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The skinhead, seated on the sidewalk where Billy had pulled him, drawled in a tone that did not seem entirely unfriendly, "You don’t know what side you’re on." He embraced Billy’s legs, and Billy folded down.

Melissa got herself in the middle without knowing how. A fist among all those fists caught her on the jaw, and she staggered under the impact of the punch and of the fact that it was the first time since her tomboy days that anyone had punched her, and when, in the months to come, she would remember what happened next, she would remember that it had happened at a great distance from the place where she stood, too much in shock even to rub her jaw: at that distance, an old man crabbed off sideways on all fours and a young man she knew was standing up, waving his arms to fend off blows from three others, then falling, falling slowly, his arms moving closer to him until they covered his head, until he was down and rolling, until he stopped rolling and there were boots, only boots now, that kicked him. The asphalt heaved up against Billy’s chest; the asphalt, which had been expecting rain, drank down Billy’s tears. He could not remember the last time physical pain had made him cry.

Melissa found herself at a phone booth saying "Ambulance" until a voice answered, "ambulance" when asked what service she needed, "ambulance" when asked where she was. The ambulance that swept up silently — there wasn’t enough traffic to need a siren — to the phone booth on 5th Street and Yamhill was running its wipers.

"Poor kid," said a paramedic.

"No," said Melissa, because it was what she could say.

"Lay down," urged the paramedic, bearing down on her shoulders with his hands. "Your eggs are a little scrambled, that’s all. Everything’s gonna be all right."

Melissa lay on the stretcher, and the stretcher started moving across the rain-darkened concrete, and there was a bump, and the ambulance started moving across the rain-darkened asphalt. She ran two fingers over the guitar case that lay beside her, leaving tire tracks on its wet black pebbled skin. She wished she could throw it into reverse, reel it all back, back past the ambulance and the voice in the phone, past the old man and the skinheads, past the run and past the rain; she wished the band had played another encore and she had closed up the club a few minutes later. She’d kept Billy’s guitar for him. Melissa sat up and said: "It isn’t me!"


Melissa was treated for cuts and bruises and discharged from James G. Blaine Memorial Hospital after a night of observation. Billy remained in a coma for the rest of that weekend and the entire month of April. Prisoners and municipal employees X’d days off their calendars, praying for vacation or release; Melissa sat beside Billy’s bed in a molded purple plastic chair and read to him until she grew inured to Muzak and cherry-scented antiseptic; nurses took Billy’s pulse on day shift, night shift, graveyard shift; Billy’s mother appeared, asked her son a battery of questions, then rehearsed, over his inert form, her farewell speech to Billy’s father, which speech treated in some detail her twin discoveries of yeast sensitivity and crystal technology,



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