I watch the needle drool ever so slightly before it slides into my vein. I wince at the cold invasion but remind myself of its necessity. Slowly the yellow liquid, thick in texture like flavoured kid’s medicine, finds its way in and my head rolls upward. I close my eyes, my heart racing. Five minutes. Five minutes till the mind turns on itself and I become convinced that this is my last day left on earth.
The kids did it for many reasons but I always felt it boiled down to just one: Life was boring; everything was safe with all corners sanded down these days. There were no real experiences anymore. People were putting them off till they never came true. Sure, you could do a whole heap of drugs, they still had the classics available for hijinks, but there was none more elusive, nor life-affirming than the spiritual kick of that yellow liquid.
The concept was simple. Take a shot and become gripped with the impenetrable ‘truth’ that this day was your last. A personal apocalypse; all brought to you by a few tricks of the brain. There would be no more tomorrows, just one mad day to take it all in. The legend goes that this liquid was conceived by a suicidal freak that had bumped uglies with an extraterrestrial. This alien had then started to pulsate a yellowy goo from which our interstellar gift was born. Not the most realistic of stories, but what did you care if you thought it was all going to end by sundown that day?
As you can imagine, anything can happen when all signs point to impending doom. Some would take it to feel crazy. Some were already crazy and just wanted that extra push before they went postal. Some sought inspiration. Some were seeking clarity in their life (and the after-kick was just as good, apparently). Some even did it for major sporting events; those wanting to play the game as if they had nothing left to lose.
Some would cry a lot. Throw a premium pity party for themselves. Go through the textbook stages of accepting one’s own demise. If they were new to it all they’d request a friend to hold their hand and let them get all emotional about an end with no real consequences. People say the truest things when they think their seconds are short.
Simply put, everybody had their reasons.
I took my shot in the bathroom, before they got to the, “If anyone has a reason why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.” I certainly wasn’t the first and I certainly won’t be the last for this kind of reason. And, as a first timer, to be perfectly honest, my timing was off. I didn’t account for the clenching of everything as the brain came to its false conclusion. There were many ways the rationalisations found their way in: often, it went that you had just received news of a dreaded poison or illness that was going to wreak havoc throughout your body within only a matter of hours. For others, It came a manic certainty that there was a car out on the road speeding along—your destiny at 60km/h while you looked the other way crossing the street.
Either way, I’m not ready for it.
The tears roll out as I look in the mirror, dressed all prim and proper. The door to the bathroom swings open and I hastily change tune to washing my hands, washing my hands, feeling the softness within the warmth of the running stream; softness just like how it used to be with Mel.
I enjoy the feeling as I come to realise that these last moments are to be treasured, my looming mortality throbbing through my brain. It was cancer, the doctors had found it too late and though I felt fine now, tomorrow the cancer would cause a stroke while I cruised through an intersection. A semi would then collect me. It was all so beautiful and very unavoidable.
“Shouldn’t you be out there by now?”
I turn to see the old man who’d come in, sparking my nonchalant hand washing. “Yes, just washing my hands.”
“You’ve been doing that for a while… Everything okay, chief?”
Well, I’ve got inoperable cancer and the girl I love is making a huge mistake.
“Yeah,” I eventually reply. “Guess I was just taking stock. I’ll see you out there.”
The old man nods and follows me out casually, but I make sure to skip ahead.
Gabe the Groom urges me to take my place. I nod sharply and make my way down the centre aisle. I feel every step, the sweat flowing heavy all over my body. At one stage I glance at the sunlight streaking in through the window. It is a beautiful day outside, a lovely last day. If only I’d known about it earlier. If only I’d confessed to Mel earlier. Time is a cruel bitch and the withdrawals of hindsight are a kick in the teeth.
The organ begins playing. I realise I’ve stopped mid-stride and am now just gazing out the window, eyes stupefied like some invalid. Everyone is now watching me so Jonathan, one of the groomsmen, urges me over like I’m a cat stuck up a tree. I pick up my pace as Gabe gives me an “are you on drugs?” kind of stare. I want to tell him that I’m going to die, that all the light and the beauty in the world is being sucked up and taken in for the last time, but I don’t want to ruin his big day, even if mine is more significant.
The people in the pews turn and the little shit with the flowers strolls through. And then I see her, the one that got away all those years ago. She is an angel and floats that way too, breaking me with every step forward, her face one of pure happiness.
And then I remember what it was to feel her; a picnic at Linley’s Point, one of our first dates. The show reel begins to press into my brain, the big “flash before my eyes” coming a little sooner than expected. And then I remember what I was supposed to say, what I needed to do, what must be lifted from my soul before I leave this world: the truth.
Parkinson’s law relates to the notion that the longer one has to complete a task, then the longer its completion will be stretched out. I didn’t have that much time left, so for these last moments, I was going to put it all to good use.
Mel takes her place at the Altar. I can feel all the cheeks in the room rising and booming as a sea of smiles direct their flow to Mel and Gabe, as if there was nobody in the world but just them two.
