Time: Two in the morning.
Condition: Late Night Phone Call
Him: Do you ever think of killing yourself?
Her: Who is this?
Him: You know who it is.
Him: Do you ever just sit and want a plane to fall from the sky and onto your head?
Him: How often?
Her: Depends on the day I guess.
Him: I was standing by my bedroom window today. It overlooks an apartment building six floors high. I saw a girl, a little girl, must have been nine or ten. She fell from the fifth floor.
Her: Oh my God. Is she OK?
Him: As OK as you would be if you fell from the fifth floor, I guess. And no, there was no mattress down there waiting for her.
Her: (Loud sigh) Jesus Christ Dude. It’s two in the morning.
Her: Can we back up a little and start this conversation like normal people?
Him: We are not normal.
Her: We can act.
Him: OK. Let’s restart.
Her: You OK?
Him: Yeah. Why?
Her: I can’t ask if you’re OK now?
Him: I am hanging in there.
Her: It is two in the morning.
Him: I never doubted your ability to tell time.
Her: What is wrong?
Him: I miss you.
Her: No you don’t.
Him: Yes I do.
Her: Dude, it’s been two years.
Him: Like I said, you can tell time.
Her: You can’t call me at two in the morning, after two years and talk to me about planes crashing on you and little girls falling to their deaths.
Him: Who said she fell to her death?
Him: The little girl; she didn’t die.
Her: Would you stop with the little girl, please?
Him: She just laid there on the hard concrete, blood forming under her, her eyes staring fixedly at the gray sky; it was as if she couldn’t understand exactly what was happening. I could tell she had broken several important things because her body was twisted in bizarre angles. But she wasn’t dead. And I just watched her and wished she had died.
Her: Dude, what’s going on?
Him: Do you still paint?
Her: On occasion, yes. Not as much as you do apparently.
Him: I could do more.
Her: Well, I saw your paintings hanging on the walls of three galleries just a couple of months back. I think you are doing great.
Him: I think of you sometimes.
Her: Come on…
Him: It doesn’t mean I want us to get back together. It just means you cross my mind sometimes.
Her: That cannot be good for you.
Him: Did I cross your mind? That time you saw my paintings?
Her: You did. Did I want to do anything about it? No.
Him: As I paint I keep thinking, “Maybe this is it. This is the painting that will finally get her calling me; asking how I am doing.” But, the painting goes places and the call never comes.
Her: You know why I never call.
Him: Yeah. Because it will give me the wrong idea. You are still the only person who has ever said, “I don’t love you” to me.
Her: I didn’t mean to hurt you.
Him: I know you didn’t. But it doesn’t matter.
Her: Why did you call?
Him: Do you think I am afraid of commitment?
Her: No. I don’t think that is what your issue is. You tend to create monsters that don’t exist. That is what your issue is. Have you been using again?
Him: No. (Sigh.) Yes. A little.
Her: Still blow or have you graduated to something worse?
Him: (Chuckle) I actually have graduated to something someone might call worse.
Him: I,uh, I did something.
Her: (He hears the ruffling sound of her as she sits up.) Dude, what did you do?
Him: I took something I shouldn’t have taken.
Her: That is how stealing works. You take something that you shouldn’t. What did you take?
Him: A painting. Out of some guy’s house.
Her: You need to take it back.
Him: I can’t.
Her: Why would you even do that? You always were more into self-harm. Stealing isn’t you.
Him: It gave me a high that, I don’t know, kept me alive I guess.
Her: You need to take it back.
Him: It’s too late baby. (There is a tremor in his voice that wasn’t there before) It’s too late.
Her: What does that mean?
Him: I was with three other people. We were two guys and two chics. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone home.
Her: What happened dude? (The snap in her voice signifies urgency. Like stealing wasn’t the worst that happened.) What happened?
Him: There was someone home. A boy. A teenage boy.
Him: Well… (pause – breaks voice) Oh God, what did I do?
Her: What happened????
Him: Once second we were alone, taking the painting off the wall, all alarms and security systems disabled, next second the boy was there, staring at us.
Her: Where is the boy now?
Him: It was Debbie. One of the chics.
Her: Where is the boy dude?
Him: I just wanted to keep the noise off my head. That is why I started stealing in the first place.
Her: Dude… (cautious voice; afraid of the answer.) What happened?
Him: It is why I do anything. To keep the noise off my head. It is why I paint, do cocaine, steal…
Her: You always blamed your drug habit on art.
Him: You will always be my favorite ex. How are you?
Her: We are not done talking about you. What happened with the boy?
Him: (Rises from his seat and rushes to window. He pushes the curtain aside a little and looks outside to the street below. It is pretty empty down there. He closes the curtain and leans against the wall.) Please let us talk about you for a minute.
Her: Are you OK?
Him: It doesn’t matter. Tell me about you. Keep me busy.
Her: I am OK.
Him: How are you and George?
Her: (Gasps) How do you know about George?
Him: You left me for your ex. Don’t be so surprised that I knew all along. I was the smart one in the relationship, remember?
Her: I didn’t leave you for George. I left you because you were depressing me.
Him: It was just cocaine. I needed it to paint.
Her: Art isn’t supposed to torture you Dude! You don’t have to be all messed up to be a great artist.
Him: Van Gough was messed up. Vincent ….
Her: Yeah, yeah, yeah… they were all screwy but brilliant artists. I get it. But I paint too and I am not messed up.
Him: maybe that is why you are not as great as I am.
Her: But at what price? We have had this conversation a million times before.
Him: Have it with me one last time.
Her: That is what you said last time.
Him: After this call is finished (he parts the curtains and looks outside again. The street is still empty) you will never hear from me again. You have my word.
Her: OK. There has to be a way to be an artist without abusing yourself.
Him: For you, maybe. You do view art as a blessing after all. For me, this is the only way.
Her: Art is a blessing, not the curse you say it is.
Him: It makes me feel too much, view people from a very different angle, strip them naked and see them for the insecure people they are, I love hard, hate hard, hurt hard and when I am down, there will never be sunshine for me. So I put paintbrush to canvas and paint my pain; receive awards for it and then look at it all and wonder, what’s the point?
He looks outside again in time to see a Subaru Imprezza park outside his apartment building.
Him: tell me about yourself. Did you ever find your happily ever after?
Her: You mean am I happy with George?
He sees three men steps out of the Imprezza in dark clothes and pistols in hand.
Her: Yes. I am happy.
Him: You have a kid?
Her: No. We have been trying but his sperms are too weak. I want us to adopt, but he doesn’t want anything to do with it.
Him: What are you going to do?
The men head for his gate and he slowly closes the curtain as one of them looks up to his apartment on the fifth floor.
Her: A life with him. I don’t know what kind of a life it will be, but I just want him in mine.
Him: Babies or not?
Her: Yeah. (Pause) I love him Dude. I really do. Sometimes it feels like I have loved him my entire life.
The men have entered the building and he imagines that two of them have taken the elevator up while one is using the stairs, making sure he doesn’t escape that way.
Him: I loved you. In my own way, I did.
Him: I still do. I promise you I will never bother you again, OK?
Her: I am sorry I couldn’t love you enough.
Him: Don’t worry. You gave me a chance. That is all I could’ve ever asked for.
He hears the heavy footfalls as the man on the stairs climbs up, his boots heavy against the concrete. He hears the elevator door ding open on his floor and takes a deep breath.
Her: What happened to that boy Dude? Are you in trouble?
Him: The two years you spent with me, they were the best of my life. I have never regretted any of…
Her: What happened to that boy Dude?! Stop deflecting.
Him: I have to go. Keep your eyes on that happily ever after, OK? You deserve it.
He hears footsteps approach and then stop outside his door.
Him: You deserve everything good in this life. Goodbye baby.
End of Phone Call
Beginning of Everything Else
He hangs up just before a master key enters his lock and rattles around in there. The door swings open as he sits on the couch and tries to keep the tremble from his hands.
