It was the first perfect day of spring; the air silky with warmth. People, like the daffodils, were blooming all over Washington Square Park: Bicyclists, street musicians, bag-lunchers, in-line skaters, mothers with strollers. Those who were just standing around, others who were walking—they flew into the air like handkerchiefs tossed by the breeze when the car hit them.
I was coming home from a bookstore where I’d just been reading about a character from Irish mythology–Noisi, Deirdre’s husband. He was said to have had hair like a raven, skin white as snow and cheeks red as blood. An image of Noisi in my mind’s eye, I started following a Greenwich Village tour group I didn’t pay for. I walked with the group for a few minutes, until the leader looked at me with such malice I thought I’d better leave.
I headed down MacDougal St. As I started crossing through the park, a boy rushed up to me, screaming, “Some motherfucker drove their car through the park!” Scowling, he ran toward the middle of the park where the car had stopped when it hit the fountain.
An enormous mob had formed around the car, a gray clunker. They lifted the car off the ground, and then dropped it back down. They tore an old woman in a long beige raincoat from the car and started beating her. I panicked, thinking maybe my boyfriend had been hit. He often walked through the park; we lived just a block away. I started running, scanning the faces of the wounded and the dead to see if he was among them.
I saw a lot of things I wished I hadn’t–people on park benches when the car hit contorted into unbelievable shapes, smashed into the seats, some even wrapped around them like ribbons. One person was pierced through the waist by a bench. Others lay bleeding on the ground. I didn’t find my boyfriend anywhere and was afraid of being crushed by the mob. I kept running until I came to the park’s edge where I saw a face that made me stop. It belonged to a teenager. He looked just as I imagined Noisi might have: He had soft, wind-blown dark hair. A bright red blush dusted his young white cheeks. The problem was he lay on the ground, his head turned the wrong way so that his face looked over his back. His legs were wrapped around his torso. A young man with a worried expression held the boy’s wrist, as if by keeping track of how often the teenager’s heart beat, he was keeping him alive. The ambulances began arriving, at least 40 in all, sirens screaming. Two paramedics put the boy’s twisted body on a stretcher and carried him away.
On the news that night, I learned that the boy was a 19-year-old NYU sophomore named Carlos Oyola. He had died shortly after the young man and I left him to the paramedics’ care. I watched as his mother cried into a newscaster’s microphone. I thought of sending her a card but never did.
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Author’s note: I witnessed the aftermath of the April 23, 1992 Washington Square Park “massacre” when Stella Maychick, 74, mistakenly stepped on the accelerator rather than the brake as she shifted her 1987 Oldsmobile into drive. She veered into the park, killing five people and injuring 26 others. NYU named a scholarship in honor of Carlos Oyola, who lived at 367 Second Street in Brooklyn.
Ellen Lindquist’s short-short “In the Hawaiian Garden Where I Came to Escape Feeling Sad” was selected to teach a course in flash fiction at the University of Glasgow. In 2004, she was invited to submit poetic texts to the London Art Biennial. Visit her here: www.ellenlindquist.blogspot.com.