Stephanie just stepped out to buy us some time. Tom’s dead; we just got the call. Apparently, a bus full of cheerleaders skidded across some black ice and slammed into his Geo Metro. Of course, the poor bastard wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. Click it or ticket, they say. It should be click it or die. I told Steph this morning it was too dangerous to drive, but I’m not entirely sure she heard me. She was pretty blissed out.
We made love this morning, after she got home from her graveyard shift. The cat, Cheshire, watched from the chair next to the bed, licking her paws, as if to say, “Good show, sir. Good show.” I was on top. Her stethoscope was draped around her shoulders and she smelled of rubbing alcohol. I love that smell. It’s sterile and stringent and gets the blood pumping. I performed beautifully. She felt no obligation to fake it. That’s what I love about our marriage: we don’t lie to each other. She lay there overcome with an ecstasy so pure if you snorted it it’d kill you. Her head was turned, denying me her gaze; frustrating me. I turned to see what she was looking at. The closet door was open. I could see my favorite tweed jacket hanging up and a purple suitcase underneath it. She was imagining me in tweed then. I look really nice in tweed. I look really nice in tweed and she looks sexy as hell in scrubs. Scrubs say I have a bedside-manner, but if you manage to get me into bed, it’ll be rough. But not too rough. I bruise easily.
Forty-five minutes later, I rolled off of her, breathing heavy. My hand flew to my neck; blood pulsed furiously against my index and middle fingers while I counted with the clock on the wall. Satisfied, I laid my head down on her breasts and watched the snow out the window swirl. Her head was still turned away from me.
“Tom is coming over, remember,” she said.
“Do you think my heart is beating too fast,” I took her hand and clasped it around my wrist.
She pulled her hand away, pushed my head off of her chest and stood up. “I’m going to take a shower.” Her eyes smoldered and the sides of her mouth tugged out a smile: lust. “Maybe the showerhead can pick up where you left off.”
Her idea of a joke. Her delivery could use some help, but I chuckled. I don’t think women are inherently funny. They can’t deliver punchlines. I read this article by Christopher Hitchens, where he said women don’t have to be funny because it’s not biologically wired into them. Survival of the fittest, Mortey, and natural selection, that’s my motto.
Anyway, Stephanie disappeared into the bathroom and I heard the water turn on. Truthfully, I had forgotten about Tom; Tom, my favorite bother-in-law, my only brother-in-law. He always made me feel queasy for some reason. I think it was his cheap aftershave. Just thinking about that smell made my stomach lurch and I felt last night’s tacos ready for exodus. I walked into the bathroom, sat upon my throne, and picked up the newest Harvard Health Journal.
“Of course, I remembered about Tom,” I raised my voice so she could hear me over the water.
“Should I get the guestroom ready?”
“Don’t you mean the kid’s room?”
“Yes, the kid’s room,” I said, louder.
“Well,” I stood up and examined my work. The color looked right. Not too hard, not too soft. I thought about having Stephanie check, but was too hungry to wait for her. “I’ll get breakfast ready.” I flushed. I walked over to the sink and turned on the hot water. I soaped up, rubbing the suds in-between my fingers and all the way up to my elbows. My mother always told me that if you sang Happy Birthday twice while washing your hands all the germs would die. I used to think it was the singing that killed them. Granted, I no longer sing Happy Birthday out loud. That would be silly. I’m a grown-ass-man. I hum instead. I hummed Happy Birthday the required amount of times and then rinsed with bleach.
I turned to look at my wife. All I could see was a smudgy impression of her behind the glass and, for a brief moment, I forgot what she looked like. It reminded me of when those streakers run across football-fields butt naked and the networks have to pixilate the picture because public nudity is frowned upon and no one wants their five-year-old to see some random dude’s junk and be scarred for life. Psychiatrists are expensive. I shook my head out of the clouds. I pulled on some sweats and then headed for the kitchen. I put on a pot of coffee and counted my blessings; another convention from my mother. Old habits die hard, Mortey.
I was thankful that we lived only a block away from the hospital. In the event of an emergency, it would take approximately eleven minutes for an ambulance to get here. I know because I timed it. The first week we lived here I had a heart-attack which turned out to be a panic-attack which turned out to just be me misinterpreting my hearts thump-thwak-thuddings. I don’t speak heart.