Two men enter the semi lit living room; their guns pointed out, their boots soft against the heavy carpet. Their hands are gloved. One of the men sees him and points the gun at him.
The Man: You should have kept the boy alive.
Him: And now I pay for that mistake.
The gun goes off thrice, the silencer muffling the sound. Dude jerks thrice as three bullets dig into his chest. He releases a sigh as his head sags onto his chest and a thick drool of saliva drips from his lips.
He tries to move his body, maybe crawl out of the house and somehow find his way to a hospital, but he feels rigid, his body utterly immobile, his fingers unable to move. He tries to keep his eyes open, but they grow heavier with every passing second.
“Think about something nice,” he thinks.
He sees himself on a bed naked, with Her in his arms. She is hugging him, cradling his head against her naked bosom, protecting him from the coldness of the world.
Her: I wish I could keep you here forever.
He feels the warmth of her skin against his own and finds his wrap around her, tighter. He thrusts himself deeper inside of her and says, or rather tries to say;
Him: I want to be here with you, forever.
But his lips only manages a twitch and he slowly opens his eyes a crack, to find himself on the couch, his body rigid and his fingers beginning to grow cold.
‘I am dying,’ he thinks. ‘I thought it would hurt more.’
He longs for that place where it is just him and Her, on a bed, needing each other so badly that everything outside that room feels like a threat to their security in each other’s arms. He longs for that feeling of desperate honesty that comes with looking somebody in the face and proclaiming, “I will never let you go,” even though a small voice in your heart asks, “Are you sure about that?”
Suddenly, it is warmer. He is walking down a boulevard flanked by bright purple flowers on Jacaranda trees. It must be November, he thinks.
He is barefoot, his toes sinking into the bed of purple flowers at his feet, a soft breeze going and a lovely fragrance massaging his nostrils.
He wants to say, this is just how I would love my life to feel. Like a stroll down a jacaranda filled boulevard, on a warm afternoon in November. But when his lips part, his tongue feels heavy in his mouth and his body is engulfed by the cold and darkness.
I’m still dying.
A fist squeezes itself around his heart as he lies on that couch slumped with three holes in his chest as he thinks, ‘Oh God, I am dying, alone.’
He knows he saw it coming, but the fact that he is alone at this hour fills him with so much sadness that a single tear trickles down his cheek.
Dude, Meet Death
His eyes grow heavy again and he finds himself in the middle of a deserted city. It looks like a nuclear bomb went off decades ago and all that is left of this city are the shells of skyscrapers and a permanent ashy sky. It looks like his worst cloudy day, times ten. Every now and then, ashes fall from the sky.
He hugs his body as a cold chill enters him and looks around, searching for a possible source of warmth. Some food maybe? Even though from what his eyes can see, he is not going to be finding any warmth here, any time soon.
Her: Hi Dude…
He whips his head around, visibly startled, to find a young girl standing behind him, with a teddy bear squeezed against her chest. He instantly recognizes her.
Him: It’s you.
The young girl looks at herself and the teddy in hand.
Her: Actually no, it’s not.
Him: You are the girl that fell from the balcony earlier today. Wait… (pause) You are on your feet.
Her: I am going to stop you right there. My name is Death. And you are Dude. Now that we are introduced….
Him: No, no, no, no, no….
Her: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Honestly, I would rather skip past the boring denial part of this process and right to the good stuff.
Him: (Looks around) Am I in hell?
Her: You are not dead Dude. Not yet. But the girl whose body I inhabit, is.
Him: She is dead?
Her: You are dying, not deaf.
Him: Good for her. The way her body looked, I would want to be dead too.
Her: I always thought when I met you; I would be in your ex-girlfriend’s body.
Him: Why is that?
Her: Because she is the one who has assaulted your mind and heart and soul these last couple of years.
Him: I always thought when I met Death, it would be a he, and he would be in a cloak and…
Her: (Disappointed sigh) I hoped you would be more creative with your clichés; you know, with you being a tortured artist and all.
