I saw someone die tonight

This piece was originally published as a bonus issue of the Nothing Here newsletter.

I was meant to see MY DISCO again tonight. I thought I would have a chance to write another hyperbolic review like last time, but instead I saw someone die.

I didn’t see him fall, I just saw the commotion on the stairs. People stepping over what they assumed was a drunk, until someone paused for long enough to realise something was wrong. I saw the two drunks I’d been getting irritated by swoop down and do their best to help before I even realised what had happened.

I looked down from my spot over the stairs, looked down right into the man’s face. I saw the blood spattered around his head and the sick, rolling tilt of his eyes, unmoored. That image struck me, and it strikes me still. I must have seen something the others didn’t, because they continued to watch as staff called Emergency, and punters administered CPR. Because they leered over the ledge watching as the paramedics tried to asses the situation – a man dying on the stairs, with an audience, with phones and flashlight, and fucking photos.

I saw someone die. It was the simplest accident, a stumble down the steps. Could have happened to anyone (by which I of course mean it could have happened to me. We are, after all driven by thoughts of our own mortality). A tumble down a short flight of stairs, at a small gig, for an obscure band. And now a man is dead.

I didn’t watch him die. We were ushered out the fire escape to stand on the street; hopeful that the man would be whisked away for treatment, that he would be fine and our show would go on. But no. The night was cancelled, the staff told us solemnly. I heard another say “He passed away,” as I walked from the venue, hearing snippets of mistruths and bullshit from the assembled gawkers. How quickly it spreads. “Someone pulled a fire alarm.” “Someone had a heart attack.” Maybe he fell down the stairs because of a heart issue, but that was blood on the floor around his head. I believe the staff member because of the euphemism. Because you can drunkenly half-joke about someone dying inside, but if they’ve “passed away,” that’s serious.

One guy jokingly asked if he’d get a refund, and was almost beaten for the question. It’s not his fault; he was in the “fire alarm” clique of late arrivals. They stood talking loudly about classic guitars and other strands of unfiltered music nerd bullshit while a long line of us stood against the wall, too stunned to do much but wait, hug, and eventually peel away slowly for other venues, other vibes.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is more misinformation. Maybe that guy I saw dying on the stairs is lying in hospital, unaware that a couple of hundred strangers think he died. Dying is so easy. You just have to fall backward down some stairs. Living is the hard part. Living well, hardest of all.