Jack began to think the wound was superficial because there was no pain. Sure, there was pain when the knife went in, sharp and cold, but now there was nothing. He was numb. Sleep. That was all that was needed, sleep. Just a little rest and everything would be okay…
Jack opened his eyes, blinking he looked around. He was still in the alley with his back to the wall. He did not remember sitting down. His stomach and legs were covered in blood. “That’s right,” he said aloud, “I was stabbed.”
The mugger was young and nervous; he came at Jack from behind shoving him into the alley, into darkness. Jack gave up everything without a fight – his wallet, his watch, his phone – but not his ring. He had forgotten to put it on that morning. It was something Helen always gave him grief for, forgetting. Oh, he’ll have a laugh about that when he saw her again, if…
But he was stabbed; almost as an afterthought. The mugger got what he wanted and then just stabbed and ran. The first thing Jack remembered feeling was surprise. Why would he do that? Why would he die in the dark? And then came the pain.
But now there was no pain; just exhaustion and the feeling of being wet. What was it that always said in those hospital dramas? Shock. That’s what it was, shock. He was in shock or something like that. Or just tired. So tired. He just needed sleep; close his eyes and rest…
Then he thought of Helen. She’d be so mad at him for being late, for not coming home on time, for not being more careful. Careless, she would say. Like forgetting to wear his ring or not putting the dishes in the sink or hanging his coat on the back of the dining room chair or putting the toilet paper on the wrong way or walking home instead of taking the bus. And she would yell and raise her voice and use that tone. That tone where it sounded like she was scolding him like a misbehaving child. That tone he hated so much but would give anything right now to hear. God, he wanted to hear that tone right now.
Jack forced himself to stand up. The pain came back. He felt dizzy and the world collapsed around him. His vision was limited like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Must walk now, he thought. Right foot, left foot. He concentrated on one step and then another. Left foot, right foot. The entrance of the alley was so far, so distant. Left foot, right foot. Just keep moving. Left foot, right foot. So tired. His fingers laced across his stomach trying to keep the blood inside. Right foot, left foot. Keep moving, and listen, vision getting dim, and dark, listen, listen and move. Right foot, left foot, right.
When Jack reached the convenience store on the corner it felt like days had passed. He stumbled in the door to the tinkling of bells and fell to the floor. He could hear a woman screaming and the screeching of sneakers on the tile. “Can someone help me,” he said, “I think I’m dying…”
Everything went black and Jack was in darkness. He felt as if he were falling, floating. He was alone, alone in the darkness. Jack listened and waited and he could hear nothing and was afraid…
Helen did not wait for the sliding glass door to open all the way; she slid sideways through the narrow gap. She ran past the reception desk with the nurse yelling “excuse me” to the trauma center of the St. Emmanuel ER. A man in blood-stained scrubs blocked her way, “Ma’am, I need to tell you…” he started to say.
“Where is Jack Tucker?” she said looking over his shoulder.
“Your husband lost a lot of blood,” he began again.
“Where the fuck is he!”
The man in the scrubs stood aside and pointed to a blue curtain in the corner. Helen thought it looked like a shower curtain on a curved rod. Behind it was her husband. His body lay on a metal bed with a tube in his throat and blinking machines surrounding him. There was so much blood. “Oh Jackie,” she said, “What have you done now?” Her tears fell for the first time since she received the call from the police, “You silly, careless man,” she said. Helen leaned over Jack’s body and gently kissed him on the forehead. She then moved down and placed her lips against his ear. Taking a deep breath she began to speak, slowly and with strength…
Helen remembered driving home from a dinner party at a friend’s house one night. It was late and they had been drinking. She was laughing. Jack was in the passenger seat telling stories and doing impressions of the party-goers. He was silly. He could always make her laugh. He could say something a certain way or just look at her at the right angle and she was doubled over holding her stomach with giggles. Jack was gesturing wildly and she wasn’t paying attention to the road. At the last moment, she saw the other car at the intersection; she swerved, the brakes screeched, and the car twisted to the shoulder. There was no collision. They were safe by the side of the road.
“Well, that was interesting,” Jack said. Helen laughed.
Helen guessed it was adrenaline that drove them to the bed that night; the fear of death, the thrill of danger coaxing them to frantic lovemaking. Lovemaking. That was Jack’s word. To Helen, it was just sex, or better yet, fucking. Entwined bodies naked and sweating, gasping and reaching for the moment when the two are together, one and whole in pleasure and beauty and selfish giving. When they were done they lay there breathing heavily. Helen asked playfully, “Jack, how would you like to die?”
“Oh, I’m not going to,” he said, “It’s been done, so overrated.”
“I’m serious,” she said, “Do you want it to be in your sleep or be awake? At home or on vacation or maybe,” she rubbed his hand, “doing something like we just did.”
“Apparently you’ve thought about this, should I be worried?”
“Shut up and say,” she said, “Honest answer.”
Jack thought for a moment, “Honest answer? Doesn’t matter when or how I go; so long as the last thing I hear is the sound of your voice.”
“Come on, be serious,” she said. She was blushing, only Jack could do that.
Everything went black and Jack was in darkness. He felt as if he were falling, floating. He was alone, alone in the darkness. Jack listened and waited and he could hear nothing and was afraid. And then it came, a sound familiar and clear, soft at first then growing filling the space around him. And he was not alone. “I’m here,” the voice said, “I’m here with you. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here…”
Originally published August 28, 2014