Him: I am tortured enough to know there are no creative clichés. I mean, look at me. I am a living breathing, walking cliché.
Her: Actually, you are still lying on your couch. So you are a dying cliché. (Chuckles.) Hmm. That actually does sound a little poetic. A dying cliché.
Him: What now?
Her: Now we talk.
Him: About what?
Her: About what happens to you.
Him: I guess I die and then, nothing.
Her: You don’t believe in life after death?
Him: I have been disappointed enough times in life to wonder what if life after death is just another big, fat lie.
Her: Ah yes. The life of a drug addicted painter. Always looking at the world from a keyhole of pessimism.
He looks at her from head to toe, looks at her teddy bear and says;
Him: I am sorry. Can you change into another body? I hate hearing you say things like, “Always looking at the world from a keyhole of pessimism,” when you are looking like that.
Her: I am only in this eleven year old body because that is how you want me to look.
Him: That makes me sound like some kind of a pervert.
Her: On the contrary, it just illuminates your fears to me.
Him: My fears?
Her: You watched this girl fall to her death only a while ago. To you, she is the encapsulation of death. As you lie on your couch dying, you are scared of death; of how alone and cold it is to die. Of how final it all is. So when you think of death, you think of that little girl because she embodies your biggest fear.
Him: I saw my death coming. I am not afraid of it.
Her: Yes you are. Or you would be dead by now.
Him: I will be in a few seconds.
Her: Do you feel like you have lived a fulfilling life?
Him: Too late to think about that now, right?
Her: Actually no. The bullets missed all important organs. I know it is very hard to believe that, but the only reason why you are dying right now is because you are bleeding out.
Him: Then save me!
Her: Save you? Why? You are OK with dying, aren’t you?
Him: Why are you here? To mess with my head?
Her: Do you even know where here is?
He looks around the deserted city.
Him: Purgatory? The place between heaven and hell?
Her: I thought you don’t believe in the afterlife.
Him: I am here, talking to you. Am I crazy?
Her: Yeah. Well, as crazy as knowing you are literally dying can be.
Him: Where am I?
Her: You are inside the future feelings of your ex-girlfriend.
Him: What do you mean I am inside… (he now looks at her for explanation, only to notice that Death has changed into the body of his ex.) you?
Her: You just wished really hard that you could be spending this time with her, and that is why my body has changed.
Him: I hate you!
Him: I just wanted her to be with me, you know? And now I am here talking to you in her body only that it is not her, it is you. What kind of game is this?
Her: Oh, this is not a game.
Him: What do you want from me?
Her: There are two ways your future can unfold from here. One, you could die and move on or two, you could go back to life and be with her. Spend the next fifty years waking up next to her every morning. Wouldn’t you like that?
Him: What is the catch?
Her: There is no catch.
Him: Come on. There is always a catch. And, you are Death. I definitely know there is a catch with you.
Her: Why do I get such a bad rap?
Him: You are Death! You take people from their loved ones! Of course you get a bad rap. What is wrong with you?
Her: But I am a part of life. There would be no life without me.
Him: You weren’t meant to be. You only came after those Adam and Eve idiots messed up.
Her: Did you really think humanity was created to last forever? If you only exist for a few decades now and then die, imagine what damage you would have caused the universe if you were to live forever. No, I am necessary. I give your life meaning and even before you are ten years old, you know for certain that one day you will die, yet when that day finally dawns, you look into my face like I am some monster.
Him: Let’s not act like you don’t kill children too.
Her: I don’t kill anybody! When you life expires, I come in and take it. That is the job Dude! You know, you people spend your lives thinking you have the entire future ahead of you. You burn bridges, you hurt each other, you glorify money, you wrap yourselves inside your technology and ignore each other and every day, you find newer and better ways to kill each other. Then when your life ends, and you are old and full of hate and regret and self loathing and whatever the hell else it is that makes people die sad and angry, everybody hate me as Death, for doing my job. For taking your life, a life which you never appreciated in the first place. What is wrong with me? No Dude. What is wrong with you?