I was thankful that my wife was a nurse. In the event of an emergency, my wife could resuscitate me, give me the Heimlich, and stab me in the ass with an epi-pen thick as a redwood so I wouldn’t go into anaphylactic shock. Also, statistically, married men live longer. Look it up, Mortey. It’s true.
I was thankful Stephanie had quit smoking and eating meat. Cancer kills. Veggies vitalize. Cancer is not contagious, but second-hand-smoke is deadly. Deadly enough to kill you. Deadly enough to kill you dead right into death. Yup, it’s pretty serious.
After I had the coffee brewing, I opened up the freezer to get the blueberries for my fruit-smoothie; you know, to keep the mail moving. Blueberries were my mother’s favorite fruit because of all the anti-oxidants and vitamin C; keeps your immune system in “tip-top-shape” she used to say, you know, before she passed. That’s when I first saw you, Mortey; when you walked past her hospital room five-minutes before she croaked, literally, croaked. That’s what happens when your lungs fill up with fluid. I knew it was you, because you were dressed in all black. Then I saw you at the funeral. You were in the back. I came back to talk to you, to ask you some questions about time, but you disappeared. I’ve been trying to figure out how to reach you ever since.
I tried to tell Stephanie that I saw you, that it was really you, but she said I was just taking my mother’s death hard, too hard. I didn’t know that was possible. Every once in a while she’ll look at me weird, out of the corner of her eyes. Maybe she needs new glasses.
When my mother passed, Stephanie used that wonderfully cliché phrase, “it was her time.” That’s not true. It wasn’t so much that it “was her time” as it was she just ran out of time. And if we were out of time to begin with, you wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve come up with this idea that time isn’t real. We as humans came up with it and our bodies evolved to fit into this lie. It’s a manmade construct, like religion. All we have to do is knock the number eight over on its side, put that symbol all around the clock and tear off the clock’s hands. Or, get this, empty hourglasses. Ingenious, I know. I really should patent that.
Anyway, so, I was getting the berries when Stephanie walked out dressed in black tights, her favorite pair of leather boots, and a jumper; dressed like she was going somewhere. And she looked pretty, because she was wearing makeup. I bought her some of that super-sensitive-anti-allergen stuff, that way my face wouldn’t swell up when we kissed. She said it was sticky. Lipstick is supposed to be sticky; thus, the name. Thank you Miss Captain Obvious.
“Smoothie,” I asked.
She shook her head. Her cellphone rang and she jumped. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and walked back down the hall.
I don’t own a cellphone. They cause cancer. It’s a fact, Mortey, scientifically proven by scientists in science labs with scientific degrees in science. I read it on a blog. Millions of unsuspecting people use cellphones every day, putting that malignant device right up to their heads or keeping them down by their junk or even putting them in their bras. And these teens, texting all the time, not knowing that their fingers might have to be amputated because of tiny malignant tumors the size of fly’s eggs. And then how will they communicate? Tell me, Morety. They spend so much time with their thumbs and phones they’ll be useless; half of the working class will have to quit their jobs to teach kids how to use their words.
Words like Stephanie used in the hall, with perfect enunciation.
“Hello,” she said. “Tom…I have some money. Yes, enough…Okay…yeah… No, he has no idea… Bye.” She reappeared around the corner, a pack of cigarettes in her hand. She slammed the pack against her palm. “I’ll be outside,” she said.
I watched her walk out onto the deck, slightly irked. I hadn’t seen Stephanie smoke for a couple months. It must have been Tom. He stressed me out too. He was always in-between boyfriends. He was always asking for money. He was always that kind of gay that gets on your nerves because it’s just too bubbly and estrogen pumped. Why he would drive from New York to Boston just to visit, on a weekday no less, escaped me. His boyfriend must have kicked him out for not getting the mail or forgetting to take out the trash or choosing the wrong red wine. The guy’s impossible to live with. I think he had a crush on me.
I finished making my smoothie and sat down at the table. I reached for my vitamins and began popping them back. Stephanie came back in, shivering and smelling rank. She sat down across from me and placed her head in her hands.
“Everything okay,” I asked.
“Fine, just a headache.”
“Tom will be here in thirty minutes.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Would you go out and get us some wine?”
