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A RELIABLE DEATH
Jim Brody sat in his fourteen-year old reliable Honda Accord contemplating the futility of his existence. For the first time in his life, he truly regretted the comfortably predictable life he’d always led.
Sighing deeply, he turned off the ignition, pocketed his keys and exited the car. Slipping slightly on the ice, he reached out for the trunk of his car to catch himself. Jim glanced across the parking lot to see if anyone was around. Only two men huddled together smoking were present. They seemed to be watching him. Maybe they were waiting for him to fall so they, too, could laugh at him. Why not, the rest of the town probably was by now.
The warm, cozy interior was briefly interrupted as the front door of Mike’s Diner opened. The strong winter wind blew in snowflakes along with good old dependable Jim. He stamped his large booted feet on the floor then shook himself. Large snowflakes fell and immediately melted forming a puddle on the dingy white and black tile. Removing his ankle-length black, triple fat goose coat, he hung it on the coat rack to the right of the door. Looking around at his fellow diners, he grumbled a quick hello. He had been a regular here for 15 or more years. He knew most every body by his or her first names.
There was Stan and his brother Davey that he’d helped when their cabin caught fire two years ago. Sitting at the counter was Phyllis, the town spinster, Marty, the town drunk and Facey, the town gossip. All of whom owed Jim more money than he cared to think about. Standing by the jukebox were the Carter twins, Bailey and Brandon, whom he’d just written letters of recommendation for, for college. They were like his family, the diner—a second home.
The interior of the diner was the typical retro throwback to the mid-fifties. The seats in the booths were covered in red cracked polyvinyl. The off-white tables were stained from years of grease, ketchup and other various spills. Large glass sugar canisters with metal tops sat on each table, along with metal napkin holders and salt and pepper shakers that had been there since the diner had opened forty-six years ago.
Jim trudged through the diner toward his regular table near the back of the diner. He noticed a stranger wearing an old John Deere hat sitting at the last table. He was probably just another trucker passing through on his way to any number of more important places than this little town.
Jim was truly disgusted with himself. His sister had been right. He never did anything different, never took any chances. No wonder he’d been passed over time after time for a promotion. And yet again today, not only was he passed over for the promotion to manager of the mailroom, but he’d been downsized.
Jim had held that job for twenty-two years. He’d been the dependable, trustworthy employee. Always on time and eager to help anyone and everyone with whatever they needed. Now, he was an unemployed nobody. His job had been his identity. Of course, the more he thought about that, the more depressed he became. How sad to be known for working in the mailroom of a lumber company.
There was nothing else, though, to define him. Jim had lived in the same house, in the same bedroom since he was born. Jim’s sister had called him a loser when he told her about losing his job. She’d yelled at him and told him that he was worthless. Penny had even predicted for him what the rest of his day would be like. And sadly she had been right. Here he was, in the diner for his supper. Afterward, he would drive home, watch his game shows and then get ready for bed.
How depressing, he thought, as he arrived at his normal table. As usual, no one was sitting there. Jim sighed as dropped into his chair. He didn’t even need to pick up the menu. Lottie would know what he wanted and would bring it to him. The food was probably already cooked and waiting on him.
Jim folded his arms on the table and hung his head. He could probably die tonight and nobody would care. His sister could finally sell the family home and put the money into a trust fund for her five kids’ college fund. Phyllis, Marty and Facey wouldn’t have to keep making excuses or giving him that guilty look anymore. The only people who would miss him would be Lottie and Mike. That’s only because he was a truly dependable source of patronage for them. Of course, now that he didn’t have a job anymore, maybe he’d have to eat dinner at home. Jim felt as if he’d let down the last two people on the planet that truly appreciated him.
So with his mind made up, he decided that he would do it. He would end his miserable existence tonight. He would have his dinner of sirloin steak, mashed potatoes and peas. Then he would go home, turn on the gas in the oven and breathe deeply until the end.
He did wonder briefly how it was that he could come to such a drastic conclusion so quickly. He realized that he’d actually been contemplating it for some time, ever since Marilyn had broken off their engagement six years ago. She said the same thing his sister had. That he would never change. He was too O.C.D.
Now he asked himself why he’d waited so long to make up his mind to end it all. Then he knew. Because ending his life would mean bringing about a change for him. He was terrified of change in his real existence, so he was even more petrified of the change death would bring. And the not knowing was more debilitating than the actual task.
Just then, Lottie appeared at his side.
“Hi Jim, how’s your day been?” she asked as she placed his food in front of him.
“Hi Lottie”, he replied dejectedly.
Jim had just made a change. Normally, he would hold a brief conversation, complimenting her on her hair or perfume. Instead, he stared straight ahead not even acknowledging his delivered food.
And then another change occurred. Lottie didn’t smile and walk away to her next customer. Instead, she placed her tray on the table and sat down across from him.
“Jim, I’ve known you for a long time. I’ve never heard you sound so down before. What’s the matter, hon?”
Jim sat staring at Lottie. He didn’t know what to do or say. He’d never had to say more than a few words to her before; words that he was comfortable with and had said for the past 15 years. For the first time he actually saw Lottie–her wrinkled face, faded blue eyes and tobacco-stained teeth. Her hair was a dirty, stringy mess in a ponytail. She had a pencil stuck behind her ear.
