As the pickup zoomed towards Davy his last thoughts weren’t even thoughts, at least not thoughts as we think of thoughts. If they were thoughts as we think of thoughts, and if they took their natural time to express themselves in words instead of reactions, they would’ve read like this: first, how much he loved the color, the metallic red, of the truck as it barreled towards him. Second, bewildered, why something that was about to kill him would be a color he loved so much. This gave him an odd sense of relief. And, amidst the sudden swirl of thought-like things, another layer was added when he remembered when Anne said, “Everyone knows their birthday, but no one knows their death day. Every year we land on both our birthday and our death day, but we only know our birthday, not our death day. What will that fatal day be? October 13? February 7? June 26? We don’t know, we don’t know...” And now he knew his death day. The lights went out.
Watching a TV show, watching the woman hold a nickel-plated revolver to her temple, Corrina wanted her to do it, pull the trigger, show them who’s boss, send a hale and hearty screech to everyone’s who’s made life unbearable. Liberate from the suffering, drop the mess in their icy laps. Let them weep and wail, in the pit of their icy hearts they’ll know they killed you, they who hammered your weal into woe without a care. Do it.
Corrina’s listless life had become a procession of crossword puzzles. They were the only things besides TV that she could focus on. The theme to the one she’d just completed seemed a message written especially to her: 20 Across: Gets into a corner; 37 Across: Meets a brick wall; 48 Across: Comes to a dead end.
The thing is this: unless you love someone, really love them, you’re wasting your time and theirs. Even if you’ve spent your last dime on a new car and they ding a fender the first day, you have to laugh and say, “That’s fine, don’t worry about it.” And you have to mean it. Anything less? It’s not love, it’s a charade.
“I’ll pay to have the fender repaired!”
“Forget it. I like the dent. Every time I look at it, I’ll think of you and I’ll think of this lovely afternoon, the best Thursday in the entire history of the world, the sun playing in your hair.”
Corrina never got that from anyone, certainly not from her ex, Frank, a.k.a. The Rat Bastard. So her moods were dark, with the tone set by three mantras: On a better day, she’d mutter, over and over, “I wish I’d never been born.” On a bad day it was, “I wish I was dead.” And on a truly bad day it was, “I wish I was fucking dead.” Lately, it’d been a long string of the third. Months ago this round of depression swamped with an undertow she couldn’t fight, every day was suffocation.
One evening Corrina started walking up the stairs to her bedroom and froze halfway. She couldn’t will herself to move her up or down. She simply stood there for about an hour staring into space.
Davy said to Anne, “When I go for a walk and see a dead animal by the side of the road I always think: It woke up today, full of life, went out searching for food and water, not knowing that this was its last day on earth. One evening, Mother went for a walk with her friend from across the street. Then she was struck down by a speeding car that was driving into the sun. It slammed into her, killing her. Instantly, I was told.”
Taking a breath, he continued, “I’ve come to this conclusion that everything is a metaphor, that if you pay close attention to the clues, however faint or haphazard, they begin to form a larger picture. Once that picture comes into focus, everything is a mirage or a dream on some level. A sour dream, almost certainly, but a dream nevertheless.”
When Anne, 65, smiles, which is often, you can see her as she was when she was 10 or 27 or 48. Wisdom and clarity, with a dash of world-weary, beam from those eyes. She’s a dream, really. Or a mirage. Maybe a crossword puzzle.
Sometimes a mirage is okay, something to help you prevail against the odds. Even if it’s a disappointment, at least it keeps you going another mile in the desert, a little closer to oasis. (Then again, maybe all it did was deplete your precious resources before the cavalry arrived.)
