Retribution

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“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

-Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”

 

Annie sat at her desk looking out the window rolling a pencil back-and-forth with her finger. The street was mostly empty. The drizzling rain seemed to be letting up. She wasn’t sure when she had come to the decision. She assumed everybody had thought about it at one point or another. Maybe it was a normal thing to consider, a common dysfunction. But then again, how normal is it to contemplate your own suicide.

She had never thought about it until now. She had thought suicide was something for the selfish, but now she understood it was for people who were… what? Disappointed with the world? Maybe it was for the depressed or the heavily medicated? She wasn’t quite sure.

(Illustration by Marie Ginga from an image by Dana Tentis on Pixabay.com)

She didn’t look at the folded newspaper sitting on her desk. The front page blasted with a picture of Emily Braun who had committed to her decision the week before. Maybe people would say it was a copycat suicide? Was that the term? But that was why they kept notifications of suicides out of the newspaper, right?

Her father worked his forty hours, came home and sat in front of the television. The all-present blob on the couch that died the same way he lived, miserable. Her mother, still living, wasn’t happy either. So, how important was happiness?

There wouldn’t be a memorial for her like there was for Emily. There wouldn’t be a new hashtag. Sweet Emily, Annie thought, I didn’t mean to push you in that direction. Emily, who rose in the middle of a meeting, walked out of the meeting and off of the roof. How guilty was Annie for this? #sharethepain.

It had something do to with the cosmic karmic scales that prevented her repulsion for Emily from infecting others. Not like it could. Not like it should. Annie had been almost completely indifferent to Emily. She was more a sign on the side of the road than a roadblock.

She came back to the note she had been trying to write. The anger subsided briefly back to self-pity. Her fingers numb with the pencil still rubbing back and forth on the desk making the familiar rhythmic sound. Maybe she could write something nice to her mother or…. Who? Who would really care about it? Maybe her mother would on a biological level, yes, but after that would she feel relieved?

She felt like weeping, but that would just be wasting tears. Her suicide would not be coming from a place of self-pity, she readied herself, but a desire to make the world a better place. A martyr needed a cause. Action was what changed the world, action and then recognition for that action.

Of course, before she had pieced the logic of everything together and had come to the conclusion that she was different, there were moments that indicated how the universe worked. It was undeniable that little things just worked out for her.

Annie was staring at the small chocolate bar. She had wanted it. She was five or six. Mrs. Graham walked through the door causing the little bell to ring. Annie had turned to look but had hardly noticed Mrs. Graham holding the hand of her boy, Bill. But all she could think was that sweet, delicious chocolate bar, I want it.

Without hesitation, Mrs. Graham grabbed the chocolate bar that Annie had desired. Not the same brand or something similar, not one from the same box, no, she had grabbed the exact candy bar Annie had been staring at, two behind the front. She hadn’t even spoken, hadn’t even done her own shopping but simply bought and paid for it. “Here you go, sweetie,” Handing her the chocolate bar as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

Bill threw up his hands and began stomping, “Why’d you buy one for that stupid girl?”

“You’re too fat to get a candy bar,” Mrs. Graham had said.

Bill’s arms dropped. The tantrum abated. Both mother and son stared at each other in the shock of what had just happened as Annie bit into her candy.

Andy Bradbury had been bullying her for weeks on end. Teasing, pulling her hair, making her life miserable. When she had told her daddy, who was halfway through a TV dinner and baseball game, he had only made an off-hand comment about the boy having a crush.

It came back to desire. She desired not to be bullied but it was unspecified desire, which is a kind of desire but not a strong one. Her teacher was in front of the class pointing at the chalkboard. Annie turned looking at her bored fellow classmen and saw Dustin Howitzer. Howitzer would later be on the football team but that was a few years and another 100 plus pounds. He wasn’t big, not like he got, but it was clear he had just begun a growth spurt, already 3 inches above the other boys.

