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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Would you want to know when it is your time?

Submitted: June 04, 2015

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Submitted: June 04, 2015

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November 17

 

The girl who sits in front of me in Comparative English Lit is missing.

Nobody is surprised—we knew she was going to die the moment we met her. She might not have, but we did. Social constraint dictates that one person should not reveal to another person when they will die. It’s just rude. It leads to panic. The only exceptions made are for the terminally ill: doctors are allowed to give them an approximation of when they will die. Specific times and dates are frowned upon.

For the rest of us, it is prohibited to disclose such information to someone. I could walk down the street and know that the chubby toddler tugging on his mother’s skirt will only live to see his ninth birthday, but I won’t tell him that. His mother already knows. It will pain her to look at him. She doesn’t know it, but she’ll die the day after him. Suicide, probably. But the majority of dates I see are in the distant future, so far off that they are ignored.

We had all noticed the dead girl’s date.

The less tactful members of our class had sighed unhappily when she walked in. The professor had to shush them before she could hear. Some of the boys placed bets on how it would happen: suicide, cancer, drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, etcetera. We’d all watched the date draw closer, holding our breaths. She had, of course, been oblivious. I remember wondering if her friends had already written their eulogies for her. Were her parents arranging the funeral ceremony in her last days of life? Had she recently been taken shopping for a dress to be buried in?

Upon the date of her death, half the class comes in crying. I watch her group of close friends shuffle in with tissues pressed to their eyes. The professor gives them ten minutes to grieve, and then orders them to pull themselves together. We all turn to glare at him. His flabby face flushes a deep magenta and he scoffs angrily, “You all knew this day was coming.” Nobody yields. I force out an overly loud sob as a sort of protest against him and a few others quickly follow suit.

Maybe he is right and we should have long since been over it. Her date had been hanging over her since birth. Anyone who saw her family together on the street would know that she would die before her parents. The mystery of when people will die has long since been eradicated. We would know our own dates as well if we weren’t so terrified of it. Nobody really wants to know when they will die.

When we finally do quiet down, someone dares to ask how it happened.

The professor clears his throat and says, “A car accident.”

A collective sigh goes up, and then we are launched into the lecture. Soon the poor dead girl will be a faded memory. Her friends will remember her for a while longer, and her parents will never forget her, but for the rest of us she will disappear. They always do.

 

January 5

 

Waiting is always the hardest part. Some of us are better than others; for instance, most doctors can sit patiently and listen or watch for their patients to die. Before everyone knew everyone else’s death day, surgeons would scramble from room to room. They were stressed and overworked. I think it was initially for the doctors that our times of death were released. Through complicated statistical analyses and family medical history, as well as undoubtedly less ethical means, companies were able to make accurate guesses on the exact day and time a person would die. They have finally begun to predict the future. We can see everyone else’s date as a flickering along the edge of our vision. Our own dates remain mysterious.

My mother is not good at waiting.

Currently she paces back and forth in front of me, gnawing on one thumbnail and picking at her hair with the other. I glance up at her every few minutes but am careful to not make eye contact. Doing so would imply conversation, and the last thing I want to do right now is talk. The creaking floorboards above our heads follow my father’s movements. He too is pacing, but for a different reason entirely.

“How’s school?” my mother asks after I accidentally look at her just as she looks at me. A blind person could have seen her face light up.

 “Fine.”

“Do you like your classes?”

I shrug. “They’re okay.”

“Good, good,” she says and fades back into silence.

“Mom,” I sigh and set my book on the couch next to me. “Are you holding up?”

She blinks and sits stiffly on the edge of the armchair next to the fireplace. For a while I wonder if she is being mute on purpose, but then she says, “You’re looking so thin these days. You used to be plump.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“I don’t mean it personally.”

“Okay.”

“You never call us anymore,” she says accusingly.

I fidget and lie, “I’ve been busy.”

I regret saying it the moment I do. My mother’s face falls and she pouts at me, squeezing her hands together in her lap. Floorboards groan above us and she says bitterly, “You knew today was coming.”

“We’ve known,” I correct her. “You knew the moment you met him.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier.”

We look away from each other. She is likely wishing that I wasn’t here: we have ever been particularly close. To her, today should be spent with him and only him. However, it being my spring break, I had no excuse to give as to why I could not come and visit them for a week. My father was delighted; my mother was not. She told me to ask my professors for more work so that I would be forced to remain behind. I had refused. She frowns at me every once in a while as we wait.

