After the break was over, we headed back down the elevator together so I could show her the newly-repaired tank. When we arrived, the toaster-sized electric pump sat chugging away on the floor just near the pit and beside the work cart. It steadily drew the spilled oil up through a dangling hose then redirected it back to the tank through a second hose connected to the tank’s intake port. The oil in the pit had grown so shallow now that its color had faded from black to a murky yellow, and so the floor of the pit was once again visible through the spill. Soon the oil would be so shallow that the pump would be useless, so my next task would be to vacuum the remaining half-inch of oil with an oil vac.
As she stood near the rim of the pit and surveyed the diminishing oil spill, I walked past the rumbling pump to the work cart. There I picked up the charred remains of the broken valve I’d blowtorched off. I turned and held them up for her.
“Here’s the old valve,” I grinned. “Just scrap now.”
She grinned back at me and stepped closer to the pump to come over and get a better look. But as she walked she accidentally kicked the pump on its side, tripping over it. And then she fell forward onto the cart. I was so startled I actually bit my tongue.
She landed face-down on the cart’s tabletop where she hit the navel piercer with her right shoulder and set it off. First I heard the recoil, then I heard her scream and saw her body jolt sideways from the blow against her torso. The force of the impact was so strong that her brown velvet hat was knocked off her head.
I dropped the valve pieces and reached forward to her. I took hold of both her velvet covered shoulders from behind and found her whole body stiff with pain, her arms wrapped tightly around and in front of her, but more favoring of the right side of her body. I started to turn her over to get a look at the injury, but she screamed from the forced motion. I stopped mid-way in my turning of her and just continued to clutch her by her shoulders. I opted to do nothing more than speak to her now.
“Mrs. Jones! I wanna help you! Please tell me where you were struck!”
“My side!” she gasped through the pain. “My ribs I think!” Her whole body was taut and vibrating with pain. Her cheeks were a bright red.
“Does it hurt to breathe?”
With hardly any breath she started to sink to her knees, scraping one side of the work cart as she descended. I helped her to go down very slowly, supporting her just enough to prevent her from collapsing in a heap. When she finally hit her knees, she stayed utterly silent, her body quivering tightly, her cheek pressed against the cart as she desperately clutched at the side of her chest with both arms.
“Okay, I gotta call an ambulance!”
“No!” she broke away from the cart in a panic and turned partway to look me in the eye. Her face was no longer red and was a pale pasty white.
“What? Why not?” I kept holding her shoulders, worried if I let go she might fall over, but also worried if I gripped too hard I might hurt her.
“They can’t come down here! No one can see this place!”
“Mrs. Jones! You need a doctor!”
“Not here! Take me upstairs instead! Take me upstairs to my house so I can call my private physician. He’ll do a house call for me, but he can’t come down here. He has to see me upstairs in the house itself. No one can come down here.” In agony she turned her face back around toward the cart again.
“--No ambulance ….” Her voice was growing weaker. I honestly believe she was unable to breathe at that point. In a whisper she spat out: “Take me upstairs to call my doctor.”
With my face just behind her head I slid one hand down from her shoulder to the middle of her back, bracing her spine. And somehow the scent of the oil diminished and I could actually smell her perfume instead. Perhaps the burst of her own body heat and adrenaline intensified the perfume’s strength. Or perhaps my own sense of smell was somehow heightened in my panic. Whatever the reason, at that moment she smelled just amazing, and her coat’s velvet felt so soft. My frantic sense of medical urgency for her was suddenly joined by an innate sense of protectiveness toward her, and I now had to fight the sudden urge to cradle her in my arms. I instead forced myself to look intently at the wedding ring on her left hand upon her right shoulder.
“Mrs. Jones … where is your husband? Can I at least call HIM down here?”
She opened her mouth and nothing happened -- she could not get any air to move in or out. She was starting to turn blue! In the sudden silence, the chugging of the oil pump was all I could hear. And then her voice finally came in a deeply strained whisper: “My husband is dead.” At that moment the full weight of her upper body slumped in the sudden backward collapse of her spine against my hand. Then her head flopped straight forward to her chest: she had passed out.
-------------------End of Chapter 8-a--------------------