by Ross Crawford
Disclaimer: This will be the first in a series of (very!) short stories I have written over the last six months. Originally, many of these were featured on the sadly departed Ficly, but hopefully they find a new home here.
Today is my birthday. And not just any old odd-numbered anniversary mind, but the centenary. The big 100. Traditional congratulatory letter from the Queen imminent. (Apparently the letter is ‘personalised’, but surely they use a generic template? Unfortunately I can’t verify this: all of my peers had the good sense to croak long before they became as decrepit as me.)
Yes, so, an auspicious day no doubt, marking, if nothing else, my stamina and inexplicable longevity. People say it’s all about your diet, that the long-lasting all eat fish. “Look at the disproportionate amount of centenarians from Japan!”, they cry. Well, I hate the scaly sea-dwellers (aside from the occasional tuna sandwich). Nor did I lead a particularly active life and, just to compound the mystery, I smoked and drank like a live-fast, die-young rock-star. I’m one of those genetic anomalies who fascinate nutritionists and infuriate health-freaks in equal measure.
But I wouldn’t have it this way. In fact, I yearn for release. I have lived far too long.
My daughter-in-law comes to visit every week–my son is just ‘too busy’–and we stare at each other across my bed. She’ll talk away about the weans (always apologising they can’t be here) or the latest neighbourhood scandal, all the while circling around my bed plumping pillows and straightening sheets. My crumpled face betrays nothing, though I wish I could tell her that her fussing makes no difference. In fact, my internal delinquent actually prefers the incongruous show of decadence that is sunken pillows and disarrayed sheets. Bed sores be damned.
But I just lie there and say nothing. Because I have no choice. My frail and useless body was ravaged long ago by the sudden shuddering stroke, and since then I have been ‘locked-in’. My imprisonment is permanent; the key has been thrown away. Only my eyes give any indication of functioning brain activity, and their flickering seems to provide some small measure of encouragement for my only visitor. I try to follow her movements around the room–after all, she’s a break from the mundanity of my beige, smoke-stained walls–and I hope this effort conveys my appreciation of her presence, her puzzling dedication, for which I am thankful even at my most nihilistic moments.
Often, I urge my mind to give up, to follow the example of my muscles and fall off the precipice. If nothing else to release this poor girl from her self-imposed obligation. Yet whatever indifferent black-hole sucked away my mobility, it is utterly powerless to do the same to my consciousness, that obstinate last defender of the Alamo. And in a cruel twist, I know such ferocious longing only serves to maintain these fragile synapses! Instead, I should just let go: simply fade and recede. But my desire for the end is just too strong.
Fantasies become remarkably unsexy affairs when you want to die. I daydream of elaborate contraptions that would allow me to bow out in a blaze of glory. My favourite, by a long way, is a suicide vest rigged to explode when I blow out the last—the 100th—candle on my birthday cake. Splatter my on looking relatives with sponge and gristle in equal measure. Of course, I wouldn’t want to hurt my family (well, apart from my son perhaps, he would benefit from singed eyebrows at the very least—teach him a lesson!), but more importantly, I couldn’t do it. I am bed-bound for the rest of my days. Even in my fantasies I find frustration.
So, on this day, my 100th birthday, my 36,525th day on this earth, I lie and wait to die.