Death & Oreos
**Trigger warning: Sexual misconduct and suicide are depicted in this fictional work.
An inexplicable warm, fuzzy feeling washed over me. I turned off my light and zeroed in on the sound of the tiny snore coming from the foot of my bed. My mom had got me Isabella as a kind of security blanket. She knows I had a rough time, but she didn’t know why. I wanted to bend down to pet her, but honestly waking her up just seemed like too much trouble. I tossed my forest green hoodie in the direction of my hamper and missed. Momentary anger washed over me. My eyes danced across my room. It was a virtual minefield: sweaty socks. week-old underwear, and pretty bras with the tags still on them.
I couldn’t figure out where this was coming from, but I just knew tomorrow was going to be different. I couldn’t tell if it was going to be good or bad. And the last time I had this oppressive feeling that I couldn’t shake was back when I lived in New York, back when I got the news that my grandfather passed away in his sleep. That was months ago.
That was before my family started to fall apart and the nightmares started again. The nightmare of me screaming out in pain, but no one seemed to hear. And those who did didn’t care.
I picked up Isabella’s tiny body. I hugged her to my chest and laid her head on the pillow next to mine. In just a few moments, she began to snore again.
The clock radio clicked on to an annoyingly cheery radio show host, who acted as if he had way too much coffee and also is having the best day of his life simply because he came into work. In that moment, I was secretly jealous of someone who could discuss that kind of happiness, even if it was all for the sake of ratings.
I put on a pair of jeans and yellow and pink striped Calvin Klein tank top. After all, when you run your own business, every day is casual Friday. I placed Isabella in her doggie bed that I put by the window, she loves sunbathing, and Southern California was the perfect place for sunbathing. I set out a plate of double-stuffed Oreos and made myself a cup of coffee.
The French door opened with a loud thud. I was embarrassed, I was thumbing through a sea of memes about Donald Trump’s hair and was trying my best to say a cheerful “hello” with a whole Oreo stuffed in my mouth.
I took a swig of my coffee. It burned my mouth, but I swallowed the cookie. “Hello and welcome to Evergreen Terrace.”
The man standing in front of me was tall and lanky. It must have been 90 degrees and he was outside in a solid white tuxedo. He tipped his top hat to me, like something from Gone with the Wind.
“Are you here to rent an apartment?” I said in a fake customer service voice.
“Yes, ma’am,” his voice sounds nasally and as if there was a slight edge to it.
“I’ll need you to sign this paper before we go look at an apartment,” I said.
He signed it very quickly and I glanced at the paper. The signature took me by surprise. He had sign the paper Grim Reaper.
When I took over this property for my aunt, who wanted to move home to be with her family after the death of her father, she warned me that L.A. would be full of weirdos, but this guy should have been in a mental hospital. I looked down at Isabella still sleeping on her giant donut-shaped pillow. I looked at my phone, I had 80% battery, and the clock told me that maintenance would be here in half an hour.
“Would you like some coffee?” Again with my fake customer service voice.
“That would be lovely,” his voice had a country twang to it, but it sounded, at the same time, as if he was talking through his nose exclusively.
I went to the kitchen and grabbed a cup of coffee and some cookies, then placed them in front of the strange man.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” he said.
I sat back in the colorful, beach-themed armchair trying not to make eye-contact. “Well, to be quite honest, that is a very strange thing to call yourself, and under age, you wrote 2000,” I said unable to hold back my annoyance and confusion.
“Funny,” he said. “You’re always saying you want to die. I’m here. You just come with me. You can take your puppy too.” He glanced at Isabella.
A powerful, maternal rage floated over my body at that moment. “You need to stay the hell away from my dog, and get out of here before I call the cops.”
“Sweetheart,” he said, reaching over the side of the couch to pet Isabella. She was clearly enjoying getting her ears scratched by the eccentric stranger. I got the Swiss Army knife out of my pocket.
He pulled up the sleeves of his long white jacket revealing several long, jagged scars. “See, I killed myself a few times and I keep coming back.” He smiled.
It sent shivers through my body. I inched closer with the knife pointing out from my body.