The desire, finding specificity, had come into fruition. I want Howitzer to beat up Andy Bradbury. Then Howitzer stood up in the middle of a lecture on fractions. Annie’s mouth dropped opened in shock. The teacher who stopped talking just cocked her head to the side unprepared for what would happen. Howitzer, who walked between rows of desks not toward the door but away from it, walked right to Andy’s desk.

“Do you need to use the restroom, Mr….” Probably the only thing the teacher could think of to say.

Howitzer clenched his fists and began pummeling Andy. All chairs, except one, were scooted back as everyone rose in shock. He had to be pulled off of Andy. Howitzer turned his head slightly coming to his senses and they let him go. He shook his head as if coming out of daze.

Annie sat in her chair still in shock. Desire had been made manifest. She had understood then, for the first time. Not a hint of how it worked, not like the candy bar, but she understood how the universe actually worked

Tears were already beginning to pour down Howitzer’s cheeks. Andy’s face was beginning to puff up like a giant raspberry. Howitzer looked down, maybe defeated, maybe confused. He looked at Andy and then down at his fists still in shock at what he had done.

Then there was the pencil. It had fallen off of someone’s desk who had risen in the commotion. It had waited for Howitzer’s troubled backward steps and it had rolled, causing his arms to fly up like some kind of cartoon character. It had rolled out of sight as Howitzer’s head thumped hard on the floor.

Instant karma, Annie considered later. Every action required another. Then came the experiments. Slow at first, like getting strangers to kiss. Then more complex like wanting a pizza given to her in the middle of her finals. But every action was followed by some kind of debt that needed to be paid. Even if it meant the teacher paid the tab on the pizza.

Did she feel guilty? No. She supposed she didn’t. She desired it; it had happened. If she wanted a boyfriend, she would get one. If she wanted anything, anything at all, she would get it.

Pancakes for dinner were nice, but her mother burning herself in the kitchen while cooking the pancakes wasn’t. Her father not drinking after work was nice too, but when the house smelled thick with smoke, almost instantly, she regretted it.

Maybe she could desire good into the world. That was the real reason for wanting her father to stop drinking. It would ease the monthly budget. It could make her mother a little happier when her father wasn’t loose with his words and fists. Desire itself didn’t seem to matter unless it was specified. But there was always a cost. The scales would be evened out, every time. The universe had to be balanced.

When she was seventeen, she had seen a bank robbery. She turned and walked away. But even then, the desire was out there. The robber was caught because he had diverted his run to the getaway car. He ran up and handed her the bag of cash. She refused to take it. The pause, the hesitation, the change of plan, and the cops had surrounded him.

A knock at the door broke her out of her thoughts. She thought maybe some things were best left with the door closed. Letting go of the pencil and paper that simply had “Mom” scrawled at the top of it, she rose to get it. The rain was picking up a little.

Chad stood at the door holding flowers. There was that look in his eyes. The cloudy unfocused look that made her think of someone who was drugged. The magic wasn’t impeded by guilt.

“I need to be alone.”

Chad nodded, “I saw you in the window, you looked so sad. Are you okay?”

“You should go.”

He turned and walked away.

Her prom date was another one. Although the rampant desires of a teenage girl hadn’t been easy to control. He got handsy and began pushing her toward an inner edge that she didn’t want to go. As he pushed at her, trying to hike up her dress, her desire for this boy’s infatuation was lost. He stopped suddenly. Eyes blank just like Chad’s, he turned and walked away.

He wouldn’t have been the first to commit suicide because of her. Now that she was thinking about it, she had no desire for Emily to commit suicide. Maybe Emily had just been part of the karmic judgment of her desire. Maybe that was why her desire to not see the memorials went unheeded.

Her prom date had just walked away like Emily. He had almost walked right into traffic if other people hadn’t seen him and stopped it. She had received the prerequisite sympathy as people began discussing what must’ve happened.

Let’s face it, college desires were many and she had indulged. She had hated. Many suffered. She had loved. More suffered. She had passed classes when she shouldn’t have. It was an easy desire to let out into the universe for a professor who didn’t give a second thought to changing her grade. Who knows, maybe he flunked someone else. She didn’t always know how the universe corrected itself, but it did. She was sure of it.

