Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Day Before (Part 1)

5:30 a.m.:

The day before Mike Guiteau dies, he is very busy. He looks at his calendar, marking off things for the day ahead. It’s still early in the morning. It is just before dawn, and the snow falling heavily over the airless street looks beautiful in the yellow shop lights.

Mike watches the snow briefly until his eyes adjust, and then he gets to work. He feels vaguely smug, waking up this early, and he wants to tell someone about it. But that would be too much. At any rate, he’s got a lot to do.

There are three things he’s been worrying about, and they top the list. They are:
1. Appointment with Doctor. Biopsy results.
2. Letter Never Sent.
3. Software for project.

He adds another thing to the list, and then one more. He adds too much, and already he can tell he’s not going to do it all. Take it off? Leave it for tomorrow? Or leave it on, and try? He always gets giddy and feels himself slipping when he tries to get his jobs in order. He thinks this might be the way it happens.

It’s funny. Today he can already feel the press of time on him, but yesterday there was nothing -- maybe a little sullenness, thinking about the fact that he had jobs to do. But they were the same jobs he needed to do today as yesterday. Today though was when he decided to think about it. By the end of the day he knows he will feel better, even if this stuff isn’t that important -- and some days, usually on weekends, he knows he lies in bed and considers how little difference there is whether he does his jobs or not.

He looks at the clock next to the window, and sees but doesn’t notice a form passing. This is a middle-aged woman who will die a few years after Mike. Though she doesn’t know it now -- and Mike will never know it -- she will wake up one morning and decide to hang herself in her garage.

She is walking her dog, a yippy, half-blind terrier. This woman will tie her dog up in the kitchen where it’s sure to be found, and then loop a rope over a rafter the way she has seen in movies. She will knot it around her neck, and stand up on a step stool, a little out of breath. She will not be sad, not depressed that she has very few friends or that her family is distant. She will feel the strange sensation of getting everything finally order, as if she were cleaning up a very messy room after many days of putting it off -- it is a feeling Guiteau has right this moment, just as clean and small and refreshing in a slight way.

Her mother will not cry at the funeral. She’ll be slightly panicked that she can’t bring up much sadness. She’ll kneel down to say an Our Father in front of the casket; she’ll be horribly fascinated with the slightly garish makeup, the hint of a reconstructed neck, and she’ll want this to make her cry. She will stare a bit too long and people will notice.

She will however, tell herself that her grief is different, that she will “crack” one day, like she’s seen in movies, and break down crying and calling her daughters name. But really, she isn’t particularly sad, just a little grim and tired and strangely refreshed in the same way her daughter was, at something finally sewn up neatly. She will think of her daughter, not dead -- but completed, and out of harm’s way.

The one other surviving family member, the brother, will be different. He will shake with sobbing because he has convinced himself he’s unhappy in such a subtle way as to be undetectable. He will remember this day, and tell the story to people he has just met when he wants to get their sympathy. Someday he will tell this story to a woman while on a date.
She will fall in love with him. They will get married soon after and have a relatively long, fairly satisfying, reasonably honest life together until he dies at 59 from an emergent strain of virus he contracts from a 13-year old girl in Thailand. His wife will live childless, miss him, and never remarry.

The hanged woman will not be found for a week after she dies, because no one checks up on her. By then the dog will be dead too, which might be just as well. It’s not likely it would ever be adopted again. It’s a very annoying dog.

But today, the woman feels as though her life has become better. She thinks she might be “getting somewhere,” a phrase she uses when she talks to people on the telephone. She walks on as Mike gets up and begins to tie his tie. Within minutes the woman is home, her dog is running around her feet, and she is drinking coffee. After a few minutes more, Mike’s light has gone out, and he is at the bus station. And minutes after this, the bus has come and gone.

(Photo by "GK tramrunner229" downloaded from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons/GNU Free Documentation license. Details here.)

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