March 30, 1981

by: William Haas

He waves. A gun blast. Shoulders hunch. Heads duck. Bodies drop. Black smudges vision. Bodies pile on. Three bleed on the asphalt. “A sudden burst of six pops.” Hand in air, he falls. Shoulders hunch. Heads duck. Bodies drop. Secret service scramble. Bodies writhe like worms. The vehicle speeds off. “That’s the sound of the first shot.” He smiles, waves a hand above his shoulder. The President topples. Shoulders hunch. Heads duck. Bodies drop. Perimeter collapses. “Well, I guess it’s called protection. We have to be there in case the President, something happens like today to the President or in case the President has a little statement. Somebody might throw a question at him, and he might come up with a good answer.”

First silence. Sound arrives in gunshots. The movement overwhelms the unhinged camera. The screen blurs black. The shooter is thrown against a wall. A handkerchief pressed to a head where the brain bleeds out. An agent cocks an Uzi, surveys the scene. The vehicle peels off across wet asphalt. No leaves on the trees. “There was a single bullet wound that, uh, entered slightly underneath the left armpit.” Shoulders hunch, heads duck, bodies drop. A man in a winter coat appears at the news desk and speaks. The gun is visible, gripped in white hands, one wrist wrapped in a gold watch, loose overcoat sleeves. The President’s contorted face in a halo of white superimposed on the grainy screen. “The operative incision was about six inches in width and a relatively simple procedure. The bullet was removed, and, uh, then the incision was closed.” The President’s stern visage floats screen-left above the news anchor’s head. A quick cut to another anchor and a video portal of a mustachioed man. “And it’s happened again, another attempt on the life of a President which will produce more analyses of what’s wrong with the American soul. There is probably not much wrong with the American soul, but these incidents seem to keep happening, and that is a real puzzle and a tragic puzzle.”

Men in light gray and beige suits walk around a cut-stonewall. “It doesn’t make much sense, Henry,” says one. Incidental sounds, rustling nylon, scattered conversations. The President appears spry in a black suit with white handkerchief in breast pocket. He waves to the crowd. He smiles. Officers flank him. The scratchy sound of footsteps on wet concrete, of microphones rubbed against cloth. A woman’s voice calls his name. His hand high in the air. Roman columns on the building behind him. Hinckley acts alone. The President waves, and Hinckley squeezes the trigger. Six shots in quick succession. Shoulders hunch. Heads duck. Bodies drop. An officer clutches his hat and crouches in fear. Agents snap up the President like a fumbled football and laterally shove him into the vehicle. “Get ’im out. Get ’im out.” Black suit, handcuffs rattling off his belt, dives into the shooter. A canary-yellow rainslicker assists in the tackle as more bodies pile on. The assassin’s pistol waves in the air. Another agent widens the perimeter, pushing soundmen and cameramen away. Uzi cocked, he scans for accomplices. Screams. Cries. Ambient noise of traffic and wind on the microphone.

Before going under the knife, the President tells the surgeons, “I hope you’re all Republicans.” Following the operation, a doctor stands before a scrum of microphones. “The bullet traversed about three inches of the chest wall and then, uh, ricocheted off the seventh rib into the left, lower lobe of the lung and, uh, moved about three inches into the lunch substance itself.” Hinckley was a dreamer, but not the only one. The President in pajamas holds Nancy’s hand. It was morning in America.