Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature



Joseph Heller, Catch-22, 1961


Death of Snowden

Death of Snowden:

Chapter 41

ÖSnowden was lying on his back on the floor with his legs stretched out, still burdened cumbersomely by his flak suit, his flak helmet, his parachute harness and his Mae West. Not far away on the floor lay the small tail gunner in a dead faint. The wound Yossarian saw was in the outside of Snowdenís thigh, as large as a football, it seemed. It was impossible to tell where the shreds of his saturated coverall ended and the ragged flesh began.

There was no morphine in the first-aid kit, no protection for Snowden against pain but the numbing shock of the gaping wound itself. The twelve syrettes of morphine had been stolen from their case and replaced by a cleanly lettered note that said: "Whatís good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country. Milo Minderbinder." Yosarian swore at Milo and held two aspirins out to ashen lips unable to receive them. But first he hastily drew a tourniquet around Snowdenís thigh because he could not think what else to do in those first tumultuous moments when his senses were in turmoil, when he knew he must act competently at once and feared he might go to pieces completely. Snowden watched him steadily, saying nothing.  No artery was spurting, but Yossarian pretended to absorb himself entirely into the fashioning of a tourniquet, because applying a tourniquet was something he did know how to do. He worked with simulated skill and composure, feeling Snowdenís lackluster gaze resting upon him. He recovered possession of himself before the tourniquet was finished and loosened it immediately to lessen the danger of gangrene. His mind was clear now, and he knew how to proceed. He rummaged through the first-aid kit for scissors.

"Iím cold," Snowden said softly, "Iím cold."

"Youíre going to be all right, kid," Yossarian reassured him with a grin. "Youíre going to be all right."

"Iím cold," Snowden said again in a frail, childlike voice. "Iím cold."

"There, there," Yossarian said, because he did not know what else to say. "There, there."

"Iím cold," Snowden whimpered. "Iím cold."

"There, there. There, there."

Yossarian was frightened and moved more swiftly. He found a pair of scissors at last and began cutting carefully through Snowdenís coveralls high up above the wound, just below the groin. He cut through the heavy gabardine cloth all the way around the thigh in a straight line. The tiny tail gunner woke up while Yossarian was cutting with the scissors, saw him, and fainted again. Snowden rolled his head to the other side of his neck in order to stare at Yossarian more directly. A dim, sunken light glowed in his weak and listless eyes. Yossarian, puzzled, tried not to look at him. He began cutting downward through the coveralls along the inside seam. The yawning wound ó was that a tube of slimy bone he saw running deep inside the gory scarlet flowed behind the twitching, startling fibers of weird muscle? Was dripping blood in several trickles, like snow melting on eaves, but viscous and red, already thickening as it dropped. Yossarian kept cutting through the coveralls to the bottom and peeled open the severed leg of the garment. It fell to the floor with a plop, exposing the hem of khaki undershorts that were soaking up blotches of blood on one side as though in thirst. Yossarian was stunned at how waxen and ghastly Snowdenís bare leg looked, how loathsome, how lifeless and esoteric the downy, fine curled blond hairs on his odd, white shin and calf. The wound, he saw now, was not nearly as large as a football, but as long and wide as his hand, and too raw and deep to see into clearly. The raw muscles inside twitched like live hamburger meat. A long sigh of relief escaped slowly through Yossarianís mouth when he saw that Snowden was not in danger of dying. The blood was already coagulating inside the wound, and it was simply a matter of bandaging him up and keeping him calm until the plane landed. He removed some packets of sulfanilamide from the first-aid kit. Snowden quivered when Yossarian pressed against him gently to turn him up slightly on his side.

"Did I hurt you?"

"Iím cold," Snowden whimpered. "Iím cold."

"There, there," Yossarian said. "There, there."

"Iím cold. Iím cold."

"There, there. There, there."

"Itís starting to hurt me," Snowden cried out with a plaintive, urgent wince.

Yossarian scrambled through the first-aid kit in search of morphine again and found only Miloís note and a bottle of aspirin, He cursed Milo and held two aspirin tablets out to Snowden. He had no water to offer. Snowden rejected the aspirin with an almost imperceptible shake of his head. His face was pale and pasty. Yossarian removed Snowdenís flak helmet and lowered his head to the floor.

"Iím cold," Snowden moaned with half-closed eyes. "Iím cold."

The edges of his mouth were turning blue. Yossarian was petrified. He wondered whether to pull the rip cord of Snowdenís parachute and cover him with the nylon folds. It was very warm in the plane. Glancing up unexpectedly, Snowden gave him a wan, cooperative smile and shifted the position of his hips a bit so that Yossarian could begin salting the wound with sulfanilamide. Yossarian worked with renewed confidence and optimism. The plane bounced hard inside an airpocket, and he remembered with a start that he had left his own parachute up front in the nose. There was nothing to be done about that. He poured envelope after envelope of the white crystalline powder in the bloody oval wound until nothing red could be seen and then drew a deep, apprehensive breath, steeling himself with gritted teeth as he touched his bare hands to the dangling shreds of drying flesh to tuck them up inside the wound. Quickly he covered the whole wound with a large compress and jerked his hand away. He smiled nervously when his brief ordeal had ended. The actual contact with dead flesh had not been nearly as repulsive as he had anticipated, and he found excuse to caress the wound with his fingers again and again to convince himself of his own courage.

Ö "Iím cold," Snowden moaned. "Iím cold."

"Youíre going to be all right, kid," Yossarian assured him, patting his arm comfortingly. "Everythingís under control."

Snowden shook his head feebly. "Iím cold," he repeated, with eyes as dull and blind as stone. "Iím cold."

"There, there," Yossarian, with growing doubt and trepidation. "There, there. In a little while weíll be back on the ground and Doc Daneeka will take care of you."

But Snowden kept shaking his head and pointed at last, with just the barest movement of his chin, down to his armpit. Yossarian bent forward to peer and saw a strangely colored stain seeping through the coverall just above the armhole of Snowdenís flak suit. Yossarian felt his heart stop, then pound so violently he found it difficult to breathe. Snowden was wounded inside his flak suit. Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowdenís flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowdenís insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out. A chunk of flak more than three inches big had shot into his other side just underneath the arm and blasted all the way through, drawing whole mottled quarts of Snowden along with it through the gigantic hole in his ribs it made as it blasted out. Yossarian screamed a second time and squeezed both hands over his eyes. His teeth were chattering in horror. He forced himself to look again. Here was Godís plenty, all right, he thought bitterly as he stared ó liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten that day for lunch. Yossarian hated stewed tomatoes and turned away dizzily and began to vomit, clutching his burning throat. The tail gunner woke up while Yossarian was vomiting, saw him, and fainted again.

Yossarian was limp with exhaustion, pain and despair when he finished. He turned back weakly to Snowden, whose breath had grown softer and more rapid, and whose face had grown paler. He wondered how in the world to begin to save him.

"Iím cold." Snowden whimpered, "Iím cold."

"There, there. Yossarian mumbled mechanically in a voice too low to be heard. "There, there."

Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollable. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowdenís secret. Drop him out a window and heíll fall. Set fire to him and heíll burn. Bury him and heíll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowdenís secret. Ripeness was all.

"Iím cold," Snowden said. "Iím cold."

"There, there," said Yossarian. "There, there," He pulled the rip cord of Snowdenís parachute and covered his body with the white nylon sheets.

"Iím cold."

"There, there."




Adrienne Nater, 2008

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.