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Fiction #354
(published November 1, 2007)
The Night Harold Killed Himself
by J.A. Tyler
The night Harold killed himself was warm and humid. Sticky air invaded. But Harold, clear headed, did what had to be done. And this time, he did it right.

Harold's last attempted suicide involved Drano. It had tasted blue, if that was at all possible, and he'd passed out after two or three quick pulls from the plastic bottle. His landlord found him a few hours later, colorful with puke and stinking like a clear pipe. She'd only come to the rescue because he was two weeks late with the rent. Otherwise, the fever might have had a chance to do its job.

She'd talked to him about it later too. Her big lady stink followed her around like cats and dogs, fuming, and she'd said he should think about counseling. Or a drinking habit, she added with a wink. It was wonderful for Harold to have such friends.

In fact, after that first failed suicide, friends and family came from all over to check on his progress. They brought gifts and hugged him with that little extra tremendously pitying squeeze. And Harold was stuck in a tightly wrapped hospital bed of stained white sheets and bleach scents, watching the IV drip and hearing dirty relatives sniffle and cough and infest with stories on stories on stories. But Harold didn't want pity or gifts or stories or even loving, demented family. What he wanted was to die.

Harold worked a machinery line at a composition plant. They made gears and shafts and various internal parts for all kinds of equipment. He spent the majority of his days lining up weak metal with heat-forged tips that would rotate and slowly skim layers and layers and layers until the piece was complete. And as it ground away the excess, the unwanted, Harold would stand with his hands in deep lab coat pockets, wondering if the denim jeans he wore were made in a sweatshop in India. Lunch offered baloney and cheese, tortilla chips, and some generic juice drink. The afternoon break was full of 75 cent peanuts from a vending machine and calls home to check an empty answering machine. Punching out at the end of the shift didn't mean freedom, it just meant sitting at home rather than standing at work. No big change.

But Harold knew. He could have stormed the bars, gone back to school, called up old friends in the middle of the night. But he didn't want to. He knew everything that would make his life different. The only real problem was that Harold didn't want different. He wanted an end. There was no satisfaction in friends or family or drunkenness. The world was a mess and Harold knew it. He had no love to offer. He had no peace to contribute. He could not give. So he wanted out, plain and simple.

Instead, Harold had botched the first job, stumbled on Drano and landed in some sort of odd rehab class demanded by his employers. Suicide survivors jammed full of whining and painted with unskilled tattoos. Strangers telling him how to recover while the echoes of family still rolled in his head like breaking waves.

So on a sweating summer night, after a particularly disengaging and boredom filled class of suicide strangers showing scars and telling tales, Harold decided to try again. It was not lost on him: Suicide survivors driving a man to re-commit suicide. He chuckled as his rusted white Oldsmobile banged and chortled up the steep apartment driveway.

Since it was not on a whim, and not unexpected, and not driven by emotions or drinking or drugs or a terrible plot to gain sympathy and salvation from family and friends, Harold did it right. He pounded an economy size bottle of aspirin with a slim brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide, slit his wrists both horizontal and vertical, and kicked the toaster, sourdough slices browning and all, straight into the tub. The lights went out and the bathroom fan couldn't suck the stench away fast enough.

Harold went to Heaven.

It was like riding a subway full of light. Or like those older roller coasters that shake and punch while threatening bowels and bladders. Clouds rushed by smelling of rain and ocean salts. And blue changed to purple then to black, silver, gold, and finally to shimmering translucent, frothy white. Heaven. There were no gates but Harold didn't care. He hadn't been much of a religious man, so he wasn't stuck on precepts.

And now Harold was seated at a giant circle of glass, staring down at pairs of brown, open-toed sandals housing a variety of feet. Big, little, soft, hard, feminine, masculine. And on the feet were legs of casual muscle growing up past the hems of white robes. He scanned upward even farther, past lean, calm arms, peaceful hands, and manicured nails to headless, relaxed shoulders. Then there was simply light. No faces, no hair, no features. Just light. A soft, charming glow that radiated from shoulder to shoulder and bobbed with voices and gesturing.

They seemed to be talking. So Harold listened in, mesmerized.

It was about him.

In a rattle of smooth languages that Harold both understood and was confused by, they spoke of his entire life. They started at the beginning, at birth, and carried through to the sourdough and the toaster and the razor blades and the aspirin and the hydrogen peroxide. They seemed neither impressed nor bored, neither angry nor satisfied. They just spoke, quickly, quietly, and without breath.

Harold listened.

But now, they were no longer talking about him. They had changed subjects without notice and were, as Harold smiled, divulging the most wonderful secrets. They were talking about cancer, what caused it and what would cure it. They talked about skin color and why it was the way it was. They talked about violence, where it stemmed from in the brain, why it was necessary, and how it could be put to better use. They talked about genius and how it happened. They talked about world hunger, natural disasters, and diseases. They talked about space travel and pollution and Einstein's brain. They talked about how big the universe was and how small human beings were and how meaningless death was. They explained everything. Every little detail and every gigantic concept, every mystery of natural and human existence. Everything that was anything and all in between. All questions were answered.

And then they stopped. And the silence swept Harold's skin like a cool autumn breeze calling snow. A chill, deep down, wholly out of place amongst the peaceful, blushing white.

In a calm voice, and for the first time, they talked directly to Harold. And like a Greek chorus, they handed out his fate in unison:

He was not to stay here. He was, in point of fact, headed elsewhere. It was not a long journey, and it had already started, which explained the cold creeping up his back. And they had divulged all of the secrets, clarified everything, every aspect of life, as Harold's punishment. He was to suffer, knowing that everything had a purpose and everything was malleable. They told Harold how he had been unapproachable with change, and opposed to love. They assured him that this was the reason he couldn't attend Heaven: it was not because he had committed suicide, but because he had not been willing to love. And for eternity, he would nothing more to think about, nothing more to decipher, because all questions were answered. The only thing left was his lack of action. Remorse. Guilt. Regret.

And with that Harold looked about a black landscape bearing no definition. He was alone. It was dark. He was not standing, he was not seated, he couldn't feel anything with his hands nor was there anything to reach for. There was no need to breathe or to blink and there was no pulse in his body. It was pure, depthless, boundless black. The only thing left to do was to think and think and think. Remorse. Guilt. Regret.

The landlady called the police this time instead of using her master key. Her pug nose caught a whiff of something rotten and she didn't want any more trouble than was necessary. They called time of death immediately. And they calmly brought a body bag instead of paramedics.

And the landlady never got her last month's rent. That was Harold's final joke. She'd keep the damage deposit though, you'd better believe it: dead man stink is so hard to get out of cheap linoleum and tub surrounds.

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