I stare as intently at Mel as she stares at Gabe. And when the priest man makes his spiel about objections…
It all rises out of my throat as the memories spill out of me, leaving me overwhelmed. This is it.
I’m cut off.
My interruption has been interrupted.
The man next to me, Gabe’s best buddy Jonathan has broken the peace. Everyone in the pews is trying to outdo each other with their gasps. Jonathan steps forward in front of the two lovebirds. I grit my teeth—the raw nerve of him! Jonathan hasn’t said anything else yet and this leaves everyone frozen, waiting for it all to come blurting out: Jonathan’s in love with Mel! My instincts kick in, and I grab Jonathan by the shoulders and hurl him down the steps before the words leave his mouth. There are more gasps, more family members fainting at this sordid spectacle. Now they’re all looking at me.
Trembling, I stare into Mel’s eyes. She isn’t mad, in fact her face, like all those nights we used to spend curled up into one another, is very understanding. Gabe, on the other hand, is clenched up in white-hot rage.
“What the fuck are you two doing?” He screams at Jonathan and myself.
I take one more look at Mel for courage and then clear my throat.
“I don’t have long for this world, and I just wanted Mel to know that I’m still in love with her—even after all these years… and I guess Jonathan had similar thoughts, though to be honest I really didn’t see that coming.”
“That’s because I don’t love Mel,” says Jonathan, rising to his feet. “I love you, Gabe.”
There are more gasps at this point. I’d burst out laughing like a nutter if I didn’t think it was all so tragic.
Gabe’s eyeballs have burst out of their sockets. “What?”
“It’s true,” Jonathan gushes. “Ever since grade school… and now I think I’ve played my hand too late: I just found out I’d ingested the poisonous part of a puffer fish last night. There’s nothing the doctors can do. Today was my last day to tell you.”
Now I’m confused. “Wait. You’re dying too?”
“But we had burgers yesterday?”
Jonathan’s brain locks up. “No—I was at this Japanese restaurant and I had this special puffer fish, but the main chef was sick and so this trainee chef—”
“That’s an episode from The Simpsons,” Gabe interrupts. “You’re not dying. What the hell is… wait—have you taken Death Wish?”
“That’s fucked up, man.” I declare. “Especially for those of us who are really about to die!”
“And you’re probably not dying either!” screams Gabe.
I’m taken aback, absolutely indignant. “How dare you! I don’t have to put up with this shit on my last day.” My attention then turns to Mel. “Mel, please. I just want you to know that I love you more than anything in the world, and I couldn’t go knowing I’d never said that.”
Mel’s eyes well up, “I love you too.”
Gabe stomps his foot on the ground like a little brat. “WHAT?”
The tears are now flowing freely. But she is not sad at all. She looks free of all guilt in my eyes and I am the happiest I will ever be. I reach forward to embrace her, but she stops me.
“I love both of you, and all of you.” She gestures to the crowd.
Gabe and I trade looks of furthered confusion (I’m expecting more gasps from the crowd at this point).
“I wanted you all to know this before…before the accident.”
Mel clutches Gabe’s wrist. “We are driving away. We’ve just been married. You lean in to kiss me. And then a drunk driver collects us. I don’t make it, babe. I don’t make it…”
“Wait—are you fucking kidding me? You’ve taken it too?” On our wedding day?”
Gabe takes a giant step back from us all, shaking his head in disbelief. “I can’t deal with this,” he throws his hands up as he then plods heavy down the steps and rushes back up the aisle. Jonathan cries out to him but Gabe is having none of it.
Then there’s just the three of us and a silent crowd of once well-wishers, their faces twisted, ready to erupt into whatever emotion best accompanies a two-way Death Wish admission (I don’t know, Jonathan’s the writer).
Unsure of where to go to from here, I turn to Jonathan. “So, you’re a fag then?”
“Not for much longer.”
“Why not? Oh, the whole dying thing…”
It is then that Gabe’s mom finally explodes. She screams before she charges, vindicating her thoughts that Mel was indeed a bitch and that Gabe was too good for her. Gabe’s father doesn’t try to stop his dear Charlotte. The mother lunges at Mel, but not before Mel has stepped up to the plate and knocked Gabe’s mum out with a well-timed haymaker. Now the father is up, and most of the crowd too. Jonathan and I are staring dumbfounded at Mrs. Bennett.
Mel lets out a sigh of relief. “I always wanted to do that!” she exclaims like a manic child. The others in the crowd are now getting a sense of the ground once shaken—and they are all pissed. The father leads the second charge and I casually suggest we get the hell out of there.
The cans bounce along behind our getaway car. Gabe’s father gains close for the first few yards and I imagine him lunging for the cans in mad desperation, but he eventually stops and is left kicking at gravel.
No one in the car talks for a long time, our direction aimless.
Mel is driving. I gaze into her, those dark eyes bereft of that life that would often burst forth into the world, ready for anything. Instead, everything in her is now droopy and slack as she comes to terms with the life she once had. The Death Wish is a wild ride, so I’ve heard.
