Howard Rossiter is dead. I think he had a heart attack. He’s sitting there bent over, trying to tie his shoes. The color of his face is grey and blue; and not at all the way I remember him from just a few minutes ago. His mouth and chin are covered in a kind of yellowish gooey smear. He smells like sweat, old spice, and throw up.
Howard Rossiter is dead. Before that happened, he was sitting in the shade. I sat next to him on the scratchy bark of a fallen tree. I think the tree must have been hit by a bolt of lightning. We rested in the heat and we waited for the next thing. I waited for lunch and for the end of the bonsai hunt. And maybe Mr. Rossiter waited to die. Did he know he was having a heart attack? Did he know the last person he talked to was me? Did he feel sad about dying?
“I’m hot Mr. Rossiter; and I want lunch.” I am whining.
Even though we’ve been resting, Mr. Rossiter is of out of breath.
“Me too.” He whispers. And then he bent over to tie his shoes.
“Mr. Rossiter?” Nothing.
Loud this time, “Hey, Mr. Rossiter?” and that got the attention of the grown-ups.
Howard Rossiter is dead. My dad and Mr. Denis dragged him through the dirt, over rocks, and tree branches. I am three-and-a-half, perhaps four years old and to me it seemed like it took us a long time to get Mr. Rossiter back to the car. Mr. Rossiter had to go on a hike with my parents and me, his wife Helen, and his friends Lillian and George Denis. We were in the high mountains near Ebbetts Pass searching for baby pine trees. All the grown-ups belonged to the East Bay Bonsai Society. They wanted to make special bonsai; and that’s why we were trying to dig up trees in the forest. And then he died; and had to be dragged back to the car. Poor Mr. Rossiter. Mrs. Denis, my mom, and I have to take care of Mrs. Rossiter now that Mr. Rossiter is dead; and we also have to hike all the way back to the car.
Howard Rossiter is dead. It is decided that we will take Mr. Rossiter to the coroner in Markleeville. My mother will drive our green, Buick Skylark. Mrs. Rossiter will sit in the front seat with her. Mr. Rossiter will be stretched out in the back of the station wagon and he will be tied in place and I will sit next to him.
A blanket has been draped over the body but I know it is him. I see the sleeve of his green shirt and his tan work pants poking out from under the blanket.
“Where is his baseball cap?” I ask. No one seems to know. My mother tells me to pretend he’s sleeping. So I sit next to the shape of Mr. Rossiter; and I try my best.
Howard Rossiter is dead. My mother says that Markleeville is about 30 miles down the mountain on twisty roads. She tells us that she hopes we have enough gasoline and that the car won’t overheat. Now I’m thinking about car trouble and also of Mr. Rossiter not-sleeping. We haven’t eaten lunch yet or used the bathroom. It is still hot and I am still tired. My dad, Mrs. Denis, and Mr. Denis are driving behind us in the camper truck.
“Mom, Mr. Rossiter is moving.” When I shared this information, Mrs. Rossiter made a surprised little sound. She might not like hearing it; but I really didn’t much like saying it either. It was scary being in the back with him. The blanket shifted during the bumpy ride; and there is his face peeking out at me. Someone has closed his eyes and I am glad. I don’t want him to see me staring at him. I don’t want him to know that I’m making a face at him because he doesn’t smell good at all. Our car is starting to smell like our garbage can in the summer. I don’t say anything but I wish someone would wash his face – he’s still blue and grey with dried, foamy, throw-up. Did he just move again?
Howard Rossiter is dead. “The car is overheating,” announces my mother. Lucky for us, we finally pull into a service station. We gas up the car, use the restrooms, I get an ice cream sandwich, and we put water into the radiator. We find out that Markleeville is just up the road, there is no coroner; AND its 105 degrees. A real scorcher.
We find the Sheriff and explain our problem. I am relieved he believes us; and that he doesn’t think it was my fault. I was afraid I had done something to cause the heart attack. I was afraid my parents would be in trouble. I was afraid I would be punished. The Sheriff contacts an ambulance. The paramedics will take Mr. Rossiter to Carson Valley Medical Center. By now, Mr. Rossiter really needs his face cleaned, I can still see it. I should have asked for a wash cloth. I should have helped make him look better; but I was afraid to touch him. My dad, the Denis’s, and Mrs. Rossiter have to follow behind the ambulance all the way to the hospital. I’m told that they need to fill out a lot of paperwork. First they will take care of Mr. Rossiter; and then they will take care of Mrs. Rossiter.
My mother will drive the camper truck home and I will go with her. Before we leave, I ask if she knows how to drive the truck. She tells me we are about to find out.
Goodbye Howard Rossiter.