working stiff, by judy melinek

“Did he suffer?” I hate that question. Survivors of the deceased ask it all the time. If the answer is no, I’ll tell them the truth. If the answer is yes—sometimes I will lie.

I ran into Dr. Hirsch in the hallway. He was cleaned up, but had several raw abrasions on his forehead. He looked worn and tired, and was limping. His right elbow was covered with a gauze bandage. I had never seen Hirsch rattled by anything, and now he seemed so suddenly fragile, this brilliant man, this great leader. I wanted to hug him but was afraid to hurt him, so I held out my hands. He placed his fingers in mine, and I rubbed them, then turned his hands over. The knuckles were bruised, scratched, and dirty. “See these contusions?” Dr. Hirsch asked, in the same tone of professional remove he employed at morning morgue rounds. “They are from a man hunched and covering his head.” He demonstrated, and when he did, looked very old and scared. Then, without another word, he walked away. I couldn’t tell whether Charles Hirsch was making a teaching point or confiding in me. Or both.

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