A collaborative story by The Parking Lot Confessional
The first time I died, I can’t remember. I think if I could, I could stop dying.
The second time I died, I was making French fries for David, and I died for my cigarette pants, of all the stupid things. I was barefoot, and wearing these amazing black capri pants that sometimes made me feel all gamine and French, especially if I wore them with a striped sailor shirt. Anyway, I was filling up the fryer and I think I was thinking about how mad I was that Scheherazade peed in my closet again even though I had just cleaned out her litter box.
So I was thinking about that, and spilled some oil, just dumped it everywhere. I jumped back so it wouldn’t hit my pants and ruin them, and I slipped and fell.
Hit my head.
I remember it hurting like a migraine on a motorcycle, like a drill through my skull. I remember tasting blood in my mouth, which made me want to throw up, because I hate blood so much. But my stomach wasn’t working anymore. Nothing was.
And that was it. When I woke back up again, I burned those pants.
David doesn’t like fast-food fries, or Ore-Ida frozen ones out of the bag. He has some really fussy taste buds. If he eats something that doesn’t agree with him, they get all huge and puffy and gross and he can’t close his mouth right for a while. I think I used to laugh about it, when it happened, because come on, how weird can you get? I guess I got my answer to that.
I still cook for David, but I always wear some ugly croc shoes, because they’re grippy, and go slowly. He understands. Nobody else does. Nobody else would let me keep coming back to him. I’ve lost a lot of other things, because of this.
I think it would be less weird if I looked different. If I came back as a baby, or a guinea pig. Then I guess it would feel like something else. Reincarnation. Wheel of Karma. But when I wake up, I hear this buzzing, purring noise. And I open my eyes and it’s Scheherazade, curled up in a lump on my chest and just going like a chainsaw. It’s cold, and I’m in my own bed, and whatever hurt me is gone. No dent in my head, no blood, no pain. And David is sitting in the chair, and he’s lit some candles because if you can’t tell already, he can be kind of dramatic, and he just looks. Oh man, he looks like the one who died. Just awful. Skin gray as an elephant’s, eyes all red from crying.
And he’ll go “Hi,”
And I’ll say, “Hi.”
And then he starts crying again, and leans over and holds me, and then I usually start bawling too, because crying is one of those infectious things. Like bubonic plague, or gangrene, or the black widow’s bite. That’s how I died the third time, by the way. The fourth time David says I drank too much. I don’t remember that one, obviously. But the fifth time, that’s when the wheels really started coming off the thing; that’s why I’m here with you, now, telling you all this even though you obviously don’t believe me.
There was the first time. Then four slips, five falls, two suicides, and eleven drownings, though I’m not sure if some of them shouldn’t be counted as suicides. Each time he found Scheherazade close by, purring and nuzzling, seemingly content with the situation.
I thought I could handle it. Thought I couldn’t live without her. Why else would I stand her near-poisoning of me every time she cooks? It’s potatoes. I mean, how the hell do you get a person’s tongue to swell up like that eating potatoes?
But I smile with every bite. I smile because I know that without her I can’t face the day, and I make it through the day because I know she’ll be there waiting for me when I get home. At least that’s how it used to be.
The deaths used to be spread out by six months or more. Then only a month would go by. In the last week I’ve come home to her dead four times. The shock has flip-flopped. I jump every time I open the door and she says hello.
The days she doesn’t, the routine’s the same. Get her off the floor, out of the pool, or the one time, off the roof and into the bedroom. Bring all of her. Thinking back on it, it probably should have made me sick doing what I did. I needed every drop, sponging where wet and scraping where dry. The whole time the cat watched.
The bottles come next. I gave up putting them away months ago. The bottles don’t have labels because the contents don’t have names. When you give something a name, you lock it into place, give it boundaries. At least that’s what my dad always said. Funny how it can take a lifetime to finally believe.