Then after college, there was the job interview, only the one. They spoke for a few minutes and she was hired. The interviewers, two no-names in HR that she would never meet again, walked out and dismissed the other applicants in one unfailing swoop. The league of applicants’ faces fell, and she glowed. But she hadn’t accomplished anything, not really. She hadn’t experienced any prize. She hadn’t ever really won out of talent or skill.

Then Emily Braun was hired within a couple of months. Then Emily had begun dating Chad. Now she was dead.

She had tried to live without desire. But she was no Buddhist. Desire was as ingrained in the American culture as much as fast food burgers. She liked having desire. She liked being hungry for things.

It was the restaurant on their lunch break. Her little group of work-friends all ate and laughed. She happened to look over at Chad sitting at a table with Emily. Chad gazed at Emily as if a devout congregant.

Then desire came. I want a soul mate.

Chad hadn’t said anything else to Emily, and God knows he might feel guiltier than she did. His silence was probably part of the unspoken desire to not hear anything about Emily. Chad merely rose from the table walked over. Emily had turned to stare as Chad asked for Annie’s number.

Bill Brunswick laughed when Chad asked her out in front of everyone. “Hey pal, aren’t you on a date.”

She now hated her work-friends. Bill Brunswick was fat and she hated him. She hated everyone at work. Unable to keep from unleashing that desire, she mustered all of her energy to keep it buried deep inside. She hated the memories of Emily and she hated all this attention about her death. She hated Chad too. Wasn’t it his fault? She hated her job and the two HR people that hired her. She hated her family and she thought maybe she hated herself too.

It had been in some psychology class. The professor had spoken gravely, “Suicide was something that we don’t talk a lot about. It’s because it is a touchy subject and often other professors are afraid of bringing it up like it will spread like some type of social contagion.” The class had been interesting. People shared and the professor had been adamant on if anyone is feeling suicidal, speak up. “You don’t have to be alone.” #sharethepain

Then there was the quote by Chesterton, “The suicide is worse than the murderer because the murderer kills off one person, while the suicide kills everyone they know by killing themselves.”

She got dressed. It felt like a weird thing to do. What was she to wear in her last hours? It didn’t matter. Nothing fit anymore anyway. Makeup, she thought? Then catching herself in the mirror, well, maybe a little. The rain misted into her face when she walked outside. Still slightly overcast and the sky seemed to give a halfhearted attempt at rain. She walked down to the street and hailed a cab.

The cabbie smelled. He rolled down his window as she got in. She smiled. The instant gratification of having that desire realized made her feel better. But the muggy hot air blowing back at her took the smile away. The cabbie didn’t talk; he knew instinctively where to take her. At the corner of Second and Main, she saw a woman holding hands with a little girl. The woman looked up at her. There was the desire again. Still speaking, I want to be a mother. The woman hoisted her daughter up with arms stretched out toward the cab.

The light changed and the cab accelerated leaving the mother and the child watching after it.

“You don’t have to do this.” He said looking in the rear-view mirror.

“What?”

“There’s other ways. You just have to be strong enough.”

She didn’t question how he knew what she was thinking until the realization slowly crept over her. His head snapped forward. He began to speed forward, weaving in and out of traffic. People honked. Before she knew it, he was screeching on the brakes in front of her office building. The cabbie didn’t say anything as she got out.

“Don’t do this.” A woman in a business suit said walking past.

“You know you don’t want to.” A man walking the opposite direction said.

She lifted her chin, confident in her decision. The strangers stopped talking.

She used to pick scabs when she was little. She thought it was something linked to her personality – that uncontrollable desire to not let anything heal. Pick. The blood fills the tiny hole. Sometimes it stops; sometimes it overflows.

