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#31

Nosebleed




When Rachel got off work, she walked over to the guys’ apartment in the dark. The restaurant had been insane. Everyone had wanted to eat outside so they could hear the waves. Rachel’s tips made a flat bulge in her jeans pocket, the rewards of boyfriends and husbands pulling out all the stops to make a good Valentine’s Day impression.

The night breeze was warm and somber. As Rachel walked past closed up flower shops and empty playgrounds, she began to feel sort of nervous about what awaited her. Randall had called her right as her shift was starting to tell her that she needed to come over after work because he had “an offer” for her. She assumed this was just his weird way of intimating that he wanted to ask her out. Because why else would he choose today of all days to make his “offer?” She was flattered. But also, not interested. That was how she planned to phrase her rejection, something along those lines. Or maybe harsher than that depending on how entitled Randall acted during his pitch. Rachel was tired, her feet were sore, her work shirt smelled like fish batter, her face felt stretched out and oily, and she wanted to go home and fall asleep two paragraphs into a book of essays she was reading about famous liars.

When she got to the guys’ building, she buzzed three times before Joel’s voice came through the callbox. “Who’s there?”

“It’s Rachel. Randall told me to come over.” There was a long pause. Rachel watched a turtle cross the sidewalk. It was even slower than she would have expected.

Then Joel’s voice returned. “Randall can’t talk to you, Rachel. Bobby says you should go home.”

The idea that she would be turned away because Randall had gotten cold feet at the last minute made Rachel angry. Now that she was here, she intended to get this rejection over with so she could get this night over with. “Just buzz me up, Joel! I walked all the way here from work!”

The front door buzzed, the lock clicked, and Rachel entered the building. She climbed the steps to the guys’ third floor apartment and knocked twice. There was no immediate answer and she was about to start trying to kick the door in when Joel opened it. His reliable gray sweatpants and gray hoodie combination was spattered with blood. “What,” asked Rachel, “happened to you?”

Joel looked down at himself, his round face bunching at the edges. “Oh,” he said. “This is Randall’s blood.” He looked back up at Rachel and said, “Bobby says you can only come in if you’re gonna help. If you’re gonna freak out, he says to just go home.”

Rachel rolled her eyes and stepped past Joel into the apartment. There was no one in the living room, but there were spatters of blood on the couch, a big splotch of blood on the carpet, and bloody footprints from three different pairs of shoes heading in several different directions. “What is going on?” asked Rachel. “Where’s Randall?”

“He’s in the bathroom,” said Joel. “He has a nosebleed.”

Rachel made a skeptical sound with her lips and followed a pronounced set of red footprints into the kitchen. Joel came behind her, hands in his pockets. There were dried drops of blood on the counter, all over the floor, and smeared on the handles of some of the cabinets and the refrigerator. The garbage can in the corner was overflowing with blood-soaked tissues and paper towels. In the sink there were two cooking pots and three drinking glasses filled to the brim with something thick and dark. Rachel pointed at the sink and said, “Joel. I don’t even know where to start. What is this?”

            Bobby came into the kitchen and got an open two-liter of pop from the refrigerator. “That’s Randall’s blood,” he said. Bobby was shirtless and his bare chest and stomach were smeared with blood. It looked to Rachel as if he’d been performing amateur emergency surgery. “When we realized how much he was losing,” said Bobby, “we started collecting it in case it needs to go back into him.” Bobby took a long drink from the two-liter and put it back into the fridge without screwing the cap back on. Then he opened one of the cabinets over the sink and pulled out a stew pot.

            The thick, metallic smell of the blood combining with the fish batter smell on her shirt was making Rachel queasy. She put one hand on her forehead and looked at the containers of blood in the sink. “That’s so much blood,” she said. “There’s no way this is OK.” She turned and walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to the bathroom. The door was open and inside, the tile floor, the sink, the toilet, and the mirror were all smeared with blood. The shower curtain was pulled back and Randall stood in the tub stripped down to his boxer shorts and holding a half-filled one gallon plastic ice cream bucket up under his face as a steady trickle of vivid red flowed out of his nose and off of his upper lip. His bare skin was zig-zagged with trails of blood, speckled with blotches of it. Two more buckets and another cooking pot full of blood rested on the blood-slick floor of the tub next to his blood-spattered feet. “Hey, Rachel,” he said. “Don’t look so scared. I’m glad you’re here.”

            “How are you even awake?” asked Rachel, shuddering. “Does the human body even contain this much blood?”

            Bobby came back into the bathroom with the stew pot, crowding Rachel out of the way and standing next to the tub, ready to hand Randall the pot once the bucket was filled. “We don’t think it does,” said Bobby. “But Randall dripped blood on the computer keyboard while we were looking it up and it stopped working.”

            “We have to take him to the hospital,” said Rachel.

            “Noooo,” whined Randall. “It’s gotta stop soon. They always do eventually.”

            Bobby looked at Rachel and said, “He’s been saying that for hours.”

            Rachel composed her features into a very serious expression and said, “Randall, you have to go to the hospital. You can’t lose anymore blood. Do this for me.”

            She felt guilty about the last part, but she told herself it was for a good cause.

            Randall sighed. The sigh gurgled in his throat like a backed up sink. He said, “All right, but we have to take the blood with us.”

            Bobby nodded. “That’s what I’ve been saying. He needs to get all this blood back in his body. Especially at the rate he’s losing it.”

