Death Day

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man is given the opportunity to know the exact day he will die and how this transforms his life

Submitted: June 04, 2014

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Submitted: June 04, 2014

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~~ Deathday
 Mark Simpson

I was sitting at McRonney’s, my favorite local watering hole, as I do every Tuesday after work. It’s a small place; no vacancy would be sixty people, and said occupants are mostly regulars. I don’t want you to think I’m a bar fly, quite the opposite; I have a beautiful wife and three incredible kids that I adore waiting for me at home.  These couples of hours are the only ones I call my own. The rest are wholly and happily dedicated to family and work. Unfortunately more is dedicated to work than my family. But being a manger necessitates me to be the first one in and the last one out; it also requires weekends and nights. I know the best way to show your family how much you love them is with action, making enough money to provide for their every need, rather than words being a jobless bum. It was how my own father had shown his love. I’m employed at a large bank, trading stocks derivatives, but don’t worry I won’t bore you with the details. I will however tell you that it’s very stressful. So much is out of my control; a Tsunami in Japan affects a factory in Argentina which upsets bond prices in Azerbaijan. Every day is a curve ball. The uncertainty drives me to desire a sense of routine in the rest of my life. So here I sit, in the same spot at the same time with the same drink. Not knowing the greatest curve ball of my life had just walked thru the front door and was fast approaching. I hadn’t even noticed him until a few seconds after he’d sat down.
I am not a judgmental person, in fact quite the opposite. I don’t care if you’re a man or woman, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian, Harvard graduate or high school dropout, I try to see the person on the inside. Are you a good human being or not? Plain and simple. But this particular gentleman certainly tested that belief.
It was as if he consisted of skeleton and skin, nothing more nothing less and looked as if he should have been dead long ago. He tipped his hat and nodded in my direction. I nodded back and glanced at my watch, it was exactly 6 pm.
“How you do’in?” that’s Dora, the daytime bartender, marginally married, moved here from New York seven years ago and very friendly. When you hang out somewhere long enough, you learn a lot about the bartenders, especially when you’re a good tipper.
“What you’s drinking?” Dora asked the stranger her strong Bronx accent  as out of place in the South as a snowflake in July.
”A sweet tea, lemon please.” Even his voice was creepy; it was followed by his skeletal hand sliding a five dollar bill towards her. “Keep the change.”
“Thank you” she responded. She left to get his drink.
“This seat wasn’t taken was it Mark?” I shook my head no.
“Well stranger you seem to be one up on me, I don’t know your name but you already know mine”, I extended my hand. 
“Augustine Octavious Dagonheart at your service.” He again tipped his hat.
“That is the coolest name I have ever heard” I responded.
We briefly shook.
An uneasy sensation gripped me, as if something wasn’t quite right. I also couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he had taken my hand instead of shaking it.
“Thank you.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or Dora, who had just placed a sweet tea in front of him.
“Do you come here often?” he asked.
“Every Tuesday for as long as I can remember, but I don’t remember ever seeing you here.” 
“That’s because it’s my first time.” He took a swallow of tea. The uneasy feeling’s grip was fading.
“I’m curious, how did you know my name?”
“That’s not important, do you mind if I ask you a question, Mark?”
I am not one for carrying on long conversations with strangers while trying to relax. I like coming here precisely because I don’t have to talk to anyone an option not available to me in my house, which is currently inhabited by a six and four year old, a seven-month-old, three cats, two dogs and a hamster, though he is currently MIA, and last but not least a stay-at-home mom dying for adult conversation. Relaxation is as rare as well…a snowflake in July. McRonneys is my place to interact if I chose, not because I have to. Not to mention he blew my question off, while in the next breath asking his own. But Augustine interested me, and he was still looking at me awaiting my answer. His stare caused the uneasy feeling to re-emerge and this time its grip was stronger.
I finally relented, “Sure, what’s on your mind?”
“If you could know the exact day you were going to die, your death day if you will, would you want to know or would you want it to remain a mystery?”
He asked the question as casually as you would ask for directions to a gas station. I took a strong pull from my drink. Death day, just the word sounded cool as was the thought that if you have a birthday you also have a death day. It was something I had never thought of.
“You know how to keep a conversation light don’t you?” He smiled for the first time since we had met, which seemed like an eternity, it had been less than five minutes.
“I might need some time to think about that. I mean you expect a question like who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl? Not, do you want to know your, what did you call it? Oh yeah death day.” I was getting ready to ask him what his answer would be, he spoke before I could.
