So I push. Breathing harder and harder, more and more rapidly as I grip the pistol. Closing my teeth as much as I can around the barrel, face now drenched in sweat. I opened my eye a crack, and peered at the casket. I’m going in there now. All or nothing. All or nothing, all or nothing.
I screamed in hoarse, rattling anguish, muffled by the steel cylinder in my mouth. You could’ve heard a pin drop after that. I tried to squeeze the trigger all the way this time. I did. I knew they wouldn’t believe me if I told them, but I really did try. I put everything I had into that one moment.
…But I choked. I just couldn’t. I broke down into tears, taking the gun out of my mouth and bawling like a baby. Dad covered his face with one hand and turned away. Mom had one hand on her hip, the other over her mouth, and tears in her eyes.
I screamed again as the tears continued erupting from my eyes…the same desperate, strained sound a cornered animal makes. Then, before anybody could react, I bolted for the bathroom. I’d not taken three steps before Dad lunged at me, but he’s not as quick as he used to be. “Grab him! For fuck’s sake, somebody get ahold of him!”
I dashed past the kitchen, down the hallway and into the bathroom. The only door inside the house with a lock on it. I slammed the door behind myself and locked it, pulling out the drawer nearest it from the cabinet below the sink just to further ensure that the door could not be opened.
The banging started soon after that. Banging, angry shouting and threats. But what could they threaten me with at this point? I ignored all of it, hands on the counter, studying myself in the mirror.
Every little grey hair, every fine little crease that stress carved into the corner of my eyes over the years. What’s a realistic lifespan for someone in this family? I never asked Dad about any heart conditions or anything like that, he’s always been so healthy.
I took my shirt off. I don’t know why. I don’t know anything. Pacing back and forth, pulling at my hair, some of it actually comes out in my hand. I laugh weakly at the thought that I might’ve started balding soon if it weren’t for this.
After the banging and threats came the soft, sympathetic pleading. “Open the door sweetie. It’s normal, lots of people freeze up on their big night. You can still salvage it. Everything’s just the way you left it back in the living room. Why don’t you at least come out of there so we can talk about this face to face?”
I just continued to weep. Not a torrent anymore but a constant slow trickle, my eyes red and puffy. In the mirror, I looked thirty years older. Strung out, worn down and shaking, at the very end of my rope.
My Dad’s voice was next, as soft as it ever gets. “The clock’s still ticking, son. It’s nearly eleven. You know what happens at a minute after twelve, don’t you? The helicopters come. You don’t want there to be helicopters, do you? Think of your mother.”
I was thinking about her. Dad too. And the sailboat, Summer camp…All of it. Everything at once. Surging, coursing, spinning around in my skull. I couldn’t stop it now, all I could do was turn on the shower in the hope I could get warm enough that the shakes would stop. I just want to be warm.
“He turned the shower on” I heard Aunt Linda remark, voice muffled by the door. There was another effort to force the door as I stripped out of the rest of my clothes and climbed in. The water’s almost painfully hot, as it needs to in order to distract me.
I haven’t escaped. I haven’t. There is only one way out of this bathroom. I’ve just made it that much harder on everybody, because I’m weak. “I don’t want it” I whispered to myself. “I don’t want it. I don’t want it. I don’t want it. I don’t want it. I don’t want it.”
I could see somebody slipping their smartphone under the crack in the door, trying to record video of what I was up to. I turned the lights off. “He’s turned the lights off” came a muffled voice, a moment later. In the background, I could heard Dad barking excitedly and incomprehensibly to somebody or other on the phone.
Despite the cascade of hot water on my face, washing away the tears, my eyes still stung. I continued helplessly grinding my teeth, holding onto my own body with both hands as if to protect it from myself, rocking back and forth.
This is all there is. All I have left. My world has shrunk to just the size of this bathroom. That’s the largest it will ever be again. I’ll just…have to live out all my unrealized dreams…in this bathroom? Within the next hour, somehow. There isn’t really room to dance though. I’ve got nothing to build any sort of boat with, either.
I heard Dad’s muffled voice through the door. “The safety was on. Can you believe that? Even if he had the guts, the damned stupid idiot left the safety on. Maybe he did it on purpose.” Someone sternly hushed him, probably Mom.
He’s right though. Figures I would do something like that. Subconsciously? I slid further into the ever-deepening water collecting in the tub. I wish it were larger, I just want to float. I want to close my eyes and float in a warm abyss.
Like in the womb. Maybe that’s why I’m in here? It should all end the way that it started. Just then, my ears perked up. I couldn’t make it out clearly until I shut off the shower…but there’s at least one helicopter in the distance. The sound of the rotor chopping away at the air was faint now, but grew steadily louder as I listened.
I turned the water back on. I still have time. How long’s it been? In here, every second is eternity, just how I like it. The mania raging within me dredged up countless memories. Some poignant and sentimental. Others just stupid every day memories that were attached to the meaningful ones in some remote way, getting pulled up with them in the process.
I recalled an exit marathon I’d seen on TV. Just back to back exit videos submitted by families from around the country, in memoriam. One of them took place inside a church. Everybody there was Hispanic, there was this handsome boisterous preacher in a white suit who welcomed a ten year old girl up to the stage.
She smiled sweetly. Sheltered I imagine, still not properly understanding what death is or she wouldn’t be smiling as he handed her the gun. Beautiful music wafted out of the enormous pipe organ at the rear of the church, and volunteers in white robes lined up to either side, just behind her.
I didn’t understand what for until she did it. I suppose because I thought there would be more buildup than that. She did quickly recite a little speech and wave to family members in the pews, but then she put the gun in her mouth and did her thing.
Her eyes scrunched up abruptly the moment it went off. For a split second, some of her hair flew up in the back, carried by a few tiny bits of flying bone and gristle. She toppled backwards. Just as intended, I realized when I noticed she’d been standing on a slightly inclined platform.
The volunteers caught her, then without missing a beat, hoisted her slight frame into the gaudy white casket they had on hand for the purpose. The music reached crescendo. The only people in the audience that were in frame sat in the front most row, all of whom were tearfully laughing and hugging each other.
She’d been dressed so nicely, too. Such a frilly, sky blue dress. Such immaculate, shiny little shoes. All so that she could wind up in there. It pained me on more than one level. That child had it in her to do what I failed to.
Even a child managed it. What am I doing in here, then? Cowering naked in this porcelain casket, trying to regress. To go backwards when that was never an option. It can still end only one way, can’t it? What did I accomplish by locking myself in here?
Jorge’s voice was next to plead with me. “I’ve got your phone. You should talk to Angie.” I shuddered, unsure of why. “She hasn’t answered in ten years” I called back, “Why would that change tonight?”
He slid the phone under the door anyway. I didn’t plan to do anything about it until it began to ring. I tried to ignore it, figuring it was just Jorge on the other end. Or Mom, or Dad. It wouldn’t stop ringing though, so I eventually had to get out of the bath.
Stay Tuned for Part 7!