When the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I know now that my answer should have been, "The Jaws of Life." Many is the time I have pinched myself for failing to articulate this ambition. I have always loved the registered name: Jaws of Life®, its capital letters as beautiful as Sacred Heart. The register mark sings of branding Longhorns on the High Plains spread of the Trapped R Ranch.
The question of vocation came so innocently from the lips of Mrs. VanHamendorp. Her tongue and teeth put forth the inquiry like a car being shifted into gear: the words were passengers in that red and white sedan of mouth, whose owner polished it each morning with a cream she blended from honey and the sexual potential of seventh-graders. The hood would have gleamed even more in the glare of police and ambulance lights. As Mrs. V closed her mouth, the impact of her colliding mandibles threw some sounds into the sparkling dashboard of her teeth and crushed others under the velvet roof of her palate, muffling their cries. If I had been a Jaws of Life for Mrs. V’s mouth, I would have put in exquisitely long hours prying open her lips so I could get to that unconscious, vulnerable tongue.
I would have made a good Jaws of Life. I would have been content to lie in disuse for most of the days and nights, lounging in the back of the Volunteer Fire Department station behind the gleaming trucks and the Quick Response Team ambulance, my enormous Kevlar-reinforced mandibles resting on wooden blocks, my hydraulic hoses as relaxed as the limbs of a passenger who has been thrown from the point of impact. But I would have been ready, I say, for any catastrophe: earthquake, car wreck, tractor upset, train derailment, tornado, you name it.
I think what really attracted me to this vocation was all of the publicity. I would have loved to see my name in the newspaper in service to the dead and mangled. When people saw my name, they’d know it wasn’t your average fender-bender. I would have thrilled to such sentences as: "Rescue workers had to use the Jaws of Life to extract the body from the wreckage."
I would have put in a good night’s work, come home, gone to bed, and dreamed of snakes. Some of them, you know, can distend their jaws in order to accommodate larger victims, swallowing them entire. Popular misconception has it that these serpents engorge their prey for nourishment. I know, however, that this practice arises out of the fulfillment that comes with being the agent of rescue from this world.
Copyright © S.C. Hahn 2004
S.C. Hahn is a native of Nebraska, USA, and lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where he works as a freelance business writer, writes prose poems, and translates prose poems from Swedish. In addition to The Richmond Review, his work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Gin Bender Poetry Review and Full Circle.
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