Anna has every reason to kill herself. Never underestimate a person with reasons or you may become one. I know the reasons, almost in memory. She worries that if one night she were to kill herself, no one would know her reasons for doing so. But she has as many plans for that as she does reasons.
Before turning on the gas stove, or closing the garage door, or dragging a vertical blade down her arms, Anna has a routine that is just as fatalistic. I see the remains of this plan every day, at the same hour. The U.S.P.S. delivery driver brings another sealed manila envelope to me. Inside is her suicide letter.
It is my hope that as this letter arrives to you, I am dead. Be sure to put some water in the dish for my cat, for she thirsts, I’m sure you understand.”
I keep every letter she sends me in the same box, dated. The stack is pretty friggin high now. Every time Anna decides to kill herself, which is every afternoon for 4 months, she writes a letter to me, drives to U.S.P.S. and has it sent to me at my apartment here. I never really grasp at why she doesn’t succeed, because the letters never stop coming.
Occasionally I will smoke a cigarette and read an older one, just for the good memories,
(April 3, 2009)
Does it come to you as a grave shock to know that I have passed on into eternity? It baffles me, that while I sit here bleeding to death in my downtown apartment, you are probably sitting in a desk chair at your house smoking a cigarette and reading my letter. But don’t worry; I have no resentments towards you for my ultimate demise. We all end up leaving the planet much in the same way that we came into t it, with a mind that understands very little and usually gets that small fragment wrong any ways. It is possible that if you left your apartment right now, you might find me on the far fringes of life. You might arrive just in time to bring me back to life. I hope you know the difference between the Heimlich maneuver and C.P.R. But you probably won’t come; you sit there, in a dusty room with a letter and a cigarette, listening to mazzy star. It is even more likely that by the time you finish this sentence, is the exact moment when instead of smoking, you could have come to me."
I put out my cigarette after reading that and smiled a little, remembering the last time I went to see her. You would think it was a cry for help. But most of the time Anna tries to convince you kill yourself with her, a suicide pact. Some people invite you over for a movie. It takes a special breed of person to invite you to join them in death.
After I had received the first letter, once I had taken the taken in the premise of the letter, I left my house in a rush and drove over to hers, fearing that I would arrive too late, and being that I had just received it that afternoon. Over the next two months, I would call the postal office and try to get a close estimate of the lapse of time between a letter being dropped for delivery and arrival. Contrasting that with the amount of time it would take to asphyxiate showed that I had a window of maybe ten hours from door to door, and another ten minutes for her to die from a lack of breathing. I would ask her why she wouldn’t just call me so I could come right to her then and prevent this entire system from repeating over and over. But she was interested in a delayed death experience, like waiting in line for a coroners report. Most people will take a number for anything, provided it is the last time they have to. I think that’s where the saying "I’ve got your number” came from; everyone starts with one in the beginning.
When she answers the door, there is music in the background that is somehow both loud and soft. It always puzzles me when people blast really soft acoustic music at loud volume; it reminds me of someone trying to play a triangle with force.
"Have you come to watch me die,” Anna says out of the side of her mouth. She has a kitchen knife in one hand a tree branch in the other, which confused me. I couldn’t predict the reason for the branch, but Anna had reasons for many things that made little sense to anyone, herself included.
"Not exactly," I said stepping around the long branches and leaves, "I’ve come because I need to borrow your VCR."
Anna had an enormous collection of soft-core porn that she would copy off of other tapes from the video store, hooking two VCR’s together in an imitation of the ins and outs of her video fetish. I never really understood why she liked soft-core so much, with the soft focus filters, the piano and synth pad soundtrack, ambiguously shot camera positions that reveal only suggestions of sex.
If soft-core porn could be music, it would be elevator music, clean enough for white collar suits, having the ability to exist and seem like it doesn’t simultaneously.
Anna starts rummaging around with incredible noise in the kitchen when I hear something like the sound of a wood chipper coming from the kitchen, When I turn the corner into the kitchen she is just leaving, with that same kitchen knife, flaying around in the air like a fly swatter.
"Don’t follow me around fucker."
"Fine, I just thought I heard something like a machine in here."
"There’s no machine in here except for the wood chipper."
I noticed that the tree branch on the kitchