The water in the tub was warm, just shy of hot. It offset the numbing cold of the blood rushing down my arms. I tried to shut the water off but apparently had gone too deep and severed a couple tendons. It didn’t really matter. Wouldn’t be my mess to clean up. Probably for the best. The eventual damage it caused would make finding my body that much easier.
As darkness clouded my vision I imagined the state of putrefaction and sludge I would have left behind. What was a little damage to the floor of the bathroom compared to that?
It has been so long since I got any real sleep. The couch is uncomfortable. The bed was too big. Three hours a night for as long as I could remember. Now a nice long nap awaits me. One without dreams. No more tantalizing glimpses into a life I will never have. We are born alone and we die alone. I just had the luck of living that way as well.
But not for much longer.
My last thought was of her as I faded out.
I didn’t do this because of her. Not the rejection, goddess knows I have been rejected before. Too many times to count. Once for every scar on my body at least. I am a pro at it by now. Always the wrong time, I am the wrong guy, she was the wrong girl. There would inevitably be something between me and happiness.
Always my fault.
This was probably my first successful anything in a decade.
I didn’t get to savor the taste of victory though. Instead I got to go to sleep. The red water began to spill out of the tub and it was beautiful. And then nothing. Sweet nothing. The pain in my arms, from wrist to elbow, a distant memory.
There was no light. No tunnel. No choir of angels to welcome to me home. Just deep black nothingness.
I opened my eyes and confusion was the first thing in my head. A waiting room. Looking down I saw I was in a black suit with a bright blue shirt and my favorite bow tie. I saw the chain of my pocket watch snake into the jacket and pulled it out. The hands seemed to be moving backwards. My sleeve slid up and I saw the jagged open slash on my wrist. But I felt no pain.
A large red display on the wall flashed the number eleven. All around me sat indistinct shapes I knew probably were people. But that was about it. Couldn’t make out faces, just a smoky kind of disinteresting quality that made focusing not worth the effort. I wondered if I was just a misty wraith to them. I don’t care.
On my alone sat a scrap of paper that read thirteen. Guess it is almost my turn.
I could feel this vague sense of disconnect. Nothing seemed to matter. If I had to sit here for a year I would do it with no complaint. Because really, what is the difference? Sit here, dance like a monkey over there. In the end it was pointless. My wrists itched. That was the only real thought. They itched like crazy and I didn’t have the urge to scratch them.
A bell rang and the display switched to twelve. A tall female form stood up and straightened her dress. For the briefest flash she came into focus. Dark skinned with a radiant smile. She looked at me and waved and I knew I knew her. But the details swam just out of reach. She walked down the aisles of chairs and entered a room in the distance. I couldn’t say for sure which one. Did I know her?
Minutes or hours passed. I stared at the carpet in front of me. If you really looked the tufts of fibers seemed to be swaying back and forth. An optical illusion I am sure. It almost looked like they were little people rooted in place. Just clusters of souls swaying to and fro, woven into the floor. It should have horrified me. Maybe part of my mind screamed in terror. But it wasn’t an important part so I ignored it and waited for the bell to ring out for me.
It finally did. A red thirteen flashed and I stood up clutching the paper. I looked around but none of the people became clear as I passed them down the aisle. I felt bad walking on the carpet, smashing the little guys and gals beneath my feet. I had the eerie thought maybe I would join them soon. Be attached to a section in a high traffic area, spending eternity being stepped on. If so not much about me would change. At least there was purpose in it.
What an odd thought.
At the end if the waiting room was a corridor with shut wooden doors. Opaque glass windows with no markings took up the top half of them. In some there were lights on and I could see shapes sitting but could hear no voices. Like an old building from the fifties from the decor. As I walked a door opened to my left and I knew it was for me.
The office was a plain, aesthetically neutral room. Gray wood desk, matching chair, no pictures or cats hanging on a branch posters. Just the desk a chair and someone sitting and waiting for me. He looked like an accountant stereotype brought to life. Balding with an ineffectual comb over, yellowed button down shirt with a what looked like coffee stains on it. Black suspenders and gold rimmed glasses that I imagine perpetually needed to be pushed back up his nose. A thin wirey mustache and a look of sleep deprivation in dark purple bags under his eyes.
“Please sit. I will be right with you,” a montone voice bade. So I sat and waited.
“Mr Ennenbach, Michael David Ennenbach?”
“Do you know why you are here?”
“Do you prefer Michael or Mike?”