There’s a dull thump from upstairs followed by stillness.

My mother and I stand. She is crying, her shoulders shaking spastically; I am not. I follow her up the stairs and into their bedroom, knowing what will be waiting for us and dreading it. We see his body at the same time. It’s sprawled out, cartoonish, with one hand pinned beneath his chest. My mother falls to her knees and presses her face against his shirt, sobbing his name over and over again. I stand above her and try to comfort her. I pull her away from him and tell her to call for a hearse. She wipes at her eyes and nods, then stands to get the phone. It is only after she leaves the room that I feel my own wet cheeks. I go to his closet and pull the funeral suit from its dark bag, the fabric coarse beneath my fingers. It doesn’t smell like him. The funeral invitations will have been mailed out and received weeks ago. We have already had two dozen people confirm the date.

With my mother nowhere in sight, I set about the task of preparing my father for his burial.

 

March 27

 

The night air is cool against my face and I puff out breaths of air to watch them fog. My companion smiles when I do this and joins in, reminding me of a dragon. We’ve sat on the bench for close to an hour, discussing classes and comparing finals, when he pulls a pack of cigarettes from inside his jacket. I look at his time and decide that he won’t die from lung cancer anytime soon. He sticks one between his teeth and offers me one. I hesitate.

“Fuck it,” I finally say. “Why not.”

It takes me several attempts to get it right; my date laughs when I cough and shows me how to draw in the smoke without hacking. I don’t really care for it and tell him so. He nods sympathetically and tucks the carton back in his pocket, then stands.

“C’mon,” he says, grinning. “Let’s go.”

“Where?”

"Anywhere you want. You only live once, right?”

I feel my own smile falter a little. “Sure, I guess.”

We walk down to the pier and lean out over the water; it’s so dark, I’d think it to be empty space if I didn’t know any better. I imagine falling into it, and then just continuing to fall. Maybe that’s what death is: an eternity of falling. I push away from the railing and cross my arms over my chest, not wanting to think about it. I’ve always hated the feeling of falling. Even as a little girl I hated it. My father would throw me up into the air and I would scream all the way down, clinging to him desperately when safely back in his arms. I was the baby among my friends when it came to rollercoasters and elevator drops; while they screamed with joy, I screamed in terror.

My companion walks back to me, rubbing his hands together to warm them. Our coats do little to fend off the chill, and so after suffering through the cold wind for ten minutes, we make the slow trek back to campus. My companion is courteous and dances around a series of different topics before finally asking about my father.

I shrug. “I mean, everyone knew it was coming. Everyone always knows.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

He glances at me. “Some people handle death better than others.”

“Sure,” I say, angry for some reason. “I’ll still miss him either way.”

“Okay. I’m sorry.”

“He was my dad.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

When we arrive at my dormitory, we stand awkwardly beneath the door’s overhang while I search through my bag for my key. Neither of us speak and I feel the silence draw out into something awkward. I finally find my key and hold it up, victorious, only to see that he is watching me with a sad expression.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “I just…I have to say something.”

"Alright,” I say, my tone cautious.

He looks out over the empty street, then turns suddenly to press his mouth against mine. I’m stunned and don’t really know how to react, so I just stand there until he pulls away. Neither of us say anything for a while.

“I’m sorry. I had to do that.”

“It’s okay,” I tell him, my face reddening.

"Good night.”

“Night.”

 

June 1

 

I know what is coming.

Or at least I think do.

It might be prohibited for us to tell each other when we are slated to die, but that certainly doesn’t stop people from being increasingly kinder to each other as their times run out. Sometimes it’s in the form of a pity date, or as a high grade on a paper written twenty minutes before it is due, or maybe even a free ride to work. We unconsciously gravitate towards the dying and silently offer up our condolences. It’s a long cycle of giving and pitying. It’s exhausting. Who would expect sympathy to be so hard to dredge up? Maybe we’ve all been doing it for too long; before everyone knew everyone else’s date, deaths were sudden. There wasn’t really time to offer the dying any pity. People would sympathize with the remaining family, but that was it. Now we have the families and the dying to worry about.

