DEAD MAN FALLING
Sudden inspiration strikes midway over the Atlantic in an SAS jumbo jet bound for Copenhagen, and I am hunched over the fold-down table in my aisle seat, scribbling away at a love story – I have just had the good fortune to spend some time with a lovely woman and such are my proclivities that I have to make a story out of it. At just the moment in the story when boy is about to get girl, something slams into my face and knocks off my glasses, stunning me. I think something must have fallen out of the overhead bin, but realize then it was another passenger, a man who had been walking along the aisle, got just abreast of me and collapsed like a ton of bricks.
After finding my glasses, not broken fortunately, and noting that a goose egg is growing out of my forehead, I look around and see a body lying in the aisle, looking quite dead. A man, in his forties perhaps.
Three men converge on the body from three different directions. I learn that they are Danish doctors who happened to be on the plane, and they set to work on him at once, lifting his legs to get the blood flow back in his head, taking his blood pressure, reviving him. Soon he is up on his elbows, telling that he had felt nauseated and was on his way to the toilet when suddenly he blacked out, next thing he knew he was on his back in the aisle. His blood pressure is 100 over 70, too low for comfort, and when he tries to rise he grows dizzy. The doctor nearest me – a man of forty perhaps, an oncologist I heard him say, tells the man to remain lying down. It is good to see how attentive the doctors are, how concerned to do what they can for the man. I know from experience in an earlier professional life that doctors who intervene in such aircraft incidents are not only rarely rewarded, but even risk legal suits. But the sue-your-ass-off mania has not yet hit Scandinavia.
A stewardess appears and tells the one doctor that the captain has made available his sleeping quarters, but because the patient is still not able to rise without dizziness, he must scuttle crablike on his bottom, propelling himself with the palms of his hands and bottoms of his feet to the front of the plane. I am given an ice pack for my goose egg and lean back in my seat, thinking about how suddenly and unexpectedly things sometimes happen, how vulnerable we are, how half the time we don’t even see it coming.
I recall an incident some forty-five years ago when I was working as a runner in the Wall Street area. In the crowded morning rush hour just as I got off the train at Bowling Green, a middle-aged couple walking beside me, the husband suddenly dropped like a stone. His wife looked with bewilderment at him. A transit cop materialized and for some reason blew his whistle – perhaps to summon colleagues.
He crouched beside the body, felt for a pulse, and said, “It’s all right, lady – he’s dead.”
“Dead?” she asked. “He can’t be. He just ate breakfast.”
And then, because the platform was crowded and people were pushing me from behind, I moved on. Yet that moment is etched in memory: It’s all right lady – he’s dead. He can’t be – he just ate breakfast.
But of course we all can be, from moment to moment, at any moment, even in the middle of a love story, even when boy is just about to get girl.
Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy
Ian McEwan profile - Ian McEwan's new novel, *Nutshell*, with its *in utero*-narrator, is due out shortly -- see the Nan A. Talese publicity page, or pre-order your copy...
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