“You want to what?” Carol shouted.
Eli stepped back. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Mind? You’d rather be dead” –her voice slowly falling- “than with me and I shouldn’t mind.”
She took a breath, ran a hand through her hair.
Eli saw emptiness where his dream of Carol had been, saw no alternative, stepped cautiously forward. “It’s only for a day.”
“Only. But it has to be a weekend, you couldn’t miss a day of work. A day of me, now that’s another story.”
“You know this is our busiest month.”
“But that’s not what’s driving you to death.”
“It’s not you!” Eli shouted, froze, angry when he least wanted to be, trapped. He blinked, swallowed, spoke softly. “I just need a day. To make it through this month. That’s all. That’s all.”
The second time he said it the words were little more than breath. They barely escaped his lips.
The little man behind the counter opened a brochure and pointed to a column, tapped it lightly, his eyes twinkling more than seemed necessary. “Now, the weekly plans—”
“Once a month should be fine,” Eli said.
Eli looked down at the page. The man across the counter no doubt saw Eli’s fatigue, must have seen this look a lot, kept his mouth shut.
Eli spoke again. “But it’s risk-free, right? I mean, we’re talking about dying here.”
The salesman laughed. “No, we’re not. We’re talking the benefits of death and then some, with none of the drawbacks. No dying whatsoever. You lie down as if for a nap, anda day later you wake up refreshed. A day without worries, without stress, without the people you can’t stand, without,” he winked, “the people you love.”
Eli sighed, realized that was the intended response, was too tired to care.
The salesman went on. “And then you wake up having been relieved of life for twenty-four hours. Or longer, if you like. That’s the one complaint we get. People wish they could be dead longer.”
“I don’t know. I just need a day for now, I think. Then we’ll see how it goes.”
“Certainly, sir,” and the salesman gestured and Eli stood, traversed carpet, sat at a desk. He signed a Trial Death form and the salesman smiled gently, like a pusher giving some punk his first shot.
It was set up for the very next weekend; the death schedule was built around immediacy.
Eli worked the rest of that week, went home to Carol but was nothing at the dinner table and beyond, every moment until death an excruciating inconvenience. He came home and she must have already eaten. She did not talk to him so he could only assume. He didn’t like to see her this way, he craved something else, but life so cold should be easy to walk away from. And each day leaving a silent house, each night returning to one and staying in a separate room, sleeping under a blanket on the couch, away from her, he prepared for the solitude he’d insisted on.
But when he opened that door on Saturday morning and walked into Death For A Day’s lobby, his wife and job and the rest of his life left behind at last, trepidation did not fly from him but clung like a leech. He hoped to be set free but his expectations ran in another direction. There were a dozen other people seated in the lobby when he arrived, and as he entered he caught some glancing in his direction. He glanced back at each of them as discreetly as he could and was sometimes caught. No one looked hopeful. No one spoke.
He waited. And when his name was called he stood, walked through the little doorway and into a small room. He carried a small bag containing sleepwear, per their instructions; they told him to change and lie down and he did.
It was a small bed, a little hard but not uncomfortable. Lights shone down. He thought he was supposed to be relaxing but the lights made that impossible so he pulled the twin blankets over his head and let the room shine its light. The heat soothed, had him sprawled in a matter of minutes. He lay there and life so suffocating pulled itself free. Eli tried to call out at the pain of it leaving but his last breath passed his lips in a whisper.
Why Do We Exist?
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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories