Exercising the craft—February 4, 2013

Prompt: You are helping out at a charitable center by organizing donated items. When searching through an old suitcase, you find a suicide note dated six months prior. What’s peculiar is that you know the person. What’s even more peculiar is that the person is still alive. Write the story about what happens when you pay that person a visit and ask him or her about the note.

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/a-suicide-note

Adele’s heart beat hard as she crushed the note in her hand and headed for the revolving door of the drab building.  Despite the intentions of the architects several years earlier the dirty beige exterior of the town’s anchoring structure came across as boring, as though the architects had spent all their time on the interior and had run out of energy by the time they had to design the outside.

How could Eric write this? she thought.  Did he think this was some kind of sick joke?  And—and why didn’t he—why didn’t he go through with it?

She ignored the greetings from the staff, power walking down the halls and into the elevator.  After pressing buttons with unnecessary force, she stood with her arms crossed and glared at the numbers as they increased until they stopped at the fourth floor.  A man in his sixties waited for the elevator just as the automatic doors slid open with a quiet rush.

“Hi, Adele,” he said, greeting her with a grin evident of the friendly relationship they shared.  “How are you?”

“Not good,” she said in clipped tones.  Without waiting to address the extreme surprise on his face, she continued her vigorous pace until she reached the room she sought.  She pushed the door open, almost slamming it, and she strode into the room in full-fledged anger.

“What is this supposed to be?” she demanded, thrusting the note in Eric’s lap.

“Well, hello to you too,” he said, his face reflecting some amusement mixed with confusion.  “What’s going on?”

“What—is—that?” she repeated, pointing with disgust at the piece of paper.

“I don’t know, Ad,” he said.  “Let me take a look.”

Within a couple of minutes, the expression on his face changed from amusement to recognition and his smile faded.  His eyes slowly came up to meet Adele’s.

“Where did you get this?” Eric asked in a low voice.

“I found it in some ratty roll-on at the mission today,” Adele said, throwing her hand in the air, whirling to face a chair.  In a moment she sat down with a huff and crossed her arms.  “What is it supposed to be, Eric?  Why would you write something like that?”

“Look, Ad, I know why you’re upset—”

“Oh, you do, do you?” she shot back sarcastically.  “I’m sure you do.  I go to the mission, already running late, practically hitting every yellow light as I’m speeding across town, then I have to sort through all the stupid suitcases, which means going through every pocket, examining every zipper, making sure we can even sell the things or use them for our families in need, and then I run across a suicide note written by my own brother!  Except he’s not dead!”

“Ad, listen to me—”

“Do you have any idea what you put me through, Eric?  As if everything isn’t hard enough, I find a note where you’re reading yourself your last rites!  But you didn’t kill yourself.  Are you just trying to jerk everyone around?  Is that what this is about?  Because I’ve had enough of it, okay?  I’ve had enough of dealing with all of this crap, and I don’t think I can take any more of it, got it?  I think you’re going to have to find some other sucker to be your sister, because I can’t take it anymore!”

“Now hang on, Ad, I think that’s a little unfair—”

“Unfair?!” Adele screeched.  “I’m the one who has to sit here and watch you die a little bit every day, and then I find a note saying you wanted to make this whole process go faster by killing yourself, but obviously you didn’t go through with it, which is more than what I can say for how Dad decided to handle things when we were kids, and—”

“Adele!”

She stopped ranting and realized that at some points tears had sprung to her eyes.  Adele watched as Eric inhaled deeply, held the breath for a moment, and then let it out slowly.  He moved the arm that held the IV across the hospital-issued blanket and picked idly at some nonexistent lint.  Some cancer patients sat in a chair as they received their chemo drips; Eric always preferred sitting under a blanket, saying that something about the whole process gave him chills.

I can’t cry, Adele admonished herself.  I always promised myself I wouldn’t cry when he came for chemo.  Dang, I don’t think I even have any tissues.

Scanning the room with her eyes, she spotted a box of tissues on a shelf built into the wall and went to grab a few for herself.  She mirrored her brother’s actions in taking the deep breath, but when she exhaled it came out ragged.

“Look, Ad, I’m sorry,” Eric said softly.  He extended his elbow in a little stretching move, and Adele knew the IV probably irritated his arm and skin.

“I really am sorry,” he repeated.  “It’s just…I wrote that six months ago, after I got the news that I wasn’t in remission anymore.  It just—it shook me up, Adele.  More than when I got the first diagnosis.  And I started to wonder—I wondered if—if Dad didn’t have the right idea…after all.”

“But how can you—”

Eric held up his hand.  “Let me finish.  I thought if I was going to—to end it all—I should probably let everyone know that it was my own decision.  I didn’t want you or Mom to spend your lives blaming yourselves.”

“Oh, thanks,” Adele said sarcastically.  “You decide to kill yourself, and you’re worried about our guilt.  How kind of you.  I think you’re twenty years late, as far as Mom’s concerned, Eric, but I appreciate you worrying about putting me in therapy for the rest of my life.  So what stopped you?”

Eric just stared at her for a moment and then shook his head.

Suddenly Adele felt a rush of guilt.  Yes, she’d found a suicide note written by Eric, but obviously he hadn’t gone through with it.  So why was she riding him so hard about it?  The tears began again, and this time she bowed her head in contrition.

“I’m sorry, Eric,” she said, the words coming out in a half-sob.  “I just don’t want you to die.  Ever.”

“Neither do I, Sis,” Eric said in that same quiet tone.  “That’s why I didn’t go through with it.  I wrote the letter, and I stared at it, and suddenly I realized that I didn’t want to die.  I don’t want to die, Adele.  Not from cancer, and not from me killing myself.  I—don’t—want—to—die.”

Adele sat in her chair, crying for a moment longer, and then she rushed to her brother’s side and crushed him in a tight hug.

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