On Quitting after Three Years
(this is purely for me. it has no artistic merit; it will teach you nothing.)
For three years the story extended itself and retracted itself at the same time, like an optical illusion. The sheet of paper, in a constant state of incompletion, never made it whole out of the typewriter. There were ten thousand first few lines, thousands of diagrams, hundreds of characters, dozens of arguments, and one or two piles of ashes from when the paper had been burnt before. This was not enough.
I thought to myself, it is winter where they are, so I must dress warmly, and I opened my giant pear-tree wardrobe to pick out the warmest of the coats. I strapped on some gloves, packed some chocolates, and stuffed an inconspicuous amount of monopoly money in my pockets. I was temporarily wealthy – neither armed nor dangerous, but just one step removed from both of those at once. I got the canister of anti-depressants from the bookshelf where it sits symbolically, and I ripped off the label and wrote with a thick marker: Voccidol. This drug name means nothing to you, because I made it up.
I sat down at the typewriter and I wrote one sentence:
There was a door.
I opened the door and stepped inside. Behind me was the hospital, with its windows and its butterflies and its sordid little office romances. Is that how you say it? It was a clear day and it was warmer than I had expected. There was a lady across the street with a soaked feather boa hanging slackly from her neck like a turgid necktie. I guess geography never was my strong suit, but I wanted to hang on to this old coat, so I found the closest gas station and walked in there. I bought some cooling drinks and five gallon-jugs of gasoline, and I paid extra for the dude behind the counter to not ask any awkward questions.
He handed me back the change.
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “That’s for you not to ask any awkward questions.”
“You’re right, I don’t understand, sir.”
“Do you really have to call me sir?”
“It’s in the employee handbook, sir.”
“Well, I don’t want you to ask any awkward questions about why I’m purchasing these five gallons of gasoline.” I was sweating profusely by this time. “That is why I am giving you these extra five-hundred dollars, you see. And by awkward questions I’m sort of implying that you also will keep mum about this, say the money came from somewhere else, and also lie about it to the police. But, hey, free money, right? Just for doing nothing? Sorry, am I explaining too much?”
Silently, the dude behind the counter took the money back, counted it, and put it in a special breast pocket, and then smiled and thanked me and called me “sir,” again.
Of course, my doing this caused him to become really nervous, so he called the police as soon as I was out of sight, and explained what had happened except with four-hundred dollars instead. He’s a good person, I think.
The police were upon me within five minutes, and there I was in the middle of the pavement, pausing every ten metres to sip from cold water or soda. I didn’t have my typewriter, but I did have my mouth, and you can’t make typos speaking aloud.
“Why hello, officers,” I said. “Can I help you with anything?”
They must have heard that my accent was foreign. This must have added to their suspicion. “Sir, what is it you’re carrying?”
“Why, five gallons of gasoline. Quite heavy, officers, really.” I played up my accent, and explained that I had given the man behind the counter five dollars and tried to quote a famous movie at him, because I’m in America! That’s what you do in America! All the movies happen here, yeah? The police officers told me that it was, in fact, four hundred dollars, and then I looked red in the face. Well, at the time I ascribed it to my good acting, but it was probably just the heat taking its toll. I have read that you’re supposed to drink before you get thirsty. I was not that smart this time.
But, jagged, I managed to smooth-talk my way out of an arrest, and kept on walking toward the hospital. It was just as I had imagined it, and slightly browner. A mixture of every american TV-series hospital I’ve ever seen, with some of the added depression of real hospitals I’ve set my actual feet in.
In the elevator (I am still not certain whether I should be calling them lifts or not) I popped a pill, and felt my brain structure change. There was no canon on how exactly these worked, because I don’t know brains like that, but I assumed that I would be safe from any potential brain virus if I had taken one of these babies beforehand.
The first gallon of gasoline I hid in a mopping bucket that was surely to be used soon, so they would gasoline the whole floor before anyone could figure out what was wrong. And then I went to everyone’s rooms. The third floor, with the trauma victims who are staying long term to heal or wait for surgery, I soaked the hallway. There were people there but they did not notice me, probably because my presence had been so pervasive in just this place before. They walked around me, awkwardly, but they too would feel the effects once I did this for real.
One gallon for the coma ward, where no-one would wake up again. One gallon for the disused staff room on the fourth floor, the inofficial workplace fucking room.
And then I set fire to everything, and it was good. No-one with a name survived.