Mike Guiteau has between 30 minutes, and 24 hours and 30 minutes, left to live. He’s bored now.
He smokes a cigarette. He looks across the room at all these poetry people. They have strange facial hair, and exaggerated clothing and ornaments. What are they trying to do? They look like muppets. Mike always wears whatever he has on, which is usually a suit and tie, and they look at him. He sometimes gets up to read and he thinks he hears them laughing at him, but he can’t be sure.
At some point in his life, he thought that being you made you better. And so he does it, even though it can’t help him here. But if nobody notices how better he is, is he really?
He looks across the room at cute girl with pig tails and tattoos and something wrong with her nostrils. It might be rings, but he can’t tell from here. She’s sitting alone, and he thinks about going up to her. Then he thinks about his ex-girlfriend and begins to feel bad. But maybe he shouldn’t; it’s not like they’re going out. But he feels bad anyway.
He waits, and a guy with a mustache like Dali comes up and kisses the girl full on the mouth. Then he starts whispering to her, and she begins to snicker. And Mike wants her more, maybe just to be in on whatever it is.
He suddenly realizes the poem should be different. He pulls it out and scribbles. It was supposed to be how our whole lives, looked at from someone else’s eyes, might be sad or funny, or anything. . . “They might even be:” he has, and he writes, “puns.” He doesn’t know though. He begins to think about it. You understand what would happen if someone’s life were a joke. That’s a cliché, but everyone would get it. But what would it mean if someone’s life were really a pun?
He’s getting very close to the time he could die now, and Mike Guiteau’s turn comes up to read. There is something out there, something that could kill him at any time. That will kill him within the day. But it’s only very terrible to him. And he doesn’t know it’s coming. And so there is no way you can look at it as bad, and maybe therefore it’s not so bad at all. And if Mike knew this, would he laugh?
He steps up and taps the mike to test it. He leans in close, and no sound comes out. Then there’s a buzzing sound, the sound of sparks and someone curses while the whole room goes dark. Mike stands there a moment, and tries to figure how to look good in all this. Maybe just stand here? Maybe say something?
He looks out at faces blank as tree trunks at night. He sees a man who will die in an auto wreck, two future cancer victims, a half-dozen middle aged heart failures and one case of auto-erotic asphyxia. He doesn’t know which is which, couldn’t tell them apart now if he did, and doesn’t even think to wonder.
He thinks of the trees back by his home. The last home he had. He used to find them fallen over or blasted by lightning out in the middle of nowhere. He would wonder what it must have been like to be there, and he’d become disturbed.
There was always that saying about trees toppling over in an empty forest, and he could never get a handle on why it bothered him so much. But it has all the secrecy in the world in that statement, a cliché so tired and true and brutal that it leaves you there, by the forest’s edge, thinking about how little you know. Along with all the other clichés about silence and secrecy.
He starts to read, but no one hears him. No sound comes out, and he can’t make any eye contact. Far away, at his office, someone is backing up all the computers. This person goes to shut Mike’s machine down; it crashes and his letter and project are both wiped out. The only hard copy of the only version of the letter, covered with mustard, slides down an incinerator chute in the belly of his building.
He tries to remember his new verse. He thinks “pun,” and wonders if the whole poem is even worth it. If maybe he should just leave before this becomes a joke.
He tries to get his mike to work, but it won’t. He hears that guy whispering to the pretty, scary girl again. He feels like he’s cheating and being cheated on. . . both together, and he doesn’t know which is worse. And there in the dark, for maybe the last time in his life, he hears a woman snicker.