My submission for the Review Game's December Writing Challenge Contest
Prompt: "In transit"
Idea inspired by Royal Bliss, aka Lassie.
Edited February 17th, 2010 with the help of reviewers.
As he dialed a random number in the phone booth, Jason wondered if he was on drugs. He didn't remember taking any, but what did remembering have to do with anything anymore? He'd stopped trying to remember things a while ago. He'd stopped trying to do a lot of things a while ago. How long had it been since he had slept? Eaten? Spoken? He didn't remember.
The phone rang once. Snow dripped from his clothes and melted off his shoes, making a puddle around his feet. He shivered, suddenly cold. Cold now that he was inside the warm, lighted library. He didn't remember being cold outside.
The phone rang twice. He watched a man in a Yankees winter coat from behind the glass door of the booth.
The phone rang three times. Was he calling a cell phone or a home phone? He didn't know.
On the fourth ring somebody picked up.
"Hello?" The female voice sounded groggy and hoarse. "Who is it?"
"I'm going to kill myself," Jason said, surprised by the sound of his voice. He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard it.
"Oh," the woman on the other end of the line said. "Are you on drugs?"
"I don't know. Are you?"
"Hell if I know. What do you want?"
"Nothing," Jason said, shrugging even though he knew no one was around to see the gesture. "I just wanted to let you know I was about to kill myself."
"Quite the subtle one, aren't we?" Sarcasm dripped from the phone line so heavily that Jason wondered why there wasn't a puddle of it on the floor next to the puddle of melted snow. Jason wondered how old the woman was. Her voice was harsh and gravelly, but not old.
"What's your name, kid?" she asked.
"What does it matter?" Jason asked. He could hear how bored he sounded. How monotone. He wondered why he didn't care.
"Damn. You really are one pathetic son of a bitch." Jason could imagine her shaking her head at him.
"Yeah. I know." He didn't remember why he had bothered with this.
"What happened to you?"
"Lots of shit," he answered. His clothes clung to him, weighted with water. His hair felt like plaster glued to his head.
"Doesn't matter," he muttered. Altering hands to hold the phone, he took his winter coat off, dropping the soggy mess to the flooding floor.
"That's retarded." His conversation partner was getting chatty. "If you're going to off yourself for something, you should at least know what it is."
"It is retarded."
"You're not going to get all angsty, are you?"
"What's the point?"
"Oh, pssh. I'm rolling my eyes over here. You're like, what, fourteen? You haven't been alive long enough to suffer, kid."
"Yeah, yeah, no one gives a shit. So, how are you going to do it? Do you have a gun?"
"Yeah, that's it." The weapon hung against his hip, the pressure of his clothes masking the steel's weight.
"Nice." The woman sounded impressed. "So, what? I hang up and you blow your brains out?"
"Something like that," Jason said, his mind wandering, thinking about the gun he was carrying.
"I thought about killing myself once. I was sixteen. My boyfriend had just broken up with me. I had it planned and everything. You know why I didn't do it?"
"Why?" Jason found himself interested. The idea of someone else committing suicide was a new one. The statistics were old, but a real story was something different.
"It was too damn cliché." She spat out the word as if the taste didn't suit her tongue. "I doubt they would've spent a page on it in the yearbook. Whiny bitch takes drama too far and kills herself. It would've been the only thing worth mentioning about my life."
"Yeah. Oh." Silence hung between them.
"What did you do then?" Jason hesitated to break the conversation.
"After I decided not to drown myself, you mean? Well, I took a bus to the last stop available and never looked back."
"I don't know if that would work for my problems."
"What? Did you get your girlfriend pregnant? Will child support hunt you down for the rest of your life? Are the cops already after you? You didn't kill someone, did you? Because if you did they'll probably kill you anyway. The government, I mean." She actually wants to know, Jason thought.
"It doesn't matter," Jason said. "I'll finish the job before they do."
"You're just intent on being serious about this, aren't you?" The woman was the one leading the conversation now, dealing Jason twenty questions.
"I guess." Jason frowned, pulling the gun from his jacket. It felt light in his his hand. He couldn't understand why it had felt heavy. The woman was quite at the other end of the line.
"I suppose I'll see your picture in the paper tomorrow. Front page, do you think? Where are you, somewhere with a lot of people?"
"Nah. I doubt my death will be worth that much attention."
"Well, do you want to be on the front page or not? Because if you want to go out with a bang, go out with a bang."
"Would this be considered assisted suicide?" Jason asked, shifting the gun. The weapon's cold seeped through his numb fingers.
"Our chat, you mean? Who cares?" the woman said, nonchalant, almost cheerful. "To hell with them, if you ask me. If you want to put a bullet in your head, then go ahead and do it."
It was almost a dare. A dare to oppose her. Jason could tell, and he almost thought about meeting the challenge. Some instinct in him growled. He didn't say anything. Water still ran down his back and legs, contributing to the growing pile on the tiles.
"Do you think the term 'go out with a bang' was coined by a suicide?" His words slow, thoughtful, Jason leered at the gun.
"Maybe," the woman said. She would have shrugged or arched an eyebrow as she said that, Jason thought, trying to picture her. Trying and failing. There were too many possibilities.
"The term wouldn't work for suicides now. To many people off themselves with guns for it to be considered theatrical anymore."
"If shooting yourself in the head isn't theatrical, what is?"
"Oh, you'd have to go for something flashier. Like… you know what's all the rage now? Suicide bombings. Take out a bunch of people you hate with you. Or, if you don't care for ending other people's lives, you could always rob a bank. Then you'd at least die rich." She started to laugh. Not hysterically, but as if she thought what she had said was funny.
"Didn't someone kill himself robbing a bank last month?"
"Yeah. I bet he got front page in the paper."
"Second page," Jason corrected. "There was a plane crash that day."
"Well, you'll have to do something better in case a plane crashed somewhere and we don't know about it."
"Hey, kid!" The man in the Yankees jacket knocked on the glass. "Library's closing. Time to wrap it up."
Jason nodded at the man, avoiding eye contact and hiding the gun behind his back. Satisfied that his message had been delivered, the man left.
"Conversation's over," Jason told his companion.
"Good luck in killing myself?" Jason couldn't resist asking, a lopsided grin finding its way onto his face.
"Good luck in whatever," the woman said, adding a devil-may-care 'pssh' to say that she knew he had understood and he was just being obnoxious.
"Yeah, well, you're the one needing good luck in whatever. You'll have to deal with it. I won't," Jason was growing tired of talking to the woman. She never ran out of things to say. "You never caught my name, you know."
"You never caught mine," the woman said. "Who cares?"
Jason hung up without saying goodbye. Staring at the operating box, he still clasped the phone. In his other hand the gun winked at him, gleaming. He thought about going over his conversation with a stranger. He thought about pondering all that she had said. He thought about deciding against it.
"Who really cares?" he whispered, alone in a phone booth in a closed library.