Her father walked into the kitchen. He opened a bottle of beer and drank. Pick. He didn’t sit down. He just drank. Pick. Then another and then another. Then when the beer was out, he found a bottle of wine. Pick. After the wine, a bottle of bourbon. That was the last one. The inevitable downfall. Why don’t you just drink yourself to death? And he did. Pick. The blood fills the tiny hole. Sometimes it stops; sometimes it overflows.

Thud.

The first body to hit the pavement was someone she didn’t know. She cocked her head to the side looking at it thinking, why him? Her desire was becoming realized. She turned toward the street. Some people were yelling at each other while others were beginning to look up to the top of the building.

A cabbie and a truck driver were too busy yelling at each other to notice the bodies that had begun falling until one landed on top of the cabbie. The truck driver didn’t move at first, merely looked up seeing others gathering at the ledge.

She opened the door to the building with another thud and then another on the street behind her. Screeching brakes and horns as cars collided. Some people sat where they were working but when they saw her, instinctively they rose.

She walked to the elevator where a crowd was trying to get on. The doors were unable to close. It would be like this at every floor, she thought. A little half smile crept across her face. The people diverted except for a janitor. Summoned, she knew for her purposes.

She turned her head to see people begin swarming the stairwell. The elevator, mostly emptied, had a few people still standing in it. The janitor got in the elevator and pulled out a key and turned on the override. Tapping the top floor, he nodded turning to her with a grim smile.

The elevator flew up to the top floor and opened with a ding. Annie walked slowly savoring the moment. She smiled wanting to watch. One by one, people rushed to the edge of the roof, climbed on and merely stepped off. No scream, no plea for help, just a step and gone. Sometimes there was a small sob coming from them but mostly nothing.

Eat your heart out, Emily Braun. She chuckled slightly walking to the ledge. Bill Brunswick shoved past her, and then stopped. He looked at her. She quieted the annoyance just enough to give a little nod. He ran for the ledge. He didn’t stop to climb up. The side of the ledge hit his stomach and his body toppled over.

Other people in her office, some she recognized, some she knew, most she didn’t, jumped. The standard was to pause and look down and she liked that so they all began doing it.

She climbed onto the ledge and looked down at the swelling crowd. The bodies everywhere on the sidewalk and in the street. She imagined the whole building pouring into elevators and stairwells trying to get to the roof. Dozens had already fallen and when she was done, hundreds would.

Something changed as she looked down. Guilt was something she didn’t quite feel. Emily had caused her to feel what most people would call guilt, but was it really that? She saw all the death and felt better for it. She felt as if maybe she didn’t want to do this anymore. A man on the ledge near her hesitated. The crowd kept swelling on the roof, but they too had stopped although their numbers grew. She smiled at the man on the ledge with her and gave a little nod. He jumped.

Even then, maybe if she did this, others would stop. That’s not what she wanted. She didn’t want to do this anymore, but they should. They all should. As she turned to get off the ledge, the people had pressed toward all sides of the roof. She tried to get down when she saw Chad. Chad pushed his way through seeing her. She paused, still on the ledge seeing him wave excitedly to her. Well, she thought, maybe I’ll let him go before I get down.

She felt like laughing until someone’s body press against her feet causing her to lean back teetering off the edge just a little. But Chad was there and caught her hand. As she tried to find balance, a desire blossomed violently into her thoughts. Get me off this roof now! Chad nodded, still holding her hand and jumped toppling over the ledge dragging her down the other side.

As she fell, there were no conscious thought. There were no last minute repentances or pleas. Noises whooshed past her as sirens and cries grew louder. Her mind scrambled trying to act on a desire for rescue but came up short. Then she tried to imagine, to desire some form of paradise but couldn’t conceive of one.

This story previously appeared in In Parentheses.
Edited by Marie Ginga

 

Kris Green lives in Florida with his wife and two-year old son. He writes daily and has published many short stories in publications such as Morpheus Tales, Flume, In Parentheses, Route 7 Review and more. He was a finalist for Chester B. Himes Memorial Fiction Contest and received an Honorable Mention from Allegory Ezine.