It’s November First – the start of the last November of my life. I am not sure why I know that. The doctor hasn’t told me to worry about anything. The old woman at the back of the bookstore, who looks freakishly like a grizzled voodoo witch, complete with a wild left eye, hasn’t told me this. If she did, I would certainly believe her prognostication; no one with even half a brain would argue with a grizzled voodoo witch – although one might certainly speculate at the circumstances which would bring such a creature to the tundraic climes of northern North America.
It’s a niggling I have... a little voice that says ‘Enjoy it. It will be the last.’ It could, I suppose, be the voice of some ancient Mayan ancestor who realizes and accepts that this will be the last November for us all. It could be simply my raging neurotic paranoia; those who know me would most likely lean in that direction, and do so with not even so much as a shrug of concern. Maybe it was a loved one who had already passed, whispering in my ear last night while I dreamed of a large black rat, suspiciously similar to a Tasmanian devil, invading my house and eating my sandwich wrap. It lived in a hole in the wall near the kitchen... arguably another harbinger of the end of the world to come, as there is no doubt it would if I had to share my space with a vermin.
That this is my last November does not concern me. Rather to my astonishment, I find that I am pragmatic about the issue, considering what my last days will entail as opposed to when or why that last day will come. This could be a gift from some deity, offered in recognition to the life I have lived... or, more correctly, not lived. Conversely, this could well be the penalty for time spent unproductively, moments withering away, one after the other in rapid sequence, with mouse-like subservience, willingly accepting nothing as a standard for accomplishment other than the previously mentioned holding-off of vermin from my personal space.
Do I spend my remaining days waxing poetic on what could have been, lamenting the missed opportunities that dot my page of info dumps, or do I toss caution to the wind, extracting from each twenty-four hour period left to me a full one-thousand, four-hundred and forty minutes? Such is my conundrum today.
I looked at the calendar. The Greek Theater in Taormina, Sicily mocked me, Mount Etna’s majestic peak in the background. Why the hell would Romans build a Greek theater anyway? It was better than the previous thirty-one days of La Scala opera house in Milan screaming at me, ‘I’ve been here for two-hundred and thirty-four years, waiting for you.’ I remembered the first time I saw a picture of that statuesque beauty, its six levels of box seats, magnificent relief-carved domed ceiling, Scarpia on stage, smaller than your thumb from those top seats, but with a voice that elevated the rafters, shaming the honeyed meagre tones of the heavenly choirs in comparison. The picture was on a magnet given to my parents, stuck to the face of the avocado green fridge. Above it was another, this one of a fat woman shoving cake in her mouth, with the caption ‘Your body is a temple’. I knew temples. I devoured pictures of them in travel books – no, I didn’t attend them for their intended purpose; I was not really that into being struck down by a lightning bolt tossed by the aforementioned gift-giving deity. My body was patently not a temple; it was ancient ruins, a monument to gravity, abuse, harsh weather and admittedly neglect.
My mother’s voice came back to me, pushing out the regrets of Italian tours missed, to remind me that it was All Saints Day. The notion deserved nothing but a grunt of derision. I pulled open my fridge door, thankful that magnets would not adhere to its stainless steel front, and grabbed a beer. All Saints Day? Obviously not my holiday. That said, tomorrow must then be All Souls Day. My mind flipped back a few pages more, to Alberto who owned the shoe shop beside the bakery in town. He always had an All Soles Day sale. Mother would drag me in there, along with all my shoes, making me sit and wait until they had all been repaired. She would grumble repeatedly about how hard I was on shoes, asking what the hell I did with them that they wore out so fast. For god’s sake, I was an eight-year-old kid of the pre-computer age. What did she think I did in them? Everything. She also grumbled about the blasphemy of the sales pitch, offended by the flippant reference to such a reverent day, but not so much as to pass up the bargain offered. Religious indignation apparently had its limits.
Alberto’s shop always had the smell of fresh leather and garlic. It reminded me of the escargot my sister tried to cook one day. I think we probably used those babies as projectiles when we were pretending to be in the trenches of Ypres the next day. I almost took out Robbie’s eye with one. I shook the thought of Robbie from my head; not going there today. Alberto’s was a much nicer memory. He would sing while he sewed, his voice rumbling from deep in his diaphragm. I think he, and that damned magnet, were what made me realize my love for the classics – Italy, music, art, literature. I could not begin to imagine why he was here instead of in his magnificent homeland, on a stage, singing to show the Seraphim just how it was done. Perhaps that’s where my problems started; such lofty expectations made everything seem banal.
I turned on the radio, not prepared to listen to the never-ending mudslinging served up on the television these days. There was more than enough shit piled on those platters to fertilize fields to the end of time. The radio was, in reality, no better, and it always seemed to give me a headache, but it was better than the sound of my own thoughts. Michael Buble was lamenting about going home, about being alone in a crowd, about the fact that his dreams were to blame for his situation. Dreams – a necessity, I suppose, until they became an obsession. Once they had reached that point, a man could try to reach them any way possible, other than the logical, direct way.
