Then it hit me in a panic; this type of snooze is dangerous. Her eyes were open. One pupil appeared irregular, ruptured, blasted out. Her goggles, gloves and hat were torn off her body. The temperature was in the low 20s. Her cheeks and the tip of her nose were pink. Frostbite, not a problem, yet. A chair lift was barely within earshot. I shrieked for help. I waved my arms and screamed emergency, unconscious, ski patrolover and over again. There wasn’t a scratch on her, though she’d fallen right through the most horrible section of rocks. I kissed her on the cheek, Marnie, it’s Sam, what are you doing, let’s get out of here. I wanted to watch her face but she was vulnerable to the cold, so I covered her up as well as I could, stuck my gloves on her hands and continued to scream for help. Her loud snoring sounds were eerie, deep within her chest, but at least that was breathing.
Out of nowhere a ranger in a black jacket appeared. He clicked out of his skis. "Hi, I’m . . . Tom?" he said, his voice rising, like he wasn’t sure of his name. "What happened?"
"She crashed, she fell through all the rocks up there, she hit ice and trees, and she’s unconscious."
"Are you serious? Really?" he said, eyes wide with terror. He had no radio and didn’t know what to do at all, zero. We stood there like two helpless fools. He was frightened beyond belief, actually shaking; his pale, washed-out face nearly green. He took off his mittens and put on surgical gloves, took one step toward Marnie and fell 10 feet down to the next tree.
"How could you not have a radio?"
"Rangers don’t get issued walkie-talkies," he said, struggling to his feet, climbing back up. "The mountain can’t afford it."
After another round of screaming for help, Tom and I stood in silence, our backs to each other, staring at the trees, the snow, Marnie’s ã contorted figure. Time stretched out. Eventually ski patrol appeared. Bren and Bret. How long has she been like this? Did you see her fall? How did it happen? Who are you? What’s her name? Where are her skis? A third patrolman with a sled crept down Satan’s Maw from the top, trying not to crash himself, as runaway oxygen canisters jetted by us. His name tag said Brent. Three different mothers with a very similar boy in mind. They straightened out her body, and on the count of three slid her onto a flat plastic board and strapped her down. They lifted her into the sled, covered her up with blankets, said the gurgling sound might be a collapsed lung. One led, holding on to the handles of the sled, sliding ever so carefully, too steep to even snowplow. Another guy held on to the rear with a rope, keeping everything steady. I was supposed to follow but I just stood there. I couldn’t believe Marnie was inside that little cocoon. It should have been me; I was the reckless one, the crash meister, the head-banger of trees. She was more cautious, showed better judgment. When I got to the parking lot she was already in the ambulance. An angry father stormed ahead of his crying son and shouted that he’d had it up to here. With a stiff hand the temperamental dad, who wore a green iridescent one-piece (picture a six-foot lizard in orange boots), indicated a line just above his nose.
A fire chief tapped me on the shoulder, told me to ride with him to the hospital. He ushered me into a red captain’s truck. I’d never met a fire chief before. I felt honored, like I was in a sad American play about small towns. If only it was snowing, then I could just stand behind the fire station and let three inches accumulate on my head — maybe the falling snow would forgive me or reverse what was happening. But there were no snowflakes falling anywhere. The fire chief seemed like the sweetest old guy in the universe, a man of about 60 who drank coffee all day long until bedtime. He looked like Captain Friendly, with a huge boozer nose and big sad eyes.
"I hope your friend’s okay," he said. "What’s her name?"
"Marnie." I got hopeful and increasingly ill. I stared out the windshield. "How long have you worked for the fire department?"
"Forever," he said. "Thirty-five years." A tiny smile came and went. "I’m just helping out today. Shuttling folks. Today’s busier than usual."
I could’ve told the fire chief that I’d always wanted to be a fireman myself. That I used to sleep in my clothes, and I made great lasagna. We said goodbye. A few horrible steps across the icy hospital parking lot, and then the automatic doors swung open.
A smiling receptionist held out a pen, asked me to sign in. I took a seat beside a gang of rat boys who were waiting for their bro Casey who was being treated for a broken wrist. One kid, whose face looked like it’d been bashed in more than once, his two front teeth missing, said, "The fool gets a foot off the ground and he thinks he’s Shawn Palmer."