I take time lighting candles for her. Tall, squat, red, black, scented, any candle I can find in the house. They’re not important like the bottles, but I think she likes them. It also gives me something to do while I wait, taking my time to light each one. One match for each wick and never before the tip is done flaring. Cinnamon mingles with apple, cookie and vanilla. Each on their own can start my stomach rumbling, but all together they roil in my nose.
It was around the fifth time I found her when things didn’t quite go right. Her left side was red and warm from the sun, but cool underneath where I scooped her up in the backyard. I got the blood off the railing to the pool, but I didn’t know what to do with the grass. The ground soaked up so much. I don’t think I got it all. I even laid the clods of earth with her, but the bed was clean once she sat up.
She wasn’t right after that. It was still her, still my beautiful darling wife, someday mother of my children, but something was missing. I want to say I didn’t notice it, willed myself not to see. In truth, I ignored it for as long as I could. Her coloring slightly graying, though her makeup covered much. The tinges of green in her hair were another matter, but just the roots. The physical changes weren’t as bad as the blank stares. The last time she stared off, I watched. Searched for a sign, the pulse in her neck, a twitch, a breath. Nothing. Then startling me when she’d move as if no time had passed.
And each time it got worse.
I’m lighting the candles now for the twenty-third time praying there won’t be a twenty-fourth. I can’t stop using the bottles. Can’t stop because of the first time. Instead I pray. To the bottles. To the candles. To Scheherazade. To the sky, the ground, the moon, the sun, the ugly tile floor, her damn crocs, to anything that will listen.
Please don’t let her say hi.
The bed sheets rustle and I know my prayers went unanswered.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” and I break down in sobs.
This is all because of the first time. The first time she died, and I couldn’t stop it.
* * *
“Hi,” I said. And then the tears came. But this time only his. I felt the burn, the lump in my throat, but my eyes stayed dry.
David pulled away and sat up. “What…?”
I shook my head just the tiniest bit and felt my lashes fall. They crumbled to dust as I blinked them away. When I reached up to wipe the specks from my eyes, David stopped my hand. His fingers met my arm and continued, shifting the skin like salt crystals.
“No,” he said, as my sharp inhale sanded down my windpipe. “No, no, no.” Then he was up from the bed and rattling through the bathroom cabinets.
“David.” My tongue tapped my teeth like a rock against tree bark. I stared at my hands, not believing, not willing to move even my eyes.
You’d think turning to dust would hurt, but of all the ways I’d gone, this was calmest. No shock of water in the lungs. No splatter or gelatinous goop. There’s something zen about dust. It simply scatters and settles into peace.
“Stop!” he yelled. There came the sound of breaking glass and a slew of his special words flew around the room. “I got this,” he said. “Don’t talk. Dont. Move.”
I would miss him, of course. But the thing is, none of this was right. Not one single moment since the first time I woke up.
“It’s wrong.” I pressed the thumb and index finger of my right hand together and watched them disintegrate. “I shouldn’t be…” My lips went next and with them my words.
David stumbled through the doorway, arms full of clanging bottles and candles. He took one look at me and made a sound like a gutted bear. My feet had crumbled to two piles at the side of the bed. My legs raced to join them. I tried to tell him with my eyes it was okay. To let me go. But then I felt my spine giving way, the slow inching upward, bringing with it a rush of dying synapses, firing off a final time.
Across my eyes, they flickered in reverse. All twenty-three. Back through each one, my memory skipped, and I watched them flip like pages in a book. The drownings. Falls. Electrocutions. That awful thing with the hedge trimmer. Farther and farther back, and in between memories of David and me, the good and the bad. The times he carried me, and the times he dragged me down. All the while the unraveling made its way up and up, until it reached the base of my skull, and then — then — I saw the third time. The second. I felt it close. So close. The first time. Just there, the next page to flip.
You’re wondering if I found it. If I remembered. If I was able to make it stop.
Look at me. Would you be sitting here, pieced together like this, living a never-death if you had?
I took the subway here. Yeah, sure people stare, so what. I’m thinking today I’ll give the tracks a go. Haven’t tried tracks yet. Not that it’ll do any good. David will be there.
David is always there.