“Funny how some people are fascinated by me and others can’t stand me, but in the end, no one wants to acknowledge the real me,” he said, slowly taking off his jacket revealing a quarter-sized, empty hole in his stomach.
“I’ve been shot too. Some mopey kid in a trench coat, I don’t know.”
“Wait… what?” I said.
“Yeah, it took him a few minutes to decide he wanted to go with me, but there wasn’t much I could do to help the poor kid after all was said and done. See, that’s the thing, I come to collect the people who made the decision. If you would live to be 90 years old and left in your sleep, well, you’d be visited by my coworker. Sweet lady. I always wanted to fly like that.
“Darling, everyone has to die, and sometimes we have to do it before we think we’re ready. Very few of us are actually lucky enough to live to be 90 and have everything we want before we check out. You, unfortunately, are the majority. You’re only 27. And I’ll grant you that 27 years isn’t much, but Janis Joplin was 27 when she kicked it. You love her!”
I swallowed hard, more stunned than anything, and grabbed my phone ready to dial 9-1-1.
“That won’t work dear, at least not the way you want it to. If help gets here in time, you might live, but you won’t even get the luxury of leaving the hospital again and your family won’t know the difference. And I’m giving you the choice to take the dog with you.”
I glanced down at the man’s lap. My little Yorkie was enjoying having her ears scratched tremendously.
“Deciding to take her with you eliminates some rather disturbing outcomes. You see, animals are different than people. They can’t use phones or open doors, so they get stuck here with your earthly form and their hunger will take over and then, well, she’ll do what she has to do to survive. Your sweet puppy… well, she’ll eat you.”
My mind shifted to the kitchen; she had an opened bag of dry kibble, and I knew she could turn on the bathroom faucet. I let her do it sometimes. She didn’t really like water that had been sitting around.
My stomach turned at the thought of being devoured by what I honestly knew was a wild animal’s instincts. I vomited; brown liquid with specks of white fell upon the garbage can.
The stranger put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “This has been coming for a long time. That night in the alley, you were bleeding pretty badly. And when you finally got your Grandma’s place, she wasn’t listening. We both know she was mentally ill, and we both know she loved you, but sometimes things don’t go away.”
I sat back in the chair stunned. No one knew that but me, my journal, and what I presumed to be God, but what might very well be this man.
My voice shook. “Can I have my dog now?” I asked. “I really need to hold her.” I began scratching her ears.
I was trying to process this the man sitting next to me, who was now casually sipping coffee, making a very loud slurping noise. I could see bits of chocolate cookie flying out of his mouth as he chewed.
“I’m going to wait here patiently. You have been so nice to me, you deserve the opportunity to come to the decision on your own,” he said.
An angry “why?” was all I could manage.
“June,” he said, finally addressing me by name. “I said I only come for people who already made the decision by themselves. Your grandfather may have been visited by an Angel, but you won’t,” he said in a tone that said here’s the facts now shut your pie hole. “I came to take you away because you have made the decision. Remember last night. You were on the bus and you gave that homeless man all the change in your pocket. Remember? And then he tried to put his hand in your shirt?”
I nodded slowly.
“And then you stopped off at Starbucks because you were sad and you thought midnight mint might make it better.” The stranger was sympathetic in his eyes. I could see understanding. “Chocolate doesn’t stop flashbacks, sweetheart. There’s an empty bottle of sleeping pills, and a bottle birthday cake flavored vodka on your desk.”
“Sweetie, you made the decision,” he said. “This is the hardest part of my job, but it will be okay.”
I squeezed Isabella tight to my chest like I had to the night before.
“It’s too late to change your mind,” his voice was calm and yet sad. “As for your friend here?” he said, his eyes shifting towards the puppy in my arms. “We can have you make a call to the neighbors. Now, keep in mind, this will take a lot of energy and it’s going to take you a lot more time to finish walking down the tunnel, but we can do it.”
I shook my head no frantically. The powerful maternal instinct was flowing through my veins again. I held my dog tighter.
The strange man tipped his top hats towards some panes of light.
Just then, a warm sensation came over me like I had been wrapped in a blanket by a cozy fire. I could see my lifeless body, still in my pink bunny rabbit pajamas. Isabella was eating half-digested pills. She lay down next to my corpse.
Before long we floated away together.