“Well, since we all don’t have long, do you guys want to go out to Linley’s point?” I finally suggest.
“Watch our last sunset?” asks Jonathan.
“Sure,” says Mel, speeding the car up and cutting into a lane before boosting through a red. Our hearts race once more and the caucus of honking from other drivers lifts a smile in Mel.
“Have you told your parents yet?” she asks us both as the car speeds up.
“I’ll do it when we get there, I’ll tell them before the sun sets. And then, when it’s setting, we’ll kiss like we used to,” I say, anxious for her response.
“I don’t think my parents would care, to be honest,” Jonathan utters.
I turn around and look at his ruffled state, his weathered eyes. “Did they know?”
“I don’t know… Maybe Dad knew. That’s why things were never right… That’s why I never…”
“May as well tell them now,” Mel says, matter-of-factly.
Jonathan goes quiet for a moment, before time gets the better of him and he decides why the hell not. “Mel, what if Gabe came?”
I lock up at the idea, but Mel seems to pay it no mind. “Sure, if he doesn’t try to throw us off the cliff. Shit, we can even have ourselves an orgy if you guys are up for it.”
I can’t say it didn’t make me feel insecure at first, but then again, I was going to die tomorrow. Any sense of reservation was criminally repugnant at this point.
Linley’s Point is beautiful. Beautiful and somewhat occupied by other love-struck couples. I snarkily suggest we get rid of everyone and Jonathan, to my surprise, follows this suggestion as if God himself has decreed it. There is a lot of swearing and shouting and some of the men in these peaceful duets try their hardest to stand up for themselves, but Mel waddles up in her wedding gown and sets them straight, blurting out a sad tale of her husband leaving her at the alter. Within ten minutes of them getting aggressive and myself losing all clothes we finally reserve this exquisite bit of real estate for a sunset viewing of a premium last will and testament order.
“Think they’ll call the cops?” Mel finally asks.
“What’s it matter, this is a great place for a last stand anyhow,” says Jonathan, “…nice dick by the way, Pete.”
“Is it worth getting naked too?”
“It’s not as liberating as I thought it’d be.”
I take Mel’s hand. “Hey… if you didn’t drive away with Gabe, then maybe you won’t get in an accident like you said would happen?”
Mel gives me a soft smile of reassurance. She grabs my hand. “The accident’s inevitable, Pete. When we’re finished here, Gabe’s going to take me away and I will say goodbye to all this.”
“But if you don’t! I don’t want you to. Even if I can’t have you, that doesn’t mean I want you to die.”
Mel doesn’t respond. She simply smiles softly, and then I see it. The resignation. That was the Death Wishes’ real purpose: letting go and enjoying the moment.
“And you? You say you’ve got incurable cancer. But you look just fine to me. Just like you used to look, when it was just the two of us.”
I want to correct her, and explicitly repeat the doctor’s news, but there it was: the resignation and a moment that needed to be enjoyed.
“You look just as beautiful too.”
The sound of a car pulling up some ways behind us gets all our heads turning. No, it’s not the local SWAT team, but a groom and my drug dealer, Randy.
“You actually messaged him?” I turn to Jonathan, but Jonathon’s already making his way over to Gabe. Gabe hesitates as Jonathan’s arms open up, offering a hug.
Gabe puts a hand up, “One thing at a time, Johnny. First, Mel.” He brushes past Jonathan and comes straight towards us. I watch as his feet begin to slow down, his composure dribbling out with each step closer. He stares at me, trying to hide his disgust, before focusing on Mel.
He wants to start simple.
“What’re you guys doing here?” It’s then I feel Mel’s hand leave mine. She’s edging backwards. I do the same.
“It’s our last sunset.”
“It doesn’t have to be. Look, baby, you’re not dying—Randy told me how he sold all three of you Death Wish.” Gabe glances beyond us to the cliff’s edge. “You’re not in your right minds—either of you. Now, please, I know you’re scared. We don’t have to go through with this wedding. We don’t even have to be together…” I watch his face as those words tear away at his insides, cutting all the roots away. I see his love for her like I see my own.
“We don’t have to get in a car; we don’t even have to do anything. We can all just watch this sunset,” he turns back to Jonathan, “All of us, together.”
And suddenly, I find my hand at Mel’s back, urging her back from the cliff, back to sanity, as it seemed. It was wrong of me to say anything today, even if it were my last. Mel looks over at me, and then smiles, that reassuring soft smile I knew so well, all those years ago. She lifts her wedding gown, ready to walk back into the safety of Gabe’s arms.
Gabe doesn’t drop his gaze until they embrace.
I am happy for them. And that is the truth.
Gabe and Mel then turn to face me, both of them corralling me over, if not for an actual orgy, then something emotionally similar.
“C’mon, Pete, come back to us. It’s going to be okay.”
I smile and I laugh, shaking my head. “Don’t worry about me, it was inoperable anyway. I Love you guys, all of you.”
And then I step back into nothingness, enjoying the moment as I finally let go.