“Most people ask how I would answer the question; I think they’re just buying time”, he continued, “a diversion to give themselves more time to ponder their answer. The ones that don’t want to know, they answer immediately.”
The way he answered my question before I had even asked it allowed the uneasy feeling to grow even stronger.
“You sound as though you have asked this question before.”
  He let out a tired, sad laugh that caught the attention of the whole bar, all four of us.
“More times than you will ever know… more times than I care to remember.” He seemed to be trying to recall them all or maybe trying to forget them all, his stare and thoughts seemed to be in a faraway place.
  I motioned Dora for another drink. I had finished my first faster than usual and expected the next to meet the same fate.
“And what makes me believe you know the day I will die? That’s a little hard to believe wouldn’t you agree?”
I laughed not because it was funny, but because I was scared. I tipped my new drink in his direction.
  “Whether you believe me or not is unimportant, my fate is sealed either way.” He took another swallow of tea.
  “And why me? Do you ask 10 people a day or 10 people a year this question?” I asked.
  He glanced at his watch,” I don’t mean to be short but I have another appointment.”
  He’d ignored my question a second time. Social skills were obviously not his strong point.
“I am going to give you this envelope that contains three pieces of evidence that will prove to you that what I am saying is true.” He had an envelope in his hand it was the same color as the paper.
“Please don’t open it until you get home”, he paused and looked me in the eye, the uneasy feeling grew into something new, fear.
 “Do I have your word you will not open it until you get home? Well do I?”
“Yes” I could barely answer. He slid the envelope across the bar and into my hands. Its arrival sent a chill down my spine.
“Happens every time, the chill I mean” Augustine remarked with a smile.” I will be here next Tuesday, same time, same chair; if you’re here I will give you another envelope, which will contain your death day. If you are not here you will never see or hear from me again.”
”At least I know I’m not going to live until at least next Thursday.” I responded.
We both laughed. He thanked Dora and headed for the exit, opened the door, allowed two gentlemen in, then disappeared into the fading light of day.
“He’s a strange one”, Dora’s voice startled me.
“Yeah that’s the understatement of the day” I answered.
“What were you guys tawking about?” Dora asked. She was always straight forward.
“Small talk” I replied, having to hold back a laugh. I was twirling the envelope on the bar, digesting what had just happened and trying to ignore the mischievous voice in my head tempting me, just open it how will he know?
My second drink was nearly gone and I had a better buzz than usual.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost”.
” Maybe I have”, I replied to one of the gentlemen Augustine had played doorman for. He was now seated to my right. The second stranger I had spoken too in the last fifteen minutes, something that rarely happens at McRonneys.
“I’m James”. He was a stranger no more.
“I’m Mark”, I replied. We shook hands. I was in no mood for small talk not to mention I had agreed not to open the envelope until I got home.
“Nice to have met you James, I wish you nothing but the best. Goodnight Dora”.
  She didn’t hear me, which happens often. I patted James on the shoulder and quickly headed to the exit.
  I was again tempted to open the envelope during the car ride home, how would he know?, the mischievous voice asked again. But the memory of those eyes staring not at me but into me quickly changed my mind. Not to mention I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was somehow still watching me. And who knew, if a man could see the future, if it were true, maybe he was watching me, this is getting weirder by the minute I thought. Also, I’ve always prided myself on being a man of my word so even with my life in the balance, I waited.
But as I drove my mind was racing. I guess the first and most important question to answer was, did I really want to know my death day? All I had to do was not show up next Tuesday and this would be forever forgotten. My second thought was how can I believe this guy? And I guess that answer was sealed in the envelope riding shot gun with me. What if he tells me I have two weeks to live? What would I do with such little time? But if I did know, I could spend every second of those last two weeks in the embrace of my family’s love instead of mindlessly working another 60 hour week and then dropping dead at my desk. What if he told me I had eight years left? Would knowing my end was near drive me to start that novel I had always wanted to write? Would it force me to finally create a bucket list? But what if he says I have fifty years left? Would my bucket list become less important, slowly slipping away? Would I remove my foot from the gas pedal of life? But falling asleep every night for the next fifty years knowing I wasn’t going to die, priceless.
I pulled into the driveway. The magnitude of what I had been asked just twenty two minutes ago was still settling in, so I sat in the car trying to catch my thoughts. If I did find out how would I tell my wife and kids? My wife had always believed that we would be like that old couple, the one you read about from time to time, who has been married for sixty years, the husband passes away and eight hours later his wife joins him. One couldn’t live without the other.
And the kids, what would I say to them? I can see myself sitting down at the dinner table next Tuesday, ”Listen up kids, before we eat I’ve got something to say, I am going to be dead in six years 2 months and twelve days. Let’s eat”.
