"He's still warm," said Joe. He looked down at the body, emaciated and pockmarked with weeping sores. A bat cracked and the and the half-filled stadium crowd on the television roared. The Nationals were playing the Rockies.
"It's a slow day. I think people are hanging on just to watch the playoffs," said the EMT, an older man who showed only a few red spots. He zipped up the body bag. "We're gonna get a rush once the series is done. That's my bet. New Year's last year was slow, although back then there weren't so many dying. I guess people really wanted to make it to 2015. Just another day though. Would'ya help me get him on the gurney?"
"Yeah, sure." Joe carefully lifted the body by the shoulders off the sofa as the EMT carried the legs. They carried the body around to the gurney parked behind the sofa. Joe felt something pop in his back and immediately worried if it was a progression of the disease.
"Oh man, you're gonna want to get that dry cleaned," said the EMT. He nodded in the direction of the sofa cushions, soaked with blood.
"That's not mine."
"Oh, I assumed you lived here."
"No. I'm just his drug dealer."
"Really? What do you sell?"
"I used to sell only marijuana, back before I was legit, but now I have a license to distribute Ox and morphine."
"Oh, you must be raking it in."
"Well, my customers keep dying. I'm too tired to get new ones. Too much driving these days."
"I hear you. You're getting far along though. What'cha got left, six, seven months?" asked the EMT, adjusting his hat and smiling. Joe glared at him.
"I'm holding out for a cure," said Joe. The EMT burst into laughter.
"Good luck with that!" chortled the EMT.
"Don't laugh," said Joe. He balled up his fists.
"It's fucking funny dude!" laughed the EMT. Joe swung at him and landed a punch in the EMT's soft belly. The EMT wheezed and doubled over; his face turned red. He gripped the metal edge of the gurney and sank to his knees. Joe backed up against the living room wall. He looked at his fist. The sores on his fingers were ripped open and bleeding.
"I'm sorry," said Joe quietly.
"It's all right. In a year it's gonna be all Beyond Thunderdome around here. I might as well get used to it."
"It's not all right." Joe slid down the wall and sat on the carpet cradling his arm.
"Dude, I pack up dead bodies all day, every day. Forgive me if I find death funny. I can take a look at that if you like."
The EMT picked up his medical bag and sat down next to Joe. Joe was silent. The EMT changed his gloves then started swabbing the wounds with antiseptic.
"What's your name?" asked Joe.
"I need a friend, Walter."
"You're asking me?"
"Yes. I don't want to die alone," said Joe. Walter stopped swabbing and rested his hands.
"I have two years," said Walter. He put his hand on Joe's shoulder. "Two years man. You got six months. Most of you all got less than me. I'll get to watch everyone die. I get to watch everything fall apart. I've got no choice. I will die alone buddy." He removed his hand from Joe's shoulder and continued swabbing.
"I'm sorry," said Joe, his voice cracking.
"Doesn't really bother me."
"I wish none of this ever happened--"
"That some idiots never tried to cure skin cancer with a live virus that no one has any immunity to? I wish that too, but it doesn't change anything. You know what? Just put it out of your mind. Don't think about your mortality. Go watch this travesty of a game." Walter pointed at the TV. "The Nationals are winning. The Nationals! They're going to take this game and then they're going to play Detroit. Detroit! And you know what? The Nationals are going to take the series because they have a bunch of healthy teenagers they recruited halfway through the goddamned season." Walter ripped off his gloves with a snap. "This is not baseball, it's heresy. But you know what, you should watch it. Take your mind off yourself."
Joe stared at him.
"Thanks," said Joe.
"I gotta wheel this guy out of here," said Walter. He coughed and rubbed his eyes, smearing tears across the back of his hands. He pulled the gurney through the open door and into autumn sunlight.
"See you in six months," said Joe, calling after him. He pulled up his legs and rested his head on his knees, and listened to the final bat crack and the jubilation of the Nationals.