I looked out the window, at the swirling snow, and looked back to Stephanie. She wasn’t looking at me. “I think we have some wine in the cupboard, Steph.” I got up, walked to the cupboard and pulled out a bottle of Pinot Noir. “See?”
She nodded. She put her head down on the table and closed her eyes.
“I have something you could take,” I offered. I had Aspirin and Tylenol and tramadol and oxycodone and –
A muffled “no thanks” floated up from the table.
I returned to the table and sat down. I reached out and grabbed her hand.
“I love you,” I said.
She pulled her hand away. “I’m going to go lay down on the couch.”
One hour passed and still no sign of Tom. I scrolled through WebMD trying to pinpoint why my shoulders ached. They do that sometimes. It’s not a sharp pain. It’s more of a jolt or a soft ache, almost electrical. I finally narrowed it down between fibromyalgia and facioscapulohumeral. Both start with F. Both are bad. My money’s on the latter. Fibromyalgia’s almost too conventional, like gluten-free diets and all that other progressive bullshit hippies buy into. They’re nuts.
Also, I had Stephanie perform a routine oral-cancer exam. She kept looking at the clock, so it took a while, but I was free of any unusual bumps or white lesions. I tried to convince her to check my balls for testicular cancer, but ended up rolling them between my fingers myself. Again, bump free.
Bump free, cancer free, worry free; that’s my motto, Mortey.
Three hours later, Stephanie was getting worried. That’s when the phone rang. I was checking my blood-pressure.
“Yes,” she said, “This is she.”
I pumped with my right hand while the cuff around my left arm expanded.
“Yes, he drives a Geo Metro…cheerleaders?”
I continued to pump before I was stopped by a scream.
“He’s dead! A bus full of cheerleaders killed him!”
Okay, in hindsight, that’s pretty ambiguous. It brings to mind a bus full of teenage girls, chainsaws in their painted-nail-bitten-hands, just waiting to go work on Tom who’s tied up in a chair or shackled to a wall or something. Since he’s gay, it’d be considered a hate crime. I’m not sure if that fits into the horror genre or is more of a porno.
“Who’s dead?” I ripped off my cuff and tossed it to the floor.
“Tom…Black-ice. Car accident. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.”
“Why the hell did Tom want to drive over here in the first place? He should’ve known the snow was dangerous.” It was true. I try, when I can, to speak the truth.
Blood flushed into Stephanie’s cheeks before a downpour of hot tears trickled down, “You’re really un-fucking-believable, you know that?” Stephanie ran down the hall and was back in a flash, something purple in tow.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, I don’t know. I’ll probably go get a wax, get my nails done, and buy you some more goddamed vitamins,” she stopped at the door and swallowed, “It’s been a long time coming.” She opened the door and walked out.
It’s true. I did need some more vitamins. I was almost out. I like the chewy kind because you can chew them up and there’s less of a chance of you choking on them. It is ludicrous how many people die every year from choking on those horse-pill vitamins. Literally, thousands of people croak with vitamins in their windpipe. They don’t take the time to cut them up. Imagine going to that funeral. “Yes, we will miss him. He made an honest mistake. Everyone knows vitamins are a health-hazard. He’s in heaven now, where angels will cut up his vitamins for him. It was,” of course, “his time.”
“Yes! It was his time!” I yelled after her. Then it hit me. What I really needed, what we all really need, is more time. I ran to the door, threw it open, and screamed down the stairwell after her, “Go get us more time! Go borrow, buy, or steal some more fucking time!”
I’m not sure she heard me. I’ve been meaning to ask her about her hearing, but I’m pretty sure it’s going. They have these new hearing-aids now that are so tiny you can’t even see them; which is nice when you don’t want people to think you’re deaf. There’s such a stigma with deaf people.
Anyway, Mortey, considering the recent turn of events, this is my best chance to reach you. If you find this, you would have found it in Tom’s coffin, maybe even next to a dildo; hopefully unused. It’s worth a try. If you write back, please include an address where we can keep in contact. I have lots of questions; the primary question being: when are you planning to come and collect?
Steven D. Caridonchoyph
Seth D. Slater writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Bird’s Thumb, Canyon Voices, The Tower Journal and Metonym. Slater is completing an MFA in Fiction at San Diego State University and interns for Fiction International.