"Don't take it personally," they advised her. "It's not your fault. You followed the protocol. It's devastating, but these things happen. Try to remember the people you've helped."
They advised her to see the shrink they'd retained as a consultant. The one they referred callers to if they didn't have a psychiatrist of their own.
"What you're feeling now is grief," she was told. "Even though it may feel like a half-dozen other things. You're feeling grief. It’s just expressing itself as guilt. What you are now is a suicide survivor."
They made it sound like a Girl Scout merit badge.
* * *
She was on the phone with him for almost forty-five minutes. She thought she'd talked him passed the crisis. He seemed so calm, so reasonable.
"So you aren't going to hurt yourself now, right?"
"And tomorrow you'll call the number I gave you and talk to Dr. Morgan?"
"John? Are you still there?
"I asked you if you're going to call Dr. Morgan like we agreed. If you need the number again….
"Talk to me John."
For a moment she thought he had hung up and she just hadn't noticed.
Then he answered her in a voice that sounded strangely far away and in a language it took a while for her to understand.
What he'd done was put the phone down, walk to another room, put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger.
* * *
"Lady, you've got to choose a stop this time and get off at one of them. I'm taking this bus offline and back to the depot. I can't take you with it."
The driver stood over her, hands on hips, looking annoyed and worried. He didn't want any complications.
It had been a long day.
"Lady? Do you hear me?"
"Okay," she said. It was another voice she didn't recognize at first. "No problem."
The driver shook his head and headed back to the front of the empty bus.
She was reluctant to take her eyes from the window. The rain was spidering down the glass. She’d been looking out the window mesmerized. How could you choose? Every stop looked the same.
* * *
She took the rest of the week off from work. Death in the family, she told her supervisor. It wasn't really a lie. That's what it felt like to her.
It was surprising how well you can get to know a person in less than forty-five minutes. When you strip away all the bullshit and nonsense that fills most of our communication with others.
She felt like she'd gotten to know John better than she knew friends she'd had for years. Better than she knew her own family.
And, still, in the end, she hadn't known him at all.
She spent the long weekend in bed, watching sitcom reruns, game shows, and old movies. Anything canned, prepackaged, filmed in the past. Nothing new, nothing unpredictable, no surprises.
She lay in bed all day and flipped through old magazines she'd never a chance to read. She'd brought along a scissors into bed, planning to make collages, but she lost the desire.
She dozed a lot, ate chocolate, ignored the phone. The director of the suicide hotline called several times. He left messages.
Was she okay?
They were concerned.
Was she planning to return?
She sent a brief text back.
I'm taking a break.
Will contact when ready.
Thumbing those terse lines took everything out of her.
She opened the scissors and imagined severing the knot of veins in her wrist, like cutting the strings of a balloon.
Letting her life float away.
Of course, she knew she could never do such a thing.
It was just drama.
She felt operatic.
She pointed the scissors scoldingly at her reflection in the mirror above the chest of drawers. "This isn't about you," she reminded herself
If she ever did it, it would have to be with pills.
* * *
What was she doing here? She felt like an impostor. A spy. A ghoul.
She felt dirty.
She felt guilty, like a killer returning to the scene of a crime.
If they knew, would they blame her?
The casket was closed, of course. There was a picture by the coffin.
So now she could put a face to the name. Was that a good idea or not?
He hadn't mentioned he'd been in the military. The photograph showed a young man in uniform. He was good-looking in that stripped-down, buzz-cut, all-purpose way all young men in uniform had. A man determined to be of use in this world.
The priest never mentioned it was a suicide. Neither did any of the eulogists. She overheard two mourners whispering out in the vestibule by the coatroom. They were dry-eyed and moralistic.
Distant family members.
Cousins once-removed. In-laws, maybe.
They moved on to the topic of vacations.
She had prepared a lie in case someone asked who she was.
No one did.
She was like an observer at an aquarium living on the other side of the glass.
* * *
What were his reasons for wanting to die? What reasons had she used to counter them. She couldn't recall them now in any detail. And what did it matter?
It was like a game of chess, it only counted in the playing. Once begun, the game took on a life of its own, a pattern of inevitability.
That's how her brother once described the game, anyway. He was the chess player in the family.
She could never think more than one move at a time. “You’ll never be a good player that way,” her brother explained to her. “A master can think up to a dozen moves ahead.”
How many moves ahead could John see? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to see too far ahead.
And what was her move now?
* * *
She went to the beach, to the ocean as depleted of symbolism as it was of flounder. She toed his name in the sand with her sneaker and waited for the tide to come in and erase it.
The day was cold, blustery, gray and because there was no god she imagined herself in a movie instead, and where god would have been, she imagined the eye of a camera looking down on the scene.
She was wrong earlier on the bed.
The movie was about her after all.
John had left the story, wrote himself out on his own.
The camera was following her now.
The imaginary camera.
The imaginary movie.
As a plot point, it made sense, John's suicide.
As a plot point, she might be able to live with it.
It would determine what she would do now.
What would she do?
Go home, she thought.
From high above, panning left to right, the imaginary camera followed her until it reached the limit of the frame.
Meeah Williams’s work has appeared in Otoliths, Phantom Drift, Uut, The Conium Review, Per Contra, Petrichor Review, Stone Highway Review, Dirty Chai, Shuf, *82 Review, Skin to Skin, Wilde, The Milo Review, Meat for Tea, Angry Old Man and others. She lives in Seattle and tweets at pussy_nagasaki@pussynagaski
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