Mr. Epstein sat on a bench in Central Park for nearly an hour and a half before I had gained the courage to go nearer to him. His first name was Jack, passed down to him from the man whose life I had retrieved just moments before. It was an unusually dreary day, and as a man whose days revolved around death, I still felt a heavy sadness in the air. Mr. Epstein senior was shot in an alleyway following his sons 25th birthday dinner. I was not there for the murder, but I was present in the hospital room nearly thirty minutes later. Many times, deaths like these are difficult for one to calculate, so rather than being given a set time I am given a range of times in which I may have to retrieve. I sat in the waiting room alongside the Epstein family for quite a bit of time, and as it was beginning to near the scheduled time for my next appointment, I entered the hospital room to see what was taking so long.
Mr. Epstein was shot three times; once in his arm and twice in his chest. His vitals were highly irregular and he had been in and out of consciousness. His son, Jack, stood hovered over his body, already aware of his father’s impending retrieval. I stood motionless, as if I was afraid he might see me, and watched intently as Jack muttered inaudibly under his breath. Then, the ping of Mr. Epsteins’ vitals flatlined and I knew it was time to proceed. As I approached the man, his son slid to the floor and pushed himself across the tile until his back hit the wall. He sat there with his head between his legs, whimpering softly. These appointments are always much more difficult when family is present, and today was no exception. I proceeded with my retrieval ritual, laid my hand on Mr. Epstein’s chest, and spoke the latin prayer. I looked up from Mr. Epstein and Jack was standing directly across from me on the opposite side of the bed. It felt as if he was staring into my eyes, a sensation altogether foreign to me now, and I stared back unable to move. After what felt like an eternity our eyes unlocked, he turned for the door, and continued at a slow pace down the hallway.
Never had I experienced this in all my time as a retriever.
I did, eventually, approach the man and sit next to him on the bench. He sat, motionless, staring into space. I studied him thoroughly. His hair was jet black with tiny wisps of gray scattered about. His eyes were a pale blue, and were bloodshot from crying. His narrow nose had a crease in its rim, likely from the use of glasses or a sports accident. He exhaled and pulled his chin into his chest.
I’m quite positive that Jack Epstein had not seen me now, for he had been sitting next to me for nearly forty five minutes, not giving even the smallest glance. His eyes were fixed on something in the distance I couldn’t distinguish. I didn’t bother investigating as more likely than not the man was in shock, journeying within his own mind.
A small yellow bird caught my attention as it fluttered down from the trees. It danced through the air, swaying intricately downward until it landed about ten feet away from us. It was then that I noticed we were sitting directly in front of the John Lennon memorial.
Interestingly enough, I was Lennon’s retriever. I remember standing before him, helpless, as Mark David Chapman shot him four times in the back. I watched Chapman as he stood over Lennon’s lifeless body, fingering through the pages of The Catcher in the Rye, waiting for the authorities to arrive–peace extinguished by insanity. The curious thing about Death is that it has no biases. It has no morals, or doubts, it simply is. It takes place. I am given an appointment, and I retrieve a patient, and the universe continues to spin. Good, bad, young or old, a retrieval is a retrieval, and death is death.
It was then that I realized I had missed my next appointment by nearly fifty minutes.
In my two hundred years as a retriever I hadn’t once missed an appointment. To be completely honest, I was curious to know what would happen, but I was never confident enough as to skip one and find out. I snapped back to reality and noticed a woman standing before me. She was a small woman, barely 5 and a half feet, and she wore a shawl over her face. Her bare toes stood dirty and cold in a puddle beneath her. She raised her hand out to me and twisted it palm side up. I could see a thin smile pronounced through the veil, o
and in a raspy, vinyl voice she chimed,
“Here now honey, take my hand.”