Brevity Fourteen

Brevity Home | Next Essay Past Issues


Incident in the Lunch Buffet Line in Atlantic City

By Peggy Duffy

My father who faints at the sight of blood—his or anybody else’s—saved a life today.

My father with his 80-year-old stiff arthritic joints, dropped to his knees seconds after the woman who had been standing in front of him in line for the lunch buffet in Atlantic City collapsed and lay ashen and not breathing on the floor beside him.

My father who could never change a baby’s diaper without gagging—mine or any of my children’s—looked into this woman’s face, her eyes rolled back in her head, and lowered his mouth to her still lips and began to blow.

“I thought she was gone, for sure,” he says later.

My father who has a lifetime of experience bossing others around—although his children proved to be a rebellious lot who didn’t listen—yelled with calm efficiency between exhaled breaths for someone to call 911, for someone else to push on the woman’s chest, and two someones obeyed.

“I learned it in the army,” he says in response to the question in my raised eyebrows—how’d you know what to do?

“That was 60 years ago.”

“You never forget.”

My father who never allowed (and still doesn’t) discussions of bodily functions at the dinner table continued to breathe into her lungs until the woman burped in his mouth and he knew she was back.

“Yeah, I couldn’t eat for a long while after that burp,” he says with a chuckle.

My father who likes to boast about his lifelong conquests—like fooling the Germans into believing he was one of them during the war, for example—stepped quietly aside, lost in the crowd, when the paramedics arrived and took over.

If my mother hadn’t told me, slightly incredulous but not really surprised, I’d never have known.

“Ah, it was nothing,” he says.

Peggy Duffy's short stories and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Drexel Online Journal, Octavo, So To Speak, Able Muse, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. Her fiction has received numerous awards and was recognized by the Virginia Commission for the Arts as a finalist in the 2001/2002 Individual Artist Fellowship program for literary artists. She maintains a website at


Next Essay