To die would be an awfully big adventure. – J.M. Barrie
The evening starts with indigestion and ends with me floating near the ceiling looking down at my body in the bed.
This must be what they call an out-of-body experience, I say with a chuckle. I always hated those New Age nuts.
My wife Abby shakes me and cries: “Don’t you dare do this to me!”
While on the phone to 911 she stops crying long enough to take my wrist and search for my pulse. When she can’t find one, she starts crying again.
The last time she bawled like this was when our dog Max died. She loved that mutt. At the time I remember thinking: I hope she grieves this much for me when I’m pushing up daisies. I guess that’s exactly what’s happened. I am gone. A daisy pusher. Just like Max. Except Max got cancer, and we took him into the vet for chemo for months even though it didn’t do any good. I think we tortured old Max at the end, when we should have just let him go. But there’s no problem letting go this time, at least not on my end. No blaze. No glory. No prolonged goodbyes. No goodbye at all.
What’s weird is that I can still see and hear things—the end of my life playing out like a movie on Netflix streaming, with only a 2-star review. Then our two Springer spaniels, Ben and Jerry, bark and howl like they always do at sirens. As EMS pulls in front of our house, Abby lets the dogs out into the fenced backyard so they won’t jump all over the two paramedics, a man and a woman, who look like they’ve been up all night drinking double espressos.
The young woman—our daughter’s age—takes my wife into the hallway and tells her that they’ll do everything they can, but her job is to stay calm. Abby has never been calm a minute of her life. I have the therapy bills to prove it. So I’m not sure it will work, but it’s a nice thought.
Still hovering in the corner, I say: Sweet Jesus, am I really dead? I’m only fifty. Prime of life, for Christ’s sake. Then I look around to see if I’ve taken a name in vain I shouldn’t have. But nobody seems to be keeping track of sins or calling roll in the clouds and there’s no white light to walk toward. No sunset to fade into, either. Instead, it’s like those dreams where you show up to an empty classroom and realize you’ve missed the final exam of a class you forgot to attend.
Can we rewrite this scene? I say, hoping the director of my life story hears, but there is no response.
The other paramedic has acne and a vine tattooed around his wrist, the initials B. and K. intertwined with the leaves. After taking out a stethoscope, he listens to my chest and then puts two fingers on my neck before he rips open my pajamas.
“Why don’t you guys ever exercise?” he says to me.
Before I have time to explain how busy I am at work and how the bad back doesn’t help, he takes out those paddles you see on television and turns up the voltage and says, “Clear,” even though there’s nobody on the bed except him and me.
After the jolt, nothing happens, but he does it again and then again, like he’s thinking third time’s the charm. Then he whispers, Fuck, like he really hoped it would work.
My wife turns on the waterworks again, but I can’t take my eyes off the man in the bed with the big belly who has suddenly gone belly up. Needless to say, if I’d known my existence would deep six at four in the morning, two weeks after my 50th birthday party, I might have done some things differently, like actually take care of myself.
We threw a big bash out in the backyard for friends and family from all over the country. We roasted a pig and everybody wore black and dozens of black balloons were secured to the deck. Then our three grown kids arrived driving an old hearse—as a joke, of course—complete with an empty coffin in the back and my youngest son dressed as the Grim Reaper.
Oh, God, the kids are never going to forgive me for this. They’ve been on me for years to quit smoking and lose weight.
Meanwhile, I’m wearing the pajamas my wife gave me for Christmas last year with Papa Bear monogrammed in red on the front. I remember thinking when I opened the present that I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in these pajamas and here I am. Dead. Curtains for Papa Bear, who has cashed in his chips and bought a farm he never wanted. All the while hoping for another chance at life, because it’s way too soon to roll the credits.
Susan Gabriel created “The End,” a flash fiction story of 850 words, after having her first hot “flash” in the middle of the night that made her think she was dying. Her novel, The Secret Sense of Wildflower (which evolved from a short story by the same name, and which also came to her in the middle of the night), received a starred review by Kirkus Reviews and was voted one of their Best Books of 2012. Needless to say, she doesn’t get much sleep.