Kipper, a Hot Dog Cart,
and the 72nd St. Park Entrance

by Ruby


It was a warm spring day, but Kipper didn't feel the breeze playing across his beard or the laughter of rollerblading couples as they zipped by tickling the hairs on the backs of his legs. He was between shifts, in shorts and a Mets t-shirt; he should be asleep. Vincent had told him it could wait until he finished work that night, but Kipper could not wait. He could not feel that helpless. All he could feel was the weight of bottles in the brown paper bag he carried. Five bottles, two antibiotics for the infirmary and three ... other. He swallowed the lump in his throat. She will get better … she must get better … her dad went through this when he was her age ...

He saw Safi tending her cart. He momentarily brightened at the miracle of New York being a place where an Afghan woman could tend her Halal hot dog cart. Safi smiled as he walked up.

"Kipper! I didn't know you'd be making a delivery today. Time for a bite?"

"I wish, but I need some sleep. I agreed to cover a shift for a friend."

"An EMT's work is never done, eh?"

Kipper grinned in spite of himself. "No rest for the wicked, but they don't miss the odd syringe and bandage here and there, so it all works out." He sighed. "But I need to get this Below, quickly if you can. It's not just for Eric and Father ... it's for Caroline."

Safi's eyes darkened … and she understood. She took Kipper's hand. "She will get well; she has her mother's spirit and her father's strength."

"That's what they're afraid of. There are three bottles of sedatives just in case ..." Kipper couldn't bear to finish, and he refused to break down crying, not now, not here. Safi took the paper bag and stuck it behind the cart. She stood in front of Kipper and lifted his chin up. Kipper thought what an absurd image they must make, Safi barely coming up to his shoulders.

“Connor ...” She had never called him by his topside name. “Caroline will get well. I don’t know that for sure, but I believe that. And whatever happens we will be here for each other. And it does no good for you to worry yourself sleepless and sick. How will that help the people whose lives you save?” Kipper’s eyes filled with tears. “They need you, and you need us, and we all need to be brave and kind enough to face what’s coming.”

Kipper nodded. “I just wish I could do more. I owe them everything. Vincent raised me, and Catherine paid for my school. I remember Cari’s naming ceremony. It was the first time I’d ever held a baby. Oh Safi, it’s not fair.” He blushed at his own foolishness.

Safi brushed a stray lock of dark hair off his forehead. “Don’t be embarrassed. Sometimes all you can do is say out loud that it isn’t fair. It doesn’t make it go away, but it’s necessary to do what needs to be done. Someone will be along soon; you timed it perfectly.”

Safi’s cart was near the 72nd St. park entrance, he heard the calliope of the carousel in the distance. He half-remembered a story; that was why Devin had left right? A fall out with Father over taking Vincent there. Devin had left and nobody ever expected to see him again. But he had come back.

Kipper felt his thoughts being tugged along. He remembered Kanin coming home from prison, how he wouldn’t look at Olivia or any of them. How he had gone to sleep on Mister Ang’s sofa and asked for work sweeping floors and fixing shelves. But he had come back. And Vincent … and Vincent, blood red and ice white with fever, going away, so far away into the hungry mouth of the earth. But he … he had Catherine. Did Caroline have someone like that? He ached at the memory of the last time he’d seen her, a week ago, her eyes shining hard as diamonds with a coiled rage you could smell; it filled the air like ozone. She was keeping to her chamber, but not for much longer. That was why Eric had asked for the sedatives.

He smiled sadly at Safi. “You really believe she’ll get better?”

“I have to believe that. I believe that love can do great things, but only if it’s coupled with action. That’s the secret. It’s only when we let love get dirt under our fingernails do miracles happen. But they do. Look at us, and where we are and what we know.”

Kipper could feel a little something lift off his back. He was starting to understand. It wasn’t just Catherine being Catherine, it was Catherine taking that walk into the cavern heedless of the howls of fury emanating from it. It was Olivia bringing Kanin his lunch at work and waiting for him when he met with his parole officer. It was Jake putting back together the lamp his big sister had smashed and setting it aside for when she was well again. It was everything. From the secret hearths of the earth where abandoned children sat in circles, legs dangling over alcoves, pouring over Dickens and Shakespeare, to the bright greens and yellows of the park where the stitches on Safi’s hijab spoke of the care Cate had put into making her Winterfest gift. That Safi was the first Helper Cate had recruited. That he could still remember Cate nursing in Lena’s arms. That Lena’s first time being lead midwife had been to deliver Olivia’s and Kanin’s daughter, River.

They would get through this somehow.

He hugged Safi goodbye and started for home. He fell asleep almost the instant his body hit the bed. His dreams were not troubled this time; they were of Vincent reading to him as a child. A story that had no beginning or end. Their story.

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