sunnuntai 12. kesäkuuta 2011

Thirty-Five Minutes And Sixteen Seconds: A Short Story on Death

Author's Note: I wrote this short story ages ago for a writing contest on a forum. The assigned topic was death, but I didn't want to deal with it in a conventional way. I wanted to write something that people would not come to expect. I hadn't read it since but quite like it still, so I thought I'd post it for you to see. Enjoy and fear not the leaving of comments!

It’s dead. Yesterday it was fine, and now it’s nothing but a dry pile of brown, crumbled leaves. There was only one thing Rosie had told me to do: keep the plant alive. Alive, as in green, upright and possessing the ability to photosynthesize. Well, no more. I stare at the pot on the windowsill and, not knowing what to do, I light a cigarette I had earlier found on Rosie’s nightstand. The light grey smoke circles my head, forcing me to follow its route patiently. As it approaches the little brown pot I have to turn away. “Must you really remind me?” I sarcastically mention to it and then let out a nervous laugh. I wonder how many psychologists would profile me as an anti-social killer based on the events in Rosie’s apartment alone. In the… I glance at the clock that harassingly ticks on the kitchen wall, right above the table. In the thirty-five minutes and sixteen seconds I had spent in my girlfriend’s apartment I had managed to kill a little defenseless plant, steal a cigarette and talk to a non-living carbon-based product. “She is so dumping me”, I sigh before I have to get up to walk around a little.

Suddenly I see the world more clearly. I can identify with almost everyone – even the most brutal of murderers. I get flashbacks from my past, like the time when I accidentally rode my bike on mom’s roses, and when I ran in the kitchen and knocked over a really expensive plant. I remember I had always thought I had never harmed anyone, but I was wrong. Now… Now I know what I’ve done. I’ve killed plants. I will most likely continue to kill plants. I’m a serial plant killer.

Besides the flashbacks, I keep seeing scenes that I have not yet experienced. I explore the images in my head as I gallop to Rosie’s bedroom for another cigarette. In one of them I am in the kitchen, where I had only seconds ago stood, but this was, without a doubt, the future. In this vision of mine, Rosie stares at the dead plant on her dusty windowsill. “It’s dead”, she says, and I do nothing but nod. “You killed it”, her voice breaks, and I nod again. There is really no denying it. And then the words I expect: “I think we need some time apart, Michael.”

One breath in. One breath out. Easy does it, Mikey-boy. If that is my future, then so be it. But if there is some way to prevent it from happening, isn’t it my duty to act accordingly? I shake my head to shake the thoughts out, as if they are going to flood on the floor from my ear. I take another breath and run my fingers through my hair. My hair’s dirty blonde. I wonder if there are statistics on hair color and psychopathy. “Blondes are more likely to commit plant killings”, those kinds of things. I guess not. I take the plant in my hands and look at it in silence. Poor little thing, to end up having someone like me be responsible for its life. I wouldn’t have trusted me either. This is precisely why I tell Rosie I don’t want kids. But she always says: “Michael, you would make a great dad.” I have to show her the plant. Maybe she’ll believe me then.

I could buy her a new plant. I could take the brown corpse to the store and ask for another one, just like it. I don’t know how long my scam would last, at least long enough for me to flee the country. I grab the plant and stuff it under my sweater. I will do that. I turn to the door, then turn back. I need another cigarette. When I come back, I stop at the door. There’s something I have forgotten. Today is Thursday. Rosie left last Tuesday. That means she will be back… Today. Now. Any second. I panic, like any respectable plant killer would when they’re about to get caught. I quickly pull the plant from under my sweater and put it back where it belongs. I could hide the pot and tell Rosie there was no plant on the windowsill. Am I really that low?
Oops. The key twists in the lock. I step in front of the plant just as the door opens and Rosie dances in. She is not even a little bit surprised that I’m in her apartment. “Hello, Michael”, she says in that singing tone of hers and kisses my cheek. “Hi Rosie.” Good. Start a normal conversation. “How was Arkansas?” “Oh, boring. You know my folks. A boring bunch, all of them.” Rosie laughs brightly. I can’t seem to decide when it would be a good moment to tell her about the death that hides behind my back. “Guess what?” Rosie asks and carries her bag to me. “What?” “I saw something fantastic in the store across the street from my parents, and I just had to buy it!” She pulls out a white porcelain angel. “I thought I might replace that horrible plant with this. Isn’t that a great idea?” Sigh. I have to blink a couple of times before I believe my ears. 

“I think that’s a fantastic idea.” 

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