Saturday, July 18, 2015

Liberty #52: The Final Day

It took Nathan Anschutz nearly three hours to walk from his house to his liquor store. The snow mostly came up to his knees but some places, he sank to his hips. Massive drifts lined the roads as tall as a two-story house. He had went to work every day since the sun went out because dying people need alcohol so there was not much snow piled up in front of his door.

He went into his store and flipped up the light switch. The lights came on and he sighed comfortably. His house had been without power for three days—longer than most in the city. He had caught up on a lot of reading but he was glad that he had somewhere else to go. Most other businesses were shut down.

As he walked past, he clicked on the TV—a bulky Emerson brand from the eighties. VHF and UHF dials the only way to change the channel, most of which were static. One channel came in, a news channel, and they were just espousing what everyone already knew. The sun was out, it was getting colder, snow was piling up and we’re all about to die. Nathan turned down the volume and turned on the thermostat, moving the sliders to HEAT and 70. He heard the furnace click on then sighed comfortably again.

From behind the counter, he grabbed a clipboard and went to the shelves which were nearly bare. Only the worst of the worst remained on the shelves but even those had a few bottles or cases remaining. He updated the clipboard and put it behind the counter again. Next to the clipboard was a stack of old, ratty books. He grabbed a well-worn edition of Of Mice and Men and sat down, turning on the radio, and started reading.

Nathan got nearly halfway through the book when the door opened. A girl, covered with a coat, hat, gloves, boots and a scarf came into the store. She unwrapped the scarf from her head and smiled at Nathan. “I didn’t expect you here.”

“This place still has heat and electricity. What are you doing here?”

“Why not? I don’t have heat or power either. Freeze to death at home or freeze to death at work, it’s all the same.” Mariah Dechant’s hair, tinged a soft orange, fell out of the stocking cap and onto her shoulders. Under her coat she had on a red hooded sweatshirt with CARDINALS printed on it.

“Why aren’t you home with your family?” Nathan asked.

Mariah smiled. “They’re too far away. I talked to them last night for an hour or so before…their phone went out.”

Nathan sighed. “I’m sorry, Mariah.”

Mariah shrugged, clenched her jaw and turned away from Nathan to hold back tears. “It’s fine. It’s only a matter of time for all of us. Why aren’t you with family?”

“Don’t have any. Parents are dead, brother died in Desert Storm, divorced, no kids and I was never particularly close with my extended family,” Nathan answered.

“What about friends?” Nathan looked at her. She smiled and leaned on the counter. “I’ll be honest, I came to work for more than just heat and electricity. My neighbor killed herself. Shotgun. It blew a hole through my wall. There was no way I was going to stay there. A bloody hole in my wall,” Mariah shook her head.

“I guess that’s a good reason for walking a mile in two feet of snow.”

“Considering what’s happening, do you think suicide is a cowardly way of handling this?”

“No,” Nathan immediately answered. “It’s scary what’s happening. I think it’s a way to keep control of the situation. You’re going out on your terms. Nothing cowardly about that.”

Mariah stared at a spot on the counter, letting Nathan’s words soak in. “Through my wall, Nathan,” she started laughing. “Oh my God, I just…I heard it, saw it and was, like, I’m out. I guess laughing about it is about all I can at this point. I went to Las Vegas during my freshman year at college with a group of friends. My roommate gave her keycard to some guy she met and we ended up getting robbed. After the initial shock of the possibility of being raped and murdered wore off, it became quite a funny story.”

“Before I opened this place, I worked at a call center for an insurance company,” Nathan suddenly said after chuckling at Mariah’s story. “I was there for three months and then we had suicide sensitivity training, how to handle a call when the person says that they are going to kill themselves. In my first three months, I never had a suicide call but after that training at least one a week.”

“How were you taught to handle them?”

“Listen. Record the call. If it escalated too much, call over a supervisor. Refer them to a suicide hotline. We weren’t supposed to talk them down but most everybody did anyway. I got this old woman one day who cried about all the pain in her life and being strapped for cash. I just listened to her and gave her my honest opinion about things. She was really starting to cheer up when we got disconnected. I had recorded the call and wrote down the number that came in on my phone and sent what I could to my supervisor but I have no idea what happened to her. I think it was that moment that really killed a good part of my soul.”

As Nathan was about to finish his story, the lights and TV all went out and the furnace made a loud clunk and went silent. Nathan and Mariah looked up as they heard the ceiling creak and saw it start to buckle.

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