Anne said, “You never had kids? You should have children. You should have the full life experience!” She gestured, her left hand about two feet in front of her heart, palm turned up fingers splayed. Her right hand was between the left hand and her heart, palm up, fingers splayed. Her face pantomimed a look of bug-eyed awe. Or maybe it wasn’t mime, maybe she was re-living the moment of holding her child for the first time. Dave had read that cats, when they do that kneading thing, are re-living the happiest time of their lives, as kittens suckling on their mother’s teat, and by re-living that moment, they’re making the current moment one of their happiest. Maybe Anne’s action was something of the same? Hard to say with her… “I don’t know. I don’t think I was cut out for that. I think I’d have been a lousy dad. I would’ve worried too much, or been too short tempered.”
“C’mon! I bet you’d be a good dad.”
“I’m too old.”
“Get a young wife. What about that girl you were talking to back there?”
“Who? Who was I talking to?”
“That girl. The redhead, on the sidewalk.”
“Veronica? Are you kidding? She’s just out of college! I’m 50!”
“Great! She’s good for bearing many children,” she said with that smile, a cocktail of wry and dare. They continued walking along sandy Airport Rd. that late October afternoon, tall pines looming on either side, casting long shadows. Her two terriers ran ahead, sniffing. City dogs, they loved a country romp.
Anne turned to Davy and said, “I don’t know you. We’re in the middle of nowhere, no one around. How do I know you’re not a slasher?”
“I am, but relax. In the 21st century we’re corporate, we’re Slasher, Inc. We have a code of ethics. The first rule is to lull one’s potential victim into a false sense of security. That requires 30 years. I only met you, so you have a good 30 years of life ahead of you, fate willing.”
Just over six feet, Davy stood tall, but not too tall. His 180 pounds were mostly muscle on a lean chassis, the result of his dogged exercise regimen, a routine that lent some stability to his existence. His once-black hair was now salt and pepper, but mostly pepper. He raked it off his forehead with his fingers many times a day, just like he’d always done. His eyebrows were heavy, but not mono. He hated people with monobrows, hated them. He was riddled with irrational but profound hatreds. For instance, in first grade, the kid in front of him had a whorl to his crew cut that Davy detested to distraction. With the decades his hatreds only fanned out, encompassing ever more.
Desperate to meet people, Davy volunteered at a local art center, helping to hang shows, hoping to meet someone, to make a friend, especially an attractive and intelligent female friend, roughly his age. So far, he’d only met churchgoing grannies and geezers, nice-enough folks, but he was sick to death of chit-chat with the forgettable. He needed life. Then this day, having left the art center, making small talk to Veronica on Main St., Old Forge, a small Adirondack village that catered to tourists, he saw Anne for the first time. Even casually dressed, she was striking: tall, slender, and stylish. Her sunglasses were French, she possessed a fashion model’s bone structure. Skinny as a rail, flat as a board, her skin had the waxy translucence of a junkie. She wasn’t a local. And she wasn’t a kid, her shoulder-length page boy was silver, tossing the sun back at itself as she left Walt’s Diner, walking two white terriers, getting into a black Jaguar XK120. Davy disengaged himself from the conversation, and made a beeline to her. “Hey! Hello! I have an XK120, too! Right across the street, there!” he said pointing to his white Jag. “What on earth are the chances of that?”
Anne said, “Huh,” sizing Davy up in a glance. “Follow me to Airport Rd. We’ll walk the dogs.”
A couple of weeks before, Davy had gone for a walk, one of his morning hour-long walks, out his door, down the hill, around the corner, to the dirt road and into the woods. October, so he wasn’t surprised to hear gunshots. Most people avoid the woods in such circumstances, thoughts of overeager and intoxicated hunters dancing in their heads. Davy’s attitude was, If you’re gonna hit me, make it a clean shot. Put me out of my misery, not in a wheelchair.
Coming out of the woods, back onto the dirt road, he saw a neighbor. Rick, a retiree, carrying a rifle.
“Hi, Rick! How’s it going?”
“Okay! How’s by you?”
“I’m hanging in there. Been hunting?”
“Yeah. It’s powder season. I saw three doe, but...” He bowed and shook his head, “I couldn’t shoot.”
Davy laughed and said, “That’s okay. What’s the point of killing them?”