Him: I have lived a good life. I did not hurt anybody.
Her: Except that kid you shot.
Him: I didn’t shoot that kid. Debbie did.
Her: You might not have pulled the trigger, but you are just as responsible for that death.
Him: And here I am, paying for that mistake. You are Death. You took that boy’s life. How are you paying for that?
Her: I did not make a mistake. I just did my job.
Him: Look, this conversation is giving me a headache. Can I die already, so I can get out of here?
Her: Sure. But before we get there, I want to show you something.
She takes a step closer to him and he takes one back.
Him: What are you doing?
Her: Some people want to be hugged and others touched. I can sense that you want me to kiss you.
Him: I want Her to kiss me. Not you.
Her: I can see inside you. You cannot lie to me.
She takes another step forward and he holds his ground. He feels her lips on her; they are warmer than he thought, and he closes his eyes. When he opens them, he finds himself on a king-size bed, with Her beside him. The bed is in the middle of a large field, covered with the greenest grass he has ever seen.
It is in the morning and there are birds on nearby trees with yellow flowers on them, chirping the morning away. Welcoming dawn with vibrant music.
She is kissing his forehead, smiling at him. But the moment she looks into his eyes, her face hardens and the warm morning weather suddenly changes; it grows dark, grey clouds quickly covering the sky, and lightning flashes followed by thunder.
She is hugging her knees on the bed, sobbing loudly and asking him, “Why can’t I let you go? Why do I love you so?”
He feels a hand rest on his shoulder and turns to see Death seated beside him. Death is in Her body still.
Death: If you leave, you will knock on her door. You will do this, completely sure that you are there to fight for your love. A love which you share because of course, she wouldn’t spend two years with you if she doesn’t love you, right? And she will let you in. At first, her feelings for you will be calm, beautiful, like the arrival of a warm dawn. Look at her now.
He looks at his ex whose body is jerking to and fro as if she is possessed by a vengeful spirit. Her hair is flying all over her face and when she turns to look at him, it is with a mask of pain and anger and desperation on her face.
Her: I love you! (She cups his face roughly in her hands and plants a forceful kiss on his face. Then she slaps him hard, crying, grabs his shirt, tears it off of him and claws his chest.) Let me go! Let me go!
Around them, thunder continues striking and heavy rainfall ensues. A lightning flash strikes a nearby tree causing it to go down in a ball of flames.
Involuntarily and utterly confused, he finds his arms reaching out to her, holding her close, letting her cry out her pain on his shoulder. Then they kiss, cuddle and make intense love.
Death: One day she will love you and the next she will hate you. She will feel trapped for a while there and she will fight to leave you but she knows how damaged this will leave you. And at the height of this conflict, it will be like a bomb has gone off inside her heart.
From a distance, there is an explosion, a large one that causes a mountainous mushroom cloud. A strong wind blows from the direction of the shaking explosion, followed shortly by bright flames that scorch every sense of green on the land.
The flames hit them too, Dude and Her, stripping them bare off all flesh and leaving behind skeletons.
He opens his eyes and finds himself wandering the city; in the aftermath of the explosion.
Death walks beside him.
Death: This will be the next fifty years of your lives.
He sees Her in front of him, hanging starched laundry on a thin wire. She flashes him a small smile; her eyes are bloodshot and her severely wrinkled face looks like it will melt off her any second now.
Death: She will spend her life sad. She will be sure that she loves you and that she will never leave you, but this love will be at the cost of her happiness. She will always want to leave you but will never understand why she cannot do that. She will hate herself and when she dies of old age, she will die regretting having spent her life with you. You on the other hand will spend your life trying to make her happy. You will buy her gifts, go on trips with her, you will never cheat on her, you will even have eight beautiful children with her and you will be a family. You will never see her internal struggle. Not even once. As far as you are concerned, she will be a very happy woman, married to you. You will buy her flowers constantly, build a home with her, come home to her smiling and wake up every morning next to her. And she will never, not even once, show you just how sad and alone she feels. You will live out your next fifty years happy. At the expense of her happiness.
