Roughly two dozen people from the shopping center clustered around the accident; another four dozen or so came running over from Strawford Park, where a baseball game had been going on. I imagine that all the things you would expect to hear in such situations were said, many of them more than once. Milling around. Someone reaching through the misshapen hole which had been the driver's-side window to pat Esther's trembling old hand. People immediately giving way for Joe Wyzer; at such moments anyone in a white coat automatically becomes the belle of the ball. In the distance, the warble of an ambulance siren rising like shaky air over an incinerator.
All during this, lying unnoticed in the parking lot, was my wife with her purse still over her shoulder (inside, still wrapped in foil, her uneaten chocolate-marshmallow mouse) and her white prescription bag near one outstretched hand. It was Joe Wyzer, hurrying back to the pharmacy to get a compress for Irene Deorsey's head, who spotted her. He recognized her even though she was lying face-down. He recognized her by her red hair, white blouse, and yellow slacks. He recognized her because he had waited on her not fifteen minutes before.
"Mrs. Noonan?" he asked, forgetting all about the compress for the dazed but apparently not too badly hurt Irene Deorsey. "Mrs. Noonan, are you all right?" Knowing already (or so I suspect; perhaps I am wrong) that she was not.
He turned her over. It took both hands to do it, and even then he had to work hard, kneeling and pushing and lifting there in the parking lot with the heat baking down from above and then bouncing back up from the asphalt. Dead people put on weight, it seems to me; both in their flesh and in our minds, they put on weight.
There were red marks on her face. When I identified her I could see them clearly even on the video monitor. I started to ask the assistant medical examiner what they were, but then I knew. Late August, hot pavement, elementary, my dear Watson. My wife died getting a sunburn.
Wyzer got up, saw that the ambulance had arrived, and ran toward it. He pushed his way through the crowd and grabbed one of the attendants as he got out from behind the wheel. "There's a woman over there," Wyzer said, pointing toward the parking lot.
"Guy, we've got two women right here, and a man as well," the attendant said. He tried to pull away, but Wyzer held on.
"Never mind them right now," he said. "They're basically okay. The woman over there isn't."
The woman over there was dead, and I'm pretty sure Joe Wyzer knew it...but he had his priorities straight. Give him that. And he was convincing enough to get both paramedics moving away from the tangle of truck and Toyota, in spite of Esther Easterling's cries of pain and the rumbles of protest from the Greek chorus.
When they got to my wife, one of the paramedics was quick to confirm what Joe Wyzer had already suspected. "Holy shit," the other one said. "What happened to her?"
"Heart, most likely," the first one said. "She got excited and it just blew out on her."
But it wasn't her heart. The autopsy revealed a brain aneurysm which she might have been living with, all unknown, for as long as five years. As she sprinted across the parking lot toward the accident, that weak vessel in her cerebral cortex had blown like a tire, drowning her control-centers in blood and killing her. Death had probably not been instantaneous, the assistant medical examiner told me, but it had still come swiftly enough...and she wouldn't have suffered. Just one big black nova, all sensation and thought gone even before she hit the pavement.
"Can I help you in any way, Mr. Noonan?" the assistant ME asked, turning me gently away from the still face and closed eyes on the video monitor. "Do you have questions? I'll answer them if I can."
Copyright © 1998 by Stephen King
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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