Jim had to admit to himself, she wasn’t at all pretty. But she was the closest thing he had to a friend so her looks didn’t matter. Maybe he should have married her after Marilyn had walked out on him. She’d left him for a younger, more adventurous man. Someone who would take her places, unlike the ever dependable, unchanging, Jim.
Lottie had thrown enough hints his way that he could’ve easily started a relationship with her. But he hadn’t wanted to go through the change of getting used to another person that close to him again. So, as usual, he gave up on the idea. Yet another failing.
Jim began to feel anger well up inside of him that he hadn’t realized was there. All of his failures and personal disappointments came rushing up through his brain. He slammed his fist on the table then swept all of his food onto the floor.
“I’m a failure that’s what’s wrong!” he cried. Pushing back from the table and toppling his chair, he stood and began pacing. Pulling the knot of his tie loose he reached up and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. He ran his hands through his normally well-combed hair and ruffled it wildly.
“I’ve done the same things for years. I don’t do anything new I don’t get anything new. I don’t even change the way that I drive home from work! I’m a pathetic, disappointment to, well, everyone. Why did my mother bother having me? Why did God even bother to put me on this earth?”
The entire diner came to a complete stop. Everyone sat in silence as normally quiet spoken Jim vented. He was pacing back and forth. His face looked like an overheated boiler about to explode.
“My sister is right; I’m useless. What could I possibly contribute to the world? I don’t even give money or my clothes to anybody. Do you all know that if I died, nobody would care? Nobody would come to my funeral. Nobody would sit around talking about my contributions to life, or how great a husband or father I was. My sister would probably just let the town bury me.”
Before anyone could stop him, Jim grabbed a knife from a nearby table and held it to his throat.
“It’s over!” he said laughing hysterically. He quickly drew the knife across his throat and waited for death to come.
But it didn’t. He reached up grabbing his throat and realized that he hadn’t cut deep enough to harm himself. He’d failed even in this, his supposed last endeavor.
His agonizing scream summed up a life of disappointment, fear and self-loathing. His scream trailed off as he fell to his knees on the floor. Doubled over he rocked back and forth. His muted sobbing was heard by the all the diner patrons.
Mike had come out of the kitchen when the yelling started. He knelt next to Jim and put his arm over his back.
Taking the dull butter knife from Jim he said, “Son, you ain’t no loser. Do you know how many people in this diner have come here because of you? Do you know that I never have to worry about whether you’re going to dip out without paying the check? There’s a lot to be said for stability boy.” His gruff voice was quiet as he spoke.
Jim lifted his head slightly. Tears and mucus were running down his face. As he turned to look at Mike, he felt another hand lightly touch his back. It was Lottie.
“Sweetie, I love you. Do you know that every day when you compliment me you make my day? You have no clue how many men come in here and don’t show an eighth of the respect that you show me. Believe me hun, if something happened to you, I don’t think that I could take it.”
“Do you mean that somebody actually does care for me?” Jim asked shakily.
“Yes, honey. And if you take your life, everyone in here will be hurtin’,” Lottie replied with a sad smile.
Looking up, Jim saw Davey and Stan standing behind Mike.
“Jim, if it hadn’t been for you, me and Stan woulda been homeless when our house burned down. You gave us the money to stay in the hotel till the insurance came through,” said Davey.
“Yeah, and you also put us in touch with the guy at the lumber mill who gave us the great discount on all the wood to rebuild. Not to mention, you gave us some of your old clothes,” replied Stan.
“See, you’re loved and appreciated, Jim,” Lottie said.
Jim smiled and allowed Lottie and Mike to help him to his feet. The regular patrons stood and began encircling Jim, clapping Jim on his shoulders, letting him know how much they cared.
Suddenly, the front door of the diner burst open. Two men in ski masks ran in and began shooting at the ceiling. Everyone hit the floor. Jim turned, grabbing Lottie and shoving her down. The guy that Jim had seen earlier was standing by the back exit with a gun. Jim briefly wondered why that man hadn’t put on a mask, but figured it didn’t really matter.
There was screaming from the patrons and the shooters. They wanted money and they wanted it now. They cleared out the cash register and began demanding everyone’s wallets. Mike was telling everyone to cooperate. But Marty, drunk as usual, began arguing with the men. One of them slammed the butt of his rifle into Marty’s stomach. The inebriated man double over coughing and gasping for air he dropped to the floor.
Lottie yelled at them to stop. Mike yelled at her to shut up. The twins were crying. Jim moved over in front of Lottie as the second gunman started for her.
“You got what you wanted, now leave,” she yelled.
The gunman lifted his gun in her direction and fired. Jim didn’t realize he’d even moved. He just knew he had to protect Lottie.
“Let’s get the hell outta here,” one of the gunmen yelled.
“I didn’t sign up to kill no one,” the one in the John Deer hat yelled. The masked men stumbled out of the diner.
The smell of gunpowder permeated the air. People slowly stood up and checked to make sure that they didn’t have any holes in them. Then, they started checking on their dinner companions.
The last person they checked on was Jim. He was lying face down on the floor. A puddle of blood oozing out from under him mingled with spilled coke and food. Mike turned him over. Jim’s eyes were open, but unable to see the look of anguish on Mike’s face. Lottie screamed. Rushing to his side, she dropped down to the floor and pulled Jim into her arms.
“He just performed the most wonderful task that any human being could ever do. And he ain’t even gonna be around to know about it,” Mike whispered. “No boy, your life wasn’t a waste. Good ol’ reliable Jim.”