Him: What about if I don’t see her again?
Death: She will live out her days with George. They will never have children and you and I both know that she really wants to have eight children. Still, she will make this and other compromises. He will come home drunk sometimes and offer remarks like, ‘I miss the days when we used to hit the gym together’ when she gains some weight. He will hurt her constantly, miss her birthdays, keep a mistress every now and then and finally when she is unable to put up with it anymore, she will divorce him and leave out the rest of her years alone.
Him: So she doesn’t get her happily ever after?
Death: I don’t know. I guess that will be up to her. What I know is that on her deathbed, she will not regret having lived the way she lived. She will not regret loving George wholly even though he wasted her time; she will know that even though she loved and was hurt immensely for it, she wouldn’t have changed any of it. She will die happy; and free.
Him: Well, if I will only make her sad, I would rather just stay dead then.
Death: The best thing about living with her will be that you will never remember this conversation. You won’t remember ever meeting me or making the choice to go back and live with her. You will not even know of her sadness. You will be happy. Isn’t that what you have always wanted? To be happy with her?
When he closes his eyes to imagine his future with her, he sees her running across a grassy field on a sunny Sunday afternoon. She is laughing and looking over her shoulder at him. He hears himself laughing even though he does not recognize his voice, catches her and lifts her up in a big hug. They both laugh as they tumble, fall and roll on the grass.
Finally, he is on her and she looks right into his eyes, and says with a low voice of sincerity;
Her: I love you so much.
Him: I love you too.
They walk to a car, hand in hand. He holds her around waist and pulls her closer to him. He kisses her on the cheek then forehead. And finally on the lips. He can feel her happiness and just how wholly and unreservedly she has offered herself to him in that kiss.
Yet when he looks at the car window as he is opening the door for her, he sees that he is not wearing his face; but George’s. And now, it explains the doubt he felt in his heart when he said, ‘I love you too’ to her.
He opens his eyes and finds Death in front of him.
Death: It is either she loves and lives with a man who will hurt her because he doesn’t love her, or with you. A man who loves her but who she doesn’t love back. Choose, now.
Him: I am laid out on my couch, bleeding out. Even if I choose life, how will I survive? I don’t expect I will just up and walk my bullet riddled body to the hospital.
Death: She came to your house to find out what that call you made to her was all about. She called the hospital. Right now, you are on the Operating Table, with surgeons fighting to keep you alive.
Him: And there is no part of her that… (pause) that feels something, anything for me?
Death: Nope. Nada. Not in the way that you want. See, she might save your life, call to check up on you, spend her time with you, be kind to you, but she is not in love with you. I am sorry Dude. But you have to choose between loving her and possessing her.
Slowly, he allows himself to succumb to the growing weakness in his knees and sits on the ashy ground, sadness overcoming him again.
Him: Will I Rest in Peace?
Death: I don’t know if there is such a thing.
Death: I am just a bridge between life and something else. I don’t know what. Maybe happiness, maybe not. What do I know? I am just Death. I am just a being with a job to do.
In the hospital’s waiting lobby, Her and George are waiting on news from the doctors. Somewhere beyond these glass doors, Dude is lying on a table, fighting for his life, surgeons cutting him opens and speaking in medical tongues to each other.
Her eyes are red from all the crying she has been doing while beside her, George watches, the first looks of contempt beginning to cloud his eyes. Her eyes remain glued to the door barricading her from the operation room. Every now and then she looks at the watch until finally, the door she has been watching opens and a doctor calls out her name.
Pregnant with hope, she springs to her feet and stands in front of the doctor while George stands behind her and watches the doctor nod his head at Her. She staggers and almost collapses as a wild sob escapes her, while George reprimands himself for feeling a little sense of relief.
(Have you read my book “ZOO”? If you haven’t, drop me an email email@example.com and I will let you know how you can get a copy)