[REDACTED BECAUSE OF POTENTIAL COPYRIGHT ISSUES]
–[Cool Emo Band]
John recalls the lesson from Sunday School, a decades-old promise of a place where the souls of the unbaptized and unrepentant go after death, the eternal realm of Limbo–a vast, grey expanse for those not wholly good nor wholly wicked–and it thrills him now as then.
He imagines the place to be a rocky, rugged expanse beneath an indigo sky, a realm of perpetual twilight devoid of sound save the wind whistling over the scrubby terrain. Limbo is a desert and he is completely and utterly alone in it, away from distraction, noise, the aggravating crunch his coworker makes every time he eats corn nuts. The promise of heaven–with harps and trumpets for eternity–seems worse than Hell.
He accepts purgatory as the perfect afterlife, reviews his personal theology designed to deliver him to the quiet, grey netherworld, there to spend forever listening to the still, soft sounds of absolutely nothing at all. If the mind can turn paradise into the pit, it can easily transcend the heights with the promise of absolute stillness.
His twenty-third birthday comes, the start of the thirteenth year of his personal devotion to the quiet void, his first birthday out of college, his first birthday working as a junior accountant at a big firm in the city. After work he showers, dresses for the occasion, and wanders out into the world to celebrate.
If he had friends, he would call them up and invite them to sushi, but long ago he learned the middle-path proved easiest when walked alone.
Two-hundred dollars worth of sushi and lobster, and he leaves with a full third of his order in to-go boxes. As he walks past a park to his favorite bar, he gives the remains of his meal to a homeless man who blesses him, alleviates him of his gluttony. He smiles, hands the old beggar a fiver, and makes a mental note to steal the same amount from the petty cash drawer at work tomorrow. Everything is a trade off, a credit, a debit, a balance sheet of good and evil, the monitoring of the motion of his personal moral pendulum.
He buys drinks for nobody but himself, accepts drinks from nobody, lifts a toast to his own health. After an hour he walks out, half-buzzed, half-sober.
He passes the park and notices the homeless man on his bench, face swollen and purple, body slumped over, eyes watery and gazing across the street to take in nothing at all. On the ground next to the man, an order of ama ebi, sweet raw shrimp, half-eaten.
“Christ,” John says as he pulls out his cell phone. “Christ, let there be time.” He dials 911.
He rides with the homeless man in the ambulance, listens to the doctors work for a few frantic minutes before they give up.
“I’m sorry, he’s gone,” a doctor says in a soft tone. The man has grey hair and grey eyes. His face is ashen, his lips cracked.
John nods, steps outside, and lights up a cigarette. The doctor follows him out, sparks up one of his own.
“A relative?” the doctor asks.
John shakes his head. “Homeless guy. I gave him the shrimp. Didn’t know he was allergic.”
“Neither did he, I’d wager. Nice of you, though.”
The air between them grows thick with cigarette smoke, a grey mist that can’t be caught, can’t be snagged.
The haze parts as the idea comes to him, a means of salvaging the eternal dream.
A chat with the doctor, a subtle turn of conversation, a gentle inquiry into the state of the terminally ill, and he knows the best means.
Two weeks later, John has the pills he needs, the procedure down, the bottle of vodka, and the note. They can’t afford to pass up a good heart, a decent set of eyes, and his skin. His liver won’t do after this, but the rest should be fine. A life for a life, and Limbo awaits.