“My son, over on Fairchild, he got a buck,” Rick said, feeling a need to justify his merciful side by boasting about his killer son.
“Your rifle is a powder-and-pellet? Like a blunderbuss?”
“Yeah, exactly. I’m old-fashioned,” he chuckled.
“Well, it’s certainly more sporting than these guys with all their high-powered gear, telescopic sights.”
They got to talking about this and that as they continued walking. Rick’s mother-in-law had moved in with them, needed the heat turned up to 80 degrees all the time, driving Rick a little nuts, but he gave it a it’s-the-way-it-is shrug and a laugh.
They arrived at Rick’s pre-fab cabin, a garage and a work shed off to the right.
Davy said, “This land we were just walking on, I’m told it’s owned by a retired abortionist. Do you know him?”
“Oh yeah! Doc Foley.”
“What do you think of him?”
“I don’t see him much, he mostly keeps to himself, but he’s a good guy. When my son’s truck was stuck in a muddy ditch last spring, he helped us get it out.”
Trudging up the steep hill toward home, Davy saw his neighbor from across the street. Davy approached John the Baptist with dread. Davy didn’t want to listen to the windbag go on and on; he didn’t want to look at scrawny John with the bowed pipe-cleaner legs, his hair parted down the middle, that Ichabod Crane nose. John's forever flagging his Christianity, all the while gossiping like a spinster, acting like he’s so concerned about someone’s problem, complete with the weepy expression. What he really wants to do is spread the dirt.
How can I possibly avoid him? Maybe he hasn't noticed me? Maybe he'll turn his back?
Damn! Too late...
"Did you hear the sirens last night? Neal tried to commit suicide. Again. I spoke to the EMTs. Booze and pills. You know his wife left him after he had his feet amputated? I hear she's in Utica, shacked up with some colored man. A dope dealer or something, no doubt. Can you imagine? Anyhoo, now them doctors want to amputate Neal's hands, all that diabetes complications. I guess that news was too much for him. Last week, I told him to hang tough, Jesus loves him, but he won't listen to reason, too consumed by his selfishness. I say anyone who would even consider suicide is self-centered, blind to all that the good Lord has bestowed upon us. Just look at me! My investments are way up! I'm able to enjoy an early retirement, work on the house and yard, shoot the breeze with my good neighbors. It's all due to prayer, my friend, the power of prayer, stronger than a nuclear bomb that power! I love God, humble myself before His glory, get down on my bended knee every dern day to give thanks, beg for guidance. In return, God is good to me. Simple as pie! Well, I told Neal that my thoughts and prayers are with him in his hour of need, and that instead of moping around the house, all hangdog, feeling all sorry for himself, he ought to count his blessings. Okay, so he don't have no feet no more, but he's got his legs! And them prosthetic feet. I told him, Why them things is better'n what you had, buddy! These are store bought! Them old clodhoppers was too big! And you've got your hands, for now...
"Not that my advice will do Neal any good. He's too selfish to welcome Jesus as his personal savior and pal. I wonder if I'll be able to pick up Neal's house for cheap, if he dies, 10 cents on the dollar? His daughter might want to just unload the dern thing, too many bad memories. I could make out like a bandit!" John paused to pick his nose, stared at the snot on his finger for ten long seconds before flicking it to the ground, then rambled on, "If Neal does kill himself, all he'll have to look forward to is being on fire in Hell with Satan for eternity. He needs to quit being a sad sack and look at the positive side of things. I'm gonna tell you what: Negative thinking don't do no good. Say, I hear the Wal-Mart's having a big sale on them flat screen TVs. Already got me one, but might get a real big one, maybe two.”
I can’t believe anyone ever married this asshole, bore his eight children, all boys, all replicas of this moron. Davy wished that John would come down with an especially horrid form of cancer: him, his boys, every dumbass from here to Timbuktu.
Still, Davy knew to avoid arguments, kept his thoughts to himself.