            Joel stood outside the bathroom door. “We’re not taking my car. Are we? We are.”

            It took Rachel, Joel, and Bobby close to half an hour to get Randall into clothes, pour the blood that had been collected in the drinking glasses into another pot, find lids for as many pots and plastic buckets as possible, saran wrap the top of the bucket that didn’t have a lid, and carry it all down to Joel’s dented four-door family car his parents had given him for keeping his job at the hardware store for one year.

            “I don’t think we should put the blood in the trunk,” said Bobby. He had a smear of Randall’s blood across his forehead that looked like war-paint. “If we keep it in the car with us we can make sure it doesn’t tip over and dump everywhere.”

            Rachel had cut the top half off of a milk jug and Randall held the bottom half under his nose as he stood next to the car. Rachel could hear the blood tapping against the bottom of the jug. “Rachel,” said Randall. “Will you sit with me in the back?”

            Rachel thought she saw Bobby and Joel smirk at each other, but this didn’t seem like the time to start drawing hard lines so she said, “All right, sure Randall, Bobby should probably be the navigator anyway.”

            The group arranged themselves in the car so that, in the front seat, Bobby held the stew pot on the floor between his feet and two of the plastic buckets on his lap, and in the back seat, Rachel and Randall were responsible for the other four pots and the remaining bucket, although Randall wasn’t much help since he had to keep the jug under his nose.

            Joel drove in his usual indecisive style and Bobby issued impatient directions. Quiet houses and lawns and businesses seemed to hum as they floated past. Cars kept passing them from behind as if they could sense that following Joel’s car for any length of time would be unwise. Rachel was in the seat directly behind Joel and even as she kept an uneasy eye on the pots of blood on the floor she could feel Randall watching her.

            “Thanks for helping,” he finally said. “You’re really cool, Rachel. Really cool.”

            “Yeah, well…” said Rachel. She flashed Randall a quick smile and then said, “Joel, can you drive more…smoothly or something? The blood’s sloshing around and I’m afraid it might leak out around these lids.”

            Bobby looked into the back seat and said, “Actually, he can’t drive smoother.” There was another fresh smear of blood above his left eye and the headlights of a car approaching from behind made him look alarming. Rachel could feel Randall fumbling for her hand on the seat and she resisted for a moment, keeping her fingers curled shut, but then she thought, what difference does it make now? and she opened her hand and let Randall intertwine his fingers with hers. She looked over at him and gave him another weak smile. He grinned back from behind his jug, which was now over a quarter full.

            “Joel,” said Bobby. “Joel, get in the turn lane, you’re gonna miss the exit!” Joel hit the brakes and swerved to the right just as the car behind them tried to accelerate past them into the turn lane. There was a spinning, grinding collision, the car was filled with flying pots and buckets, and when they finally banged up against the guardrail and came to a stop, everyone was drenched with Randall’s blood. It ran down the insides of the windows and squelched under their feet.

            “The lids came off,” said Bobby, gasping and choking. “Get out, get out...!”

            Rachel stumbled out of the car and fell to her hands and knees in the street, gagging as blood dripped off of her nose and chin and lips. Her hands left bloody smears on the pavement. She heard a woman screaming, “We killed them, we killed them!” and Bobby shouting, “We’re fine! It’s just a nosebleed!” Rachel got to her feet. A man in a suit was shouting into his cell phone, pacing back and forth and running one hand through his hair. “Hurry!” he shouted. “I don’t know, I don’t know, there’s blood everywhere!” Joel, a red horror from head to toe, examined the smashed up back end of his car, caressing it mournfully, leaving a red streak across the crumpled bumper. Randall was sitting on the road with his back up against the guard rail and his eyes closed. Rachel walked over to him, trying to avoid thinking about the way her blood-soaked shirt stuck to her back and the way her bloody hair stuck to her cheeks and the back of her neck. She knelt beside Randall and said, “How are you feeling?”

            Randall opened his eyes. “Actually, I’m feeling kind of light-headed,” he said. Fresh blood continued to seep out of his nose and run down his face.

            “I think the EMS is on the way,” said Rachel. “They think we’re all mortally wounded but maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get you into an ambulance anyway.”

            Randall shrugged. Then he reached out and ran his finger under Rachel’s nose. “Uh-oh,” he said. “I think your nose is bleeding.” Rachel held a finger under her nose and then examined it, squinting as she tried to distinguish her blood from Randall’s. She held her finger to her nose again and definitely felt it this time, her own blood oozing down out of her nostrils and over her knuckle.

            “We should get you a pot,” said Randall, starting to get to his feet, but Rachel put a hand on his shoulder.

            “Don’t bother,” she said. “The ambulance will be here soon.”

            Then she sat back against the guard rail next to Randall. The rich night air dried the blood on her face and it came off in flakes. Randall put his arm around her shoulder and she didn’t protest. A distant siren hurled judgment at everything it passed. Rachel wondered if her nose might bleed for the rest of her life.




Discussion Questions

  • Is this how all relationships get started, more or less?



  • Do you think the last line is too meaningful, not meaningful enough, or just the right amount of meaningful?



  • Why do we root for people to end up together?



  • Do you think that if Randall knew what Rachel was thinking, he would even care?



  • Was it irresponsible of me to not mention the dangers of exposure to blood-borne pathogens?