I finished my beer, sat at my desk then allowed my eyes to once again stray to the calendar. November First. What was it about the date? I could sit here, mull it over, lament like Buble did, eternally stuck in a quagmire past of my own creation or I could consider making a change. Most would find it a pretty simple choice. Not me. I needed to consult an expert.
Dylan’s eyebrows shot up when I walked in. He stopped, mid-polish, glanced at the clock at the end of the bar then looked back to me, setting the glass and towel down on the gleaming teak. “Did I miss the Apocalypse?”
“Always the smartass.” I climbed onto the stool the furthest away from those most likely to be taken by someone else, had there been anyone else in the place; it was a proactive measure on my part to keep distance between myself and them, or the potential ‘them’. Then I rapped my finger on the bar. “Nuts and whiskey.”
He said nothing, poured a drink he knew I had no taste for, then pulled a basket of beer nuts from under the counter. I squinted, inspecting them for cigarette butts or whatever else might be among them. Someone should invent an antibacterial food wash a person can spray on this shit. God only knows whose snot-encrusted fingertips had already rooted around in there, looking for a booger chaser and a beer. I pushed them away with a shudder, wiping my hands on my pants leg before letting them clutch the glass of amber escape.
“You never leave your place. What the hell are you doing here?”
I glared at him, hoping it was the same look my mother gave me when I broke wind at the dinner table. I doubted mine would have the same effect on Dylan that Mother’s had on me. “I needed to talk to you – mountain/Mohammed sort of thing.”
“I’m sure as hell not the mountain.”
“The analogy only works if the mountain knows Mohammed is waiting.”
Dylan picked up his glass and towel again, began polishing then holding it up to the light for inspection. He remained steadfastly silent while I sipped the whiskey, twisting my mouth at each swallow. It was a man-thing to drink whiskey, especially in times of consternation. I had no idea why, but who was I to spit in the face of such a long-standing convention.
I tried to avoid looking at him, but eventually my eyes slid back in his direction. “Fine, don’t shut up quite so much.”
He had finished the glasses and now was applying an elbow-grease shine to the already lustrous teak. “So what has you in a dander?”
I should point out at this juncture that Dylan and I had a rather unorthodox friendship. It started with him sticking my head in a toilet on the first day of eighth grade. He was an athletic sort, the strong, not-so-silent type that eighth grade girls drool over. No one drools over someone who is rather less structurally-gifted, especially when his hair is dripping toilet water. Our relationship continued with the same flavor for two years, until his rather cosmetically-challenged younger sister arrived in our school. Like me, she was on the receiving end. It was when she ran to her brother, crying for help, her eyes burning because a couple of the more gifted girls had surprised her with dog shit eye shadow, that he had his epiphany. If I remember correctly, he had just finished another session of our tidy-bowl beauty shampoo, his hand still on my collar, me still coughing up what tasted suspiciously like recycled corn niblets. He looked at Heather’s face, disgusting and distraught, but seeing her equally shocked face at his grasp of me, he realized perhaps for the first time, that there were consequences to actions. He let go of me, straightened my collar, apologized, then walked his sister home, his hand wrapped around her shoulder protectively. It was a day that was a game-changer for all of us. It was the last time my head was stuck inside a toilet bowl.
Even in the dim light of the bar, I could see what he was thinking. He thought someone had tried to rough me up. Already, reflected off his retinas, were images of what he was planning to do to the person who had harmed me. He was my pit bull.
“I’m going to die.”
Most people would get a reaction from this statement. Not me. Dylan sipped his water, leaned his ass against the back bar and crossed his arms in front of him. “Your immortality charm is losing its magic?”
I frowned. “No, asshole. I mean, in the next year, I’m going to die.”
Only his eyes moved. They slid to the left then looked down his nose before making a half-roll and landing back on me. “This is based on what?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I realized it this morning. Maybe it was a spirit or something talking to me, or it might have been a Mayan god telling me to prepare.”
He nodded. “It wasn’t your doctor who told you this.”
I shook my head.
His eyes narrowed. “Have you been talking to that bat-shit crazy Veronica with her voodoo cards and chicken entrails?”
“They’re tarot cards. She doesn’t have any chicken entrails, but even if she did, I can’t imagine anything that would result in her reading through them.” I sighed. “Look, I can’t explain it. Maybe that’s not the point. What is the point is... what if I did die? Who the hell would care? I sit at home, hump my keyboard on a daily basis, send off erudite insight... but who would give a flying fuck if I died? I’ve done nothing significant with my life. I have things I wanted to do... so I wrote about them. I had people who pissed me off, so I cut them out – just a little flick of the wrist with the x-acto knife of life.”
“Photoshop is less messy now.”
Again I called on my mother’s look of disdain. He still seemed unaffected. I silently cursed Mom and her stink-eye.
“I’m just saying... for months there were little photo shards of Danielle scattered all over the place... ex-wife confetti.”
“Ex-life confetti,” I corrected.
He smiled at me, pointing his finger in my face. “And that, my friend, is the root of the problem.”