Davy began to daydream as John rambled on, until John said, “The other day a father and son, from their SUV parked at the bottom of the hill, shot an underage deer—right on my prop’ty! That’s illegal on three counts: One! Animal's too young! Two! Right near houses! Three! From a vehicle! I confronted them, got their names and license number. They weren’t drinking, I’ll give them that much. I was going to report them, but didn’t.”
“Because of the court time. And, who knows? They could come back and shoot at my house or my SUV. I’d be a sitting duck.”
The rising sun glinted on John’s squinty eyes, his mouth twisted from horizontal to a 45-degree angle as he told Davy, “The kid was a lousy shot, to boot. It took a while for that deer to die.”
“Did anyone put the animal out of its misery?”
“No. Powder-and-pellet. He used his one shot.”
“And they come from out of state. Massachusetts. Dumb as dirt. Had that stupid Kennedy accent.”
(Leave it to John to find a way to pin this on the Kennedys. A couple of years ago, Davy was pedaling up the hill past John’s house and saw garbage dumped on his front lawn. About a half-hour later, in his front yard, Davy heard John’s wife holler, “John! Someone dumped garbage on our lawn! Ew! There’re diapers, John! Dirty diapers!” A few weeks later, Davy was complaining to John about local litterbugs and John chimed in with the garbage story. “And there was diapers! Dirty diapers! I had to clean that up! Kennedy lovers! Only Kennedy lovers would do such a thing.” When the economy cratered in 2008 it wasn’t due to corporate stupidity or Wall Street greed, the blame fell squarely on the doorstep of the Kennedys.)
Davy went on a little farther, took a left onto his dirt driveway and walked into the woods to his rust-bucket of a trailer, opened the door and stepped into the gloom that he called home.
Corrina had had enough: the decades of depression had piled up to the point of physical numbness again. After years and years of wishing herself dead about 100 times a day she decided to do it. She went to the basement closet and got out the shotgun, a small 20-gauge single-shot, the one she’d been given on her 13th birthday. She hadn’t fired it since 1964. Prior, she used it for skeet shooting back home in Connecticut. One Sunday she went hunting with her dad. It’d been an uneventful October afternoon, the sun sinking, the shadows creeping, until her father pointed and shouted, “There!” So she swung around, saw the squirrel, aimed and fired. In a flash the animal went from alive, a happy little beast gathering acorns for winter, to a gory pulp. Sickened, she realized the foolishness of the entire enterprise. There was nothing there to eat, as if they needed the food, as if they’d eat a squirrel. Corrina dropped her shotgun to the earth, leaned over, placing sweaty adolescent palms on her denim-clad knees and vomited a breakfast of Cap’n Crunch onto autumn leaves, milky orange on top of bright orange.
She hadn’t fired the gun since. Today, retrieving it from the closet, she put a shell in place (she’d bought a box last year) and snapped the gun shut, wondering if it could still fire, if it would do the deed. A few years ago she’d had the cheap metal trigger replaced. Maybe more parts, parts needed to fire a shot, had disintegrated as well. She considered a test shot then thought, “With my luck it’d fire—then a part would break.”
In her head she’d written her suicide note so many times it was a breeze to sit down at her computer and type out the email in one fell swoop. She addressed it to The Rat Bastard and to her sister. The letter had instructions for everything: Both doors were unlocked, you can enter without a problem, but, please, don’t let the animals out; where to find her corpse; what to do with her property and pets; passwords for this and that. Then she placed it in the “Drafts” file, and got out several bowls for plenty of food and water for the cats. Who knows when her e-suicide note would be read? In a minute? In a few days?
Corrina walked out of the house, shotgun in hand, to the ground she’d just designated as her death spot, behind the garage, near the woods. After staring at the dirt and grass for a minute or so, she placed the end of the shotgun barrel to her heart, in the groove between two ribs to avoid any resistance from bone. She’d do to her heart what she’d done to that squirrel 45 years ago. (She’d read an article about a suicide attempt, some dumb kid who aimed the gun to his forehead and managed to live—with the top of his head blown off, the rest of his life spent as a drooling imbecile.) She figured the heart was the route to go, it’d be pretty damn quick and, hopefully, painless. It suddenly saddened and disgusted her to think that her chest would be a mess. She was in pretty good physical shape, all things considered. Her skin was lovely. This was such a waste of a perfectly good girl.
Finished with the dress rehearsal, Corrina returned to her house through the back door and listened to her favorite piece of music, Jack Nitzsche’s version of “Da Doo Ron Ron,” one final time. With its funeral dirge tempo, minuet strings and martial drums, it was an apt exit theme. She didn’t cry.
Corrina had tried everything, even going back to the religion she was raised in, trying on that old hat again before casting it aside. She’d prayed and prayed. She’d prayed for unselfish things: a happy marriage, a fulfilled life, world peace. Then she'd tried anti-depressants, but they didn’t do much, the side effects were yet another pain, and they didn’t improve her financial situation. Her bank account was overdrawn and her credit cards were cut off while the interest compounded ferociously. Once you’re down, she murmured to herself, the legally-sanctioned loan sharks move in for the kill. Right now she couldn’t even afford to replace light bulbs as they burned out. All she could do was put the still-working ones where they’d do the most good.
To the banks, Corrina wasn’t a human being, she was just so much brush in need of clearing.
At her computer, re-read the suicide e-mail, checking it carefully for typos. It was fine.
“Once I hit the send button I have to go through with this. If I send it and chicken out, I’ll feel like a real dope. And they’d probably institutionalize me or something.” She stared at the screen for another quarter hour.
She grabbed the phone book and looked up the suicide prevention hotline. It was an 800 number. “That’s good. I won’t wind up talking to a neighbor...” Then she thought about caller ID. Could the counselor push a silent alarm button, sending cops or an EMT squad barging down her door, Dudley Do-Rights on a mission to rescue. She closed the phone book, went back to her computer, hit the send button, walked outdoors, as calm as the eye of a hurricane, shotgun in hand, went behind the garage, nestled the barrel between the two ribs, still wondering if the thing would fire. She looked up, up to the mountainous gray clouds and prayed for the damned gun to work. She almost prayed for forgiveness, but when she decided she wasn’t going to go to hell because she already lived there, she exhaled a “Jesus fucking Christ” and squeezed the trigger.
As Davy continued with Anne along the empty road, dogs running ahead, he said to her, “I think bringing a child into this world is an act of cruelty. Either it’s going to be an asshole committing nasty crimes or it’s going to be the victim of assholes committing nasty crimes. So what’s the point? There has to be a point.”
“Don’t you know? Haven’t you figured it out? There’s no ‘point’ to anything.”
“What about your kid? Why’d you have a kid if there’s no point to anything?”
“I wanted to see what it was like to give birth, so I did it. The kid? I disposed of it.”
“You killed it!”
“No, I had someone drop it off in front of a church and ring the doorbell. Like in a cartoon or something, right up there with a dog biting a mailman or someone slipping on a banana peel or a safe falling from the sky, landing on someone’s head. A gag. I hired a stork to drop it off on a doorstep. Hey! Where’d those pooches go?”
“They’re up ahead,” he managed to say, his chest tight. That was her idea of kicks, to have child then hand it off to strangers?
Anne said, “I don’t see ’em.”
“They’re there, trust me. I have perfect vision, 20/20, sharp as diamonds these eyes. I don’t miss a trick.”
“Let’s go to my place, a little north of here, north of Eagle Bay, and smoke some dope.”
“No, you silly. Opium.” That smile.
That smile, indeed. Deep within Davy a sweaty muscleman in a loincloth swung a huge mahogany sledgehammer to a shiny brass gong twice his height. The sound reverberated to Davy’s core. This was it. This was love, true love, el yoo vee. All his problems were over. From here on in there would be nothing but clear sailing, blue skies, twinkly stars and a butterscotch moon in a midnight sky, his heart filled with dozens and dozens of fireflies. He just knew it. He’d bet his life on it.