Of Death and the Vegetable King

Nolan’s shift was nearly over when he and his partner received the transmission.  He had started at 7:00 that morning.  It had been a slow day: a couple of defibrillations  and a chronic fainter, nothing messy.  He was tempted to pass of the call to another unit, until he heard the location.  They were only three blocks away.  Lights flashed and sirens wailed, but only for a minute.

A crowd had gathered in front of familiar vegetable stand.  All of ‘the Village Idiots’, as Nolan jokingly called them, were there.  He recognized most of them, but didn’t know any of their names.  There was that hippy-guy, who was never seen without his metal drum.  There was the unhappy, unhealthy regular from the Beagle Pub.  The long-haired guy that works at the Y was down on his knees attempting to resuscitate the old man, but moved back when Nolan and his partner walked up.

A twinge of sadness came over Nolan when he identified the old man as the Vegetable King (it was the name his daughter called him by).  For the past five or six years, whenever Nolan had a Saturday morning off, he, his wife and his daughter would wake up early and drive down to Cook Street Village to get fresh eggs, onions, peppers and mushrooms for their omelets.  The man, who was a permanent fixture in the Village since God-knows-when, was capsized next to his flower display.

Blood pooled under the man’s head.  It was a chilly afternoon: traces of steam rose.  The Vegetable King was muttering under his breath: “We’ve got BC grown apples, real cheap too.  Good lettuce, farm grown.  Are you looking to start a garden?  All kinds of bulbs; beautiful varieties.”  The litany of produce was never ending.  The man looked straight ahead.  His Santa cap, which always replaced the usual poorboy cap for the month of December, lay off to the side, freckled with blood.

Nolan’s partner started asking the surrounding crowd what they had seen.  The young woman, who had placed the 911 call saw the him fall.  He was inspecting the flowers and suddenly collapsed only minutes ago.  Nolan suspected that it was a stroke.

“Sir, we are just gonna put you up on this stretcher.  Everything is going to be fine.”  As Nolan helped lift the limp body onto the movable bed, he was surprised by how light the Vegetable King was; he had always adorned his frailty with down feathers.  The King’s endless catalog of goods continued as he was loaded into the back of the ambulance: “Nice, firm stalks of celery, just got those in today.  Wonderful, ripe tomatoes.  I like to eat those like apples…”

In the ambulance, the Vegetable King suffered a second, more severe stroke.  He vomited.  The entire contents of his small stomach shot straight up in the air before mixing with the blood beneath his head.  “Shit!”  Nolan’s partner rolled him onto his side to avoid asphyxiation.  The Vegetable King was now silent and the siren seemed to get louder.

He was dead by the time the ambulance got to the Jubilee.  Nolan filled out the death certificate himself, careful to print neatly as a kind of tribute to the man who had provided Nolan’s family with wonderful omelets for all those years.  When the certificate was signed, Nolan went into the washroom and wept.  He wondered if his should tell his daughter.

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