[Published in the East Hampton Star, May, 2002]
Even through tears and the deliriums of half-consciousness, Larry saw the smoke from the gun, heard the deafening sound from it, and the mad screams that rose upon each shot. The shooter continued to walk up the aisle and Larry watched the man’s wide back while sinking to the floor of the subway car. This lowering of self was not done out of will. Larry’s legs had gone numb and when he slid down, his pants rolled up, exposing shins and the gray hairs on his bony legs. He slumped against a pole and remembered he was an old man. His hand stuck to one palm-sized portion of his chest as blood gushed through fingers in thick waves, rolling over knuckles and falling onto his sweater, a cable-knit recently bought by his wife. He perspired and wanted badly to reach into his breast pocket for his handkerchief, but he wouldn’t dare take his hand away. Besides, sitting in place seemed to ease the hurt. The pain was either dissipating or he was getting accustomed to it like the fit of new clothes.
He closed his eyes and took several long breaths and exhaled each slowly. Words came to his mind, despite the cacophony of his surroundings. Panicking passengers shouted and slapped at the subway doors and windows, trying to force them open. Several ran over him without consideration. They were the most bothersome to Larry, because he was ruminating while some of these people kicked his feet as they leapt, costing him his train of thought.
The gun fell with a loud thud and Larry turned toward the sound. He winced when he shifted his head and shoulders, and also when he saw the gunman being smothered by a group of purposeful men, who battered him with blows that looked painful to the extreme. Despite this man’s capture, people still screamed and scurried about. A large woman heading to the far end of the car stumbled after she nearly tripped over Larry’s size 10 Clark’s. His toes pointed right back up, like pieces of hard rubber, and he found it curious, not feeling pain when kicked. The woman was the last to pass him and the voices quelled in a matter of seconds, a change of volume Larry was grateful for.
With one wet hand still on his chest, he raised himself up a little, making it easier to breathe and concentrate. He coughed and began.
“Death,” he said. It was a murmur and wouldn’t do. He propped himself up some more, pressing his loose hand to the coarse floor and pushing his spine against the metal pole. He winced, coughed, and did his best to clear his throat.
“Death -.” The weary drone in his voice stunned him. It was a typical, sick, old man sound, but it would have to do. “Death,” he said again, “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn” -he paused to cough – “No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather . . . rather . . .” -he coughed, without needing to this time, raising a clenched fist a few inches from his mouth – “rather bear those ills we have, Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.”