He sat on the park bench and, for the first time in his memory, his mind was truly blank. All was silent. All was dark. It was probably 3am but the clouds hid the moon and the stars and no light was nearby, but in the darkness his mind began to reel to life and his eyes projected into his mind the events that made him.
Though he could not see it, he felt the handle of the knife protruding from his chest. He dared not move for fear of shifting the blade. It was surely near its mark. If he removed it, he’d bleed out in seconds. If he left it in, he’d bleed out in several minutes. If he moved, he’d bleed out in one. Through all action and inaction, he would die. He was dying.
The nature of his work is testament to his death. There was no escaping this. He hoped to delay it as long as possible and fourteen years in the business was probably considered a long run. He tried to think of anyone who had gotten out, but he remembered the sand in the hourglass. The flowers for his wife were sprawled before him still half inside the brown bag that also held the new mitt for his boy and new flannel booties for his new baby girl. The first time he saw her face he knew he had to get out. But there was no getting out. He knew, but he still tried. Sometimes all a man can do is try.
He had assurances that he was out. He knew those assurances were false. Just lies hidden behind smiles. He knew. He’d told a few himself. He just thought he’d had more time. Perhaps if he hadn’t stopped by the store he may have made it home, but he wanted to get something for everyone before their impromptu cross country trip. They may have been in Pennsylvania by now. But he was stuck on a park bench at the edge of winter looking out at the river on a moonless night just listening as the water trickled by, not yet frozen but lethal nonetheless. He wondered if Margaret was up worrying about him or sleeping soundly in bed expecting he’d be home by dawn. Maybe she was rocking Lilith to sleep. James was surely somewhere in dreamland. The kid could sleep through the apocalypse.
A faint smile flashed across his lips. A cold numbness crawled through him and he wasn’t sure if it was simply the prolonged exposure to the cold or if he was losing blood more quickly than before. Either way, he shivered involuntarily and felt the sting of the blade as it vibrated inside his chest. His time had come. His silent assassin had left him little time, but they also left him a choice with how to use it. He was sure the maestro of this final act hoped the ending would be more entertaining. That he’d run for help and bleed out before he’d find anyone so he’d be found sprawled out on the pavement down by fifth street, but he now held the power to at least choose his end. He could try to get help, but he knew once the knife had settled that he was done. There was no coming back from this. Even if he were on a gurney in the ICU before the knife found him, he wouldn’t have made it.
He had one last choice to make before the cold took him. He reached up and gripped the handle of the knife. A sharp pain ran through him, but he ignored it as he yanked the steel from his chest. Heat evaporated off the blade. Heat it had stolen from his blood. He dropped it but never heard the clank it made on the stone beneath him.