I wondered if Augustine would have cared if I opened the envelope in the driveway instead of my house, but I could almost hear him saying  ”a deal is a deal” , enough so that I jumped. I decided to wait. I received my usual greeting from the two dogs, three cats and four family members. The kind of welcome that was my reason for living. After acknowledging animals and people alike I quickly excused myself to the bathroom. An anticipation was building inside me that I hadn’t felt since being eight years old on Christmas Eve. I lifted the flap slowly as if disarming a bomb instead of just opening an envelope. I started to pull out the note when absolute and total panic gripped me. I threw the envelope and its contents in the trash, returned to my family and hugged them as tight as I could.
But I was back in less than 20 minutes. I reminded myself that even if I did read it, Augustine had said that if I don’t show up next Tuesday at 6 pm I would never see him again. So what did I have to lose? I slid the piece of paper out, opened it, and read:
1. The man you met at the bar today named James, look for him in  next Monday obituaries.
I thought back to the bar and the man I had met before leaving. His name was James, I couldn’t remember his last name but his first name was definitely James.
I continued reading.
 2. The Celtics and Heat play Friday night. The Celtics will be behind by seven points at the start of the fourth quarter but they will win by thirteen.
I set the letter down. The game was three days from now, and if his prediction comes true, wow! It would be hard to deny that he can see the future. A part of me was scared to read what was left, another part filled with anticipation. The conflict was exhilarating.
1. When you read this it will be 7:34 pm.
I glanced down at my watch and you guessed it, 7:34 exactly. Not even 7:34:15, no, it was exactly 7:34:00. I sat down not by choice but by necessity.
 Sleep was hard to find that night.
I woke the next morning not able to shake feeling guilty that I was hiding something from my wife. But how do you start, finish or even have such a conversation?  I had hoped work would take my mind off of Augustine’s offer, it didn’t.
  The only tangible plan of my sleepless night was using my new found knowledge to my advantage. There was another floor manager, John; I don’t like the guy, not even a little. But he’s a huge Heat fan and loves to gamble, so I bet him fifty that the Celtics would win, he bumped it to a $100 after he learned I was giving twelve points. Other than that I kept it to myself, see sawing back and forth, from having to know my death day to never wanting to know.
I had to tell my wife. If I wanted her to believe that Augustine really could see the future; she would have to know about the basketball game before it happened. Damn that’s  going to be a strange conversation.
After dinner I told her about yesterday’s events and Augustine’s offer.
“Do you believe this guy really knows the future?” She emphasized each word as if talking to someone who was cognitively challenged. I then showed her the piece of paper.
“He gave me this at the bar when I asked him the same question.”
She took Augustine’s letter. “What is it?” she looked at me, fear now filled her eyes, where rage had recently resided.
“He told me the letter would prove that he can see the future”, I almost couldn’t believe what I was saying.
She read the note.
“James… obituaries … Heat and Celtics… 7:34.  What the hell does this all mean?!” She threw the letter down. This wasn’t going well.
“It was exactly 7:34 when I read the note”, I protested.
“It’s just some kind of trick, it’s some kind of David Blaine trick, an…..illusion, he knew how long it would take for you to get home and wrote that time down,… it has to be a trick. Did he ask you for money?”
“No I don’t think it….”  I tried to answer.
“Why do you think he’s doing this? Is he some kind of Johnny Appleseed of death?” She was exasperated and scared and after 14 years together it was a look I had never seen before.
“That I don’t know, and to be truthful I don’t care. What I do care about is that I believe…”
“You don’t believe in anything!” She interrupted again.
It had become impossible for me to finish a sentence in this room.
“I know and that’s what makes this even more improbable. But the game is Friday, the note says the Celtics will be losing by seven at the end of the third quarter, but will win by 13. Let’s watch the game and see what happens, by the end of it we’ll know if he is telling the truth or not.” I pleaded.
 She had finally let me finish a sentence. She began reading Augustine’s note a second time, hoping it would make more sense; it didn’t seem to be working.
“Well I don’t care what happens; I don’t want you knowing when you’re going to die.  We are supposed to die together and…”, she took a deep breath, “… let’s say he tells you you’re going to die in seven years, I would live in absolute  sadness for the next seven years, fearing every day… treating every day…” she paused searching for the right word.
“Like it was our last”, I finished her thought as we often did with each other.
“And that’s what I mean, if I find out I am going to die two weeks from now, wouldn’t you want to spend every….” She stormed out of the room. That didn’t go as planned, not even close.
