When the rental agent promised he’d find me an apartment, I should not have been surprised, given my price range, there was something wrong with every unit he showed me. “There’s no stove,” I said. He lowered his voice: “Too many people gassing themselves.” In the next apartment, the shower had no curtain rack. “Too many people hanging themselves.” The windows could not be opened in the next. “Jumpers?” I suggested. He nodded. I found a new rental agency. I did not want to know any more ways to off myself. And so I moved into this one-bedroom apartment that met all my needs and here I’ve lived happily for almost twenty years. Little did I know it was only a matter of time. The ceiling descends; the walls close in.
At work one day at the hospital, this is quite a number of years ago, they switched me over to autopsy reports because there are so many different ways to die. Before that, when I typed Pap smear results, it was eight long boring hours of normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal normal until I said Enough! I longed –wouldn’t you? – for somebody’s cancer.
For days I wasn’t sure, but now I know my bed is shrinking. No matter how I arrange the sheets, they drag on the floor, inches more each day. Aha! you think, the sheets are being stretched. Used so often, the fibers loosen, the fabric no longer holds. I’m sorry, the sheets are exactly the same size they always were. Thinner, perhaps, but in latitude and longitude, no different. Let me tell you, for months I was unable to sleep. Then I discovered a simple ploy. All I had to do was imagine my consciousness leaving my body. I would gently push, project, expel, and just like that I was asleep. Perfect, until it occurred to me that one night my consciousness might leave and not come back.
Since then, I lie awake. My bed, I think, is trying to tell me something. It’s this feeling of constriction, my life growing smaller, until I remember Mrs. P. She was our neighbor when I was a child. Just looking at her, a grownup no bigger than I was, frightened me. Now I know she was a little person. Back then, she was not just the smallest, but the oldest person I had ever seen and I thought, ah, this is how it works, this is how people die. They grow smaller and smaller and then they disappear.
Have you seen the beds our ancestors slept in? Even Abraham Lincoln had a bed much shorter than yours. Not because people were smaller then, but they slept sitting up. It was considered bad for the health to lie flat. So maybe my bed is telling me Look back, don’t fear the future, look to history. But the truth is, if I were to go backwards in my life, there is nothing I would want to relive. It wasn’t bad but once was enough. After my accident last month, the friend who drove me home said, See, you’re all right. Now you can get back to your little life. Everything happens for a reason. The sheets spill around on the floor, like waves around my island bed.
Frankly, if I were going to commit suicide, jumping out of a window is not the way I would choose, but that’s the image that flashes again and again through my head. If I believed in reincarnation and karma, I’d say my life on earth this time is a do-over, but the question remains whether I’m supposed to live differently or merely find a better way to die.
And I waited and waited for my coffee. Well, why should I expect anyone to serve me? I am a murderer. I woke from the dream and knew it was true. I am a murderer. But it happened so long ago, I couldn’t remember. The details are gone, just the unease, the certainty of—not quite guilt. The certainty of—something. Who did I kill? How? When? I don’t ask myself why. No motive could possibly be enough. All I know for sure is something must have happened. If not murder, I must have done something. Sooner or later, it will catch up with me.