. There was a big box of plastic bottles and next to it a big plastic bag filled with the tops. I could put the tops on the bottles all day long. It needed to be done, and I didn't mind doing it. It was less boring than sitting behind the counter because down in the cage in the basement, you knew no-one was going to approach. You could daydream. You could think. It was down in that basement that I first realized that every other person in the world had a life as vivid as my own. It seemed like a big deal at the time, but it's hard for me to say that it has made any difference.

About the author:
My first novel, This Guy, was released by Spuyten Duyvil in 2006 and has been reviewed in the Brooklyn Rail. My fiction has appeared in The Evergreen Review, Fence, Web Delsol, Word Riot, Café Irreal, The Danforth Review, Proliferations, Black Ice, The Cream City Review, The Stranger, and elsewhere. I live in Abu Dhabi with my wife, the poet, Lisa Isaacson, and our two lovely daughters, Francie and Cissy.

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a novel by
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