The next day I was greeted with silence, both leaving in the morning and coming home that night and a TV dinner. Friday, the day of the game, I met the same fate.
 She couldn’t and didn’t watch the game. She went to our bedroom to watch Honey Boo Boo instead.  I couldn’t be mad at her for not watching the game, but Honey Boo Boo? Well that’s hard to forgive. After the game I walked to our bedroom.
”The games over” her answer, silence. “Do you want to know what happened?” I feebly asked.
I was answered with silence a second time. I think she was crying. I closed the door, and for only the first time in our 14 years together I slept on the sofa. And, yes, it was the Heat by seven at the end of the third, but the Celtics won by 13, just as Augustine had predicted.
Sleep was hard to find again that night, but the thought of John handing me a $100 bill Monday morning brought a short moment of joy on an otherwise joyless night.
Even though I hadn’t realized it, I had already started to change. My kid’s endless questions after a hard day’s work no longer annoyed me; they now received my full attention. The Nerf Hoop game of basketball my son wants to play every night is now a cherished moment instead of a chore. I now embrace every second with my family. Facing my mortality, every time I think about Augustine’s offer, which is many times a day has made me realize every breath counts. It’s one closer to death. I even take more pride in my work.
I’m trying to make a long story short; though I fear I have already failed. Though Dena and I  both thought about “the offer” a 1000 times over the course of the weekend and the following Monday we didn’t mention it.
“Did you see the obituaries?” Her question startled me as I opened the door after work on the Monday Augustine’s letter had talked of.
“Yes.” I answered, wondering how many other couples in the world had greeted each other with this exchange.
“Was it the same James?” she asked. “A part of me already knows the answer”, she looked down as if defeated.
“It was”, I responded.
“Are you going to find out?” she asked.
“I don’t know”, I was lying, I did know and I was going to being there.
“Would he come to our house to deliver the news, or e-mail us?” We both laughed at the thought, it was first laugh we have shared since this conversation had begun many days before.
“He told me, if I wanted to know, be there Wednesday at 6:30.”
I was lying, Augustine had told me to be there Tuesday at 6:00 but, I didn’t want her knowing the right day and time. I wouldn’t put it past her to be waiting in McRonney’s parking lot to stop me.
  “But if I don’t show up he said I would never see him again.” I was trying to ease her mind.
Hope momentarily returned to her face.
“What if I found out and didn’t tell you?” I asked.
“If you know then so would I, we are so connected I would know. But it’s up to you; it’s your decision and as you often say; only you can live your life.”
She left the room. Angry again. This hasn’t gone well.
It was the Tuesday of the big reveal, the workday felt as if it was dragging on forever. So much so I asked to leave early, something I had done only once before. I rode to McRonneys, still not sure if I wanted to go thru with this. The thought of putting a star on the calendar and knowing for the rest of my life the star represented the exact day I would die, sent a chill down my spine. Would I celebrate my fiftieth wedding anniversary or be dead before my next birthday? How would I spend my last birthday, my last week, my last day, knowing that night I was truly lying in my deathbed. Would I mark my death day and celebrated it each year as I do my birthday? After all if you think about it we celebrate on average 72 birthdays but only 1 death day.  Knowing my death day would change my life forever, but for better or worse? That I didn’t know.
  So here I sat an hour early for my meeting with Augustine. I had even brought a jacket to place over the chair beside me, so that no one else would sit there. But by the look of the afternoon crowd, which is a whopping three, including myself, I don’t think I had much to worry about. But why take a chance on a day like this?
  Dora was just starting her shift. She looked startled to see me,
“You’re never here this early”, her Bronx accent no softer, nor would it ever be.
“I got here a little early, making sure I could get the best seat in the house. I’m meeting someone.”
“Not the same guy from last week?”
I nodded yes.
“Get outta here, “Why?” she asked.
“He has the answer to a question I want to know.”
“And what question would that be?” Dora never hesitated in saying what was on her mind.
“Well, why I don’t ask you. If you could know the exact day you’re going to die would you want to know?”
She was quiet for a second, something that rarely happens.
“No, I wouldn’t want to know, I like some mystery in life.”
One of the other two patrons asked her for a beer. Her mind was quickly off in another direction the question forever forgotten. With her attention elsewhere, my thoughts and heart begin racing again, or maybe they had never stopped. I could just get up right now, leave and this would be over forever. But there was a part of me that not only wanted to know, it had to know.  Not to mention there were several questions I wanted to ask my old friend Augustine.

I glanced at my watch it was exactly six pm as he sat down beside me, as I knew it would be. He was man of his word.