People in my classes have begun to watch me when I walk in. The first few times I thought I had a piece of food in my teeth and covered my mouth with my hand until they looked away. It took a few days for me to realize that they had started my pity parade. That was around the time I began to panic.

 

June 2

Nobody will tell me when I am going to die. I know it’s soon from the way their faces fall upon looking at me, but none will give me a date. They shake their heads and move away until I stop begging them. I can’t understand why they won’t just tell me. Screw the law. I need to know. We should know when we’re going to die. It’s the only fair way. I have to know. I deserve to know. Fuck social constraint, someone just tell me. I mean, I’m terrified. No one should have to die terrified.

It isn’t right.

It isn’t fair.

 

June 3, 2:13 PM

 

“Here’s your coffee,” the barista tells me. I hold out the money to pay and she shakes her head, then nods at a woman sitting in a booth with her two children. “She paid for your drink.”

I look over at the woman, who smiles sadly at me. My stomach twists and I thrust the money towards the barista again. “I want to pay.”

“She already—”

“I know. But I want to pay.”

“Ma’am,” the barista says. “Your order has already been paid for.”

"Just let me pay for my damn coffee.”

The entire shop freezes. I can feel everyone’s eyes on me. I slap the money down on the counter aggressively and immediately regret it. The loose change goes rolling off and pings against the floor. I stoop to pick it up, my face hot, and amid the rustling of my shirt and my own heavy breaths, I hear someone say, “She’s so young.”

 

June 3, 2:21 PM

 

Everyone watches me on the street.

I push through a middle-aged couple and mumble an apology that neither probably hears. A girl I’ve seen around campus asks me if I want her to carry my bag. I stare at her stupidly for a minute and numbly shake my head. Everything is moving slowly, like I’m pushing through thick cotton. The effort it takes to move my feet is enormous, yet somehow it feels like each second is shorter than the last. I imagine a clock ticking down to zero over my head and swallow hard.

My phone buzzes in my hand, lit with my mother’s name. I stare at it for a few seconds and answer on the last ring. My voice is hoarse and close to cracking when I say, “Hello?”

“Honey?”

“Hi, mom.”

She sighs into the phone, relieved. “How’s your day been?”

I squint at the sidewalk and say, “Okay. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just…I wanted to tell you I love you.”

Something rises into my throat and I blink, choke out, “I love you too.”

My mother coughs. “I’m sorry, honey.”

And she’s gone.

 

June 3, 2:23 PM

 

I spot an opening in the crowd and duck through into the street. I’m desperate to get away from the stares. A few people have stopped to watch me pass by and I hunch forward, as though by making myself smaller they will lose sight of me. Their pity is sharp against my back. I wonder if my mother has already arranged for my funeral. What will she bury me in? Why didn’t she tell me I was going to die before her? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Why has it been predetermined that I am slated to die?

Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of peacefulness before the end? A sort of acceptance, that this is it and there’s nothing I can do about it?

I do not want to die.

Please, someone, anyone.

I’m scared. I can feel death looming up in front of me, eating away at whatever time I have left. A day? An hour? Seconds? It’s so much different watching someone else die. It never seemed like it would happen to me. I’m not ready to go. I have so much left to do with my life. There must be a mistake. A mistake. It can’t be me. There must be a problem with the dates. I’m supposed to stay here. I know it. I just know it.

It’s not my time.

Not me. It can’t be me.

 

June 3, 2:24 PM

 

I hear the car horn a second too late and look up.

Pain.

Pain everywhere.

The sky is floating above me and I can hear people screaming. The driver is trying to call an ambulance even though everyone knows it is too late.

I cough up something warm and sticky.

A man standing over me is trying to soothe me. He’s telling me not to be afraid, I think. Everything hurts. Everything hurts. Oh my god. Oh my god.

"Please don’t make me go,” I whisper to the man.

He shushes me but I lose sight of him in the darkness. I try pulling on his shirtsleeve, fumbling blindly. I can’t see him. I cough again and feel something slick against my lips. I can’t think. It hurts. Why does it hurt so much?

“I don’t…” I say.

I feel the man lean closer to me. He asks, “What?”

Everything is cold. My arms feel heavy, like bricks.

He asks again, “What did you say?”

 "I don’t want to go.”

The clock is counting down above me. I can feel it.

Three.

Two.

One--


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