“Well then Mike, I am Seth.”
“Nice to meet you Seth.”
“I am to be your guide.”
“Guide to what Seth?”
“The afterlife. We used to have pamphlets in the waiting room but no one looked at them. It explained all of this. You are dead, Mike. It says here suicide in the bathtub.”
I vaguely recalled that. My wrists itched even more.
“My job is to determine your status.”
“I thought that my status was dead.”
“No. Not that kind of status. Your eternal status.”
“Give me a second to run the numbers.”
I just sat and stared at the desk. The wood grain of the gray desk seemed off. Instead of rings it almost looked like variations of the painting ‘The Scream’. If I really concentrated all I could see was screaming faces inlaid in the wood. I didn’t like it.
“Please don’t stare at the souls. It only serves to agitate them.”
That screaming part of my mind was growing louder. Still contained but getting the interest of other sections of my brain. Souls? Did I not imagine the people in the carpet? Were they trapped as well?
“Hmm. Interesting. It shows here you had a very mixed life.”
“You also seemed pretty balanced. You went a little wild in your teenage years. Ramped it up in your early twenties. Wow. That is a lot of drugs and alcohol. A lot. Bet you don’t remember those years very well.”
“Never blacked out. Remember most of it.”
“Well that is impressive. Still, you never did anything too horrible. Moved to Texas to clean yourself up. Looks like that didn’t work out very well for a while. Oh.”
“Looks like a your rough childhood left some scars.”
“That is a deduction.”
“Is that good?”
“Depends on how you let it shape you. Depression. Fear of intimacy. The death of your father brought a sharp up tick in self destructive behavior. Divorce. Buried yourself in meaningless sex. Hmph.”
“Most of your sin was self detrimental. You never went out with intent to harm others. Was your objective to kill yourself the entire time?”
“I don’t know. Yes. I guess so. I wanted to drown the pain.”
“By all the things I am seeing, you did your best.”
“It didn’t work.”
“It never does.”
“So I learned.”
“Why did you kill yourself?”
“I was so tired of being alone.”
“Alone? In a world of billions?”
“Without someone to share it with. Billions of people but not one to love.”
“Love. I see.”
“What is the point of life if it contains no living?”
“I don’t know.”
“And neither did I.”
“And so we are here.”
“So we are.”
“I wrote my feelings until I found myself repeating the same longing. The same hurt. Spinning new tales of misery that all came back to the same point. I was unloved and all I wanted was to be loved. It was circular. Unending. So I decided to end it.”
“Do you think your words did anything? Made any impact?”
I was done talking. It all came flooding back. The missed chances. The near collisions. The endless nights of writing idiocy. The inability to stop the flow. I had said enough to a world that didn’t listen. It never came out right. My words rang as hollow as my talent had false. I was no good at expressing myself. I was wasting time in pursuit of things not meant for me.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I ended it.
“You were neither good nor evil, Mike. But you let the pain control you. Do you know how many poets end up in this room? All because they couldn’t find the one thing they desperately needed to be whole?”
“I don’t know. I was never all that good at what I did.”
“Why do you believe that?”
“It never worked. Never reached anyone. Never.”
“I see. Suicide is a heavy sin.”
“I know. But I never really believed in any of that.”
“Belief or lack thereof is not important. It is how you lived that determines everything.”
“And how did I live?”
“A balanced life. Not good, but not bad either.”
“And what does that mean?”
“It means right now there are paramedics trying to revive you. If you had been good I could offer paradise. Bad and it would be hell. But neutral?”
“You can send me back.”
“Or you stay here. In purgatory.”
“Running numbers like I do. Until you have acrued enough points to move on.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Two hundred years. Give or take.”
“And how much longer do you have to go?”
“I don’t know.”
“So what is your choice? Stay or try again?”
“What will be waiting for me if I go back?”
“That is up to you. I imagine pain. And maybe a chance to make things better.”
“What if I fail again?”
“Then we talk sooner then either of us would prefer.”
“Send me back. Damn it. Let me try again.”
He pushed his glasses back up and smiled at me. “Good choice.”
“It is my job. But hey, do me a favor will you?”
“Keep writing. And lay off the drink.”
“Now get out of here. There is a line out there.”
I stood up and extended my hand which he shook. The door opened up behind me, the hallway was filled with bright white light. I took a deep breath and stepped into it. The sound of water running into the bath echoed in the distance.
Let’s try this again.