”So you’re here, I wasn’t sure about you, Mark. Most people I can read but you, I just wasn’t sure. Tea please, Ms. Dora”, Dora obviously he had not seen him come in, she looked startled when she turned to see the source of the order. He slid another five across the bar.
“Sure and thank you.” She said.
Augustine and I were alone again.
“Do most people want to know?” I asked.
“Most do. The few that don’t want to know never show up, content to go on with their lives.” Dora deposited a tea in front of him, he took a sip.
“Can you tell me how I’m going to die?” I had to ask.
“So if I tell you a motorcycle crash, then on your death day, you spend it in bed with Chinese takeout and Sports Center, thereby avoiding your fate?” he asked.
“Well, yeah, that would be the idea”, I answered. We both smiled.
“Then my credibility would be called into question, a soothsayer who doesn’t really know your fate, that’s like a blind NASCAR driver, not much of a future.”
We both laughed.
“And to answer your question, no I don’t how you will die only when.”
“Is there any way I can change my death day, anything I can do, work out, quite drinking?”
“If you decided to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, then your death day will be altered. But other than by your own hand, your fate is sealed”, he slid the envelope across the bar, the last time I had received a mail delivery from Augustine it had changed my life and I knew this time was going to be no different.
“Did you tell your wife and kids?” he asked.
I started to ask how he knew that I had a family and then realized if this man knew the day I was going to die knowing I had a family would be child’s play to him.
“Yes, and it was a hell of a conversation” I answered.
Augustine smiled.
“Are you going to look?” It was his turn for the probing questions. “The only reason I ask is that usually I know if someone is going to look or not the moment I meet them. But somehow you’re different. As I stated earlier, I haven’t been able to quite figure you out, and it’s been a long time since that has happened.”
“Glad to keep you on your toes, and to answer your question, I don’t know”, it was the truth. “One last question, do you know everybody’s death day? Or just the chosen few?” I asked.
He paused, almost as if he wasn’t sure if he should answer me or not.
“Yeah, I know when everyone will die, but I’m only allowed to tell those I am lead to.” He finally said.
The pained expression draped on his face instantly told you this was a superpower you didn’t want. Watching a parent yell at their child for spilling a drink and knowing that child will be dead in less than a week. And not being able to stop and tell the parents to forget such trivial things as spilt drinks stop yelling and instead love them. But you have to turn and walk away, not only knowing a lifetime of pain awaits them, but the exact day it will arrive.
Augustine glanced at his watch. “I wish we could continue but I’m late.”
He tipped his hat toward me, told Dora farewell, and headed for the door. Leaving me alone with my thoughts and death day at my fingertips.
“Are you’s best friends now?” Dora’s voice brought me back.
“No, that will be the last time we see our friend Augustine”, I stood up. “Have a nice night Dora.”
“You too” she answered.
I walked to the car and headed home still unsure if I was going to look.
It’s been two weeks since my last encounter with Augustine. When is my death day? I don’t know, I didn’t open it. What has changed you ask? Everything.  The envelopes presence has answered a question I have pondered most of my life. Why is it that as I am falling asleep at night wondering what kind of footprint I will leave on this world after I’m gone,  and the realization of death’s impending arrival and sense of urgency only has power over me in the dark of night? How it created a sense of determination to quit smoking, finish college or contact an old friend, that had gripped so strongly  in the darkness, loses its power in the daylight and noise of everyday life. But the envelope and its contents have dragged death from its dark domain into the light of day and that has made all the difference.
  I have begun to tell my wife and kids I love them, not as routine formed over the years together, but for what it is,  a privilege.  I never let a single day go by that I don’t find at least one thing to be grateful for, hell I’ve even quit yelling at my dogs! I know realize that life seems to stretch on forever when looking forward but when looking back, you grasp just how short and fragile it really is. We can even argue over what happens after we die, whether it’s Heaven, Hell or just lights out, but there is one thing we can all agree on and that’s life and its finite and fleeting. So when that day comes, and it will, no matter how far off it may appear, when you take your last breath on planet Earth, take it with no regrets.  Treat tomorrow as a gift not a given.  Watch the sunset and sunrise at least once a week and make a difference in the world and that doesn’t mean being the CEO of a company or curing cancer instead be good to your family, yourself and friends and most importantly a stranger.

Part of me wishes I could run into Augustine one more time, not looking for answers to more endless questions, but to thank him for giving me life for the first time at 38 years old. And therein lies the greatest gift a man can be given.
The End
 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 Mark Simpson. All rights reserved.

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