For reasons unclear to me, work saw fit to let out early for President’s Day weekend. Days had passed–I wasn’t clear on how many at this point–since fate had delivered the one-two punch of an eviction, effective March 1, and being single, effective immediately.
Fate’s kind of a douchebag.
This gave me an extra afternoon to pull my shit together, and Lord knows I needed it. At this point, the only comprehensive solution for my problems I could envision was death. Since an alternative inspiration wasn’t coming to me, it was my duty to go out looking for it. I always tended to do my quickest thinking on slow walks, so I got off the train a few stops from home–far enough away to get an idea, but close enough that the sun would still be shining when I got there.
As soon as I ascended the steps to the street, a fragrant homeless man asked me, “Spare a few bucks?”
“I really can’t,” I replied.
“I really need the help.”
“I can’t afford anything right now.” I stormed away, fleeing the reality that, as bad as I had it, it could be much, much worse. Still, if I didn’t pull something out of my ass soon, I might be standing at a subway station myself, imploring the kindness of others.
Deep in thought, I barely registered my shoulder clipping someone else’s. In fact, I never would have noticed it had the owner of the shoulder not shoved me from behind.
“Watch where the fuck you’re going, you fuck!” the shoulder yelled when I turned to face him.
Looking past him, I saw the homeless man’s pleading eyes. “Sorry,” I mumbled.
“You better be, you fuck!”
I shook my head and returned to my walk, stopping myself only a half-second before I crossed paths with a delivery truck. I froze in wide-eyed shock as it passed, lashing me with its wake.
The ice was broken by a hand touching my arm and speaking with a humble voice. “Are you sure you don’t have a little cash?”
“I’m sorry,” I told the man, “but I just don’t have anything.”
He shuffled away, leaving me wallowing in the thick odor of guilt. On the other hand, that smell could have been the homeless guy. Regardless, I pulled myself together and resumed my walk home, paying closer attention to my surroundings. No light bulbs had clicked on over my head, but at this point, the best I could hope for was a candle. Now that distractions weren’t buffeting me, all I needed was time. This calm didn’t last, though, as a hand once again touched my shoulder.
I whipped around in fury. “I said I wasn’t going to give you any money!”
Instead of the homeless guy, I was yelling at the barrel of a gun. The fact that one man wielded it meant that it was probably a pistol, but from this angle, it was an artillery cannon.
“I stand corrected,” I said.
I handed him my wallet.
I handed him my watch.
“What else you got?”
“Nothing,” I replied. “I’ve got nothing.”
He tore through my wallet, pulling out all the paper and plastic, hoping to find something useful. He kept the cash and tossed the rest away. “This all you got?”
He considered this, and then he shoved the muzzle against my temple. “On your knees!”
“Please don’t kill me.”
“On your fucking knees!”
I did as I was told.
“Close your eyes and count to a hundred!”
“I don’t want to die.”
I wish I had used the time to appreciate the sheer poetry of this; or the sheer irony of wishing I was dead less just a few minutes ago. I wish that I had taken the time to appreciate my fortune, both bad and good. I even wish my life would have passed before my eyes. In actuality, each number that left my lungs was a plea for mercy.
It took forty-two seconds until I thought it was safe to stop counting. The fear and speculation as to my fate was only now starting to quiet down, and I could finally hear the dull rumble of the present.
The tears on my face were nearly dry, but the February air chilled them anyway. Drainage from last month’s snow seeped through my khakis as I knelt here on the street between two parked cars. In front of me lay my wallet, stripped of cash and emptied onto the sidewalk.
And the sun still shone.
I steadied myself on the bumper nearest to me, setting off its alarm. The sound startled me at first, but I quickly got used to it as I gathered up my credit, business, state ID, and store-discount cards, along with assorted receipts and phone numbers. Then there were the photos of my mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, my junior-year prom date, and my girlfriend–sorry, ex-girlfriend.
It was only after I shoved all of this into my jacket pocket that I remembered I had a cell phone. I opened my contact list and realized that I had no idea who to call. My parents would lose their shit, and my sister would remind me that she’d long ago predicted this. And the last thing I needed to tell my ex was how close I’d just come to dying. I stumbled home, and it wasn’t until I was mostly there that it occurred to me that maybe I should call the police.
The dispatcher told me an officer was on his way to take my statement, and so I shuffled into my desolate, barren living room, remembering that there was no couch to sit on because it had belonged to my former roommate. With a grunt, I headed for the kitchen. At least the liquor belonged to me.
After the policeman arrived ten minutes later and jotted down my account of the events of the afternoon, he asked, “Height?”
“Six feet, maybe.”
“Two hundred. Two twenty?”
“If we had to call you in for a lineup at some point in the future, do you think you could point him out?”
“I don’t think so, because …” I started to say.
“Yeah,” he said, “I know what you mean. They all look alike.”
“Because he was wearing a ski mask.”
Unperturbed, the officer handed me a clipboard to sign, and then a slip of paper when I returned it. “A detective will contact you within a week.”
When I was sure he had gone, I returned to the kitchen and fixed another stiff drink.
Fate really was a douchebag.
And then, just before the glass touched my lips, my phone buzzed.
“Who is it?” I asked the owner of the unidentified number on the other end.
“Fuentes, is that you?”
I stiffened. Not many people referred to me only by my surname. Even less were women. And none of them had access to this number. I bolted to my feet. “Who is this?”
“It’s me, Fuentes,” she said.
“No, it isn’t,” I snapped.
“You know it is.”
I sat back down, took the phone away from my ear, and exhaled. I returned it to my ear and said, “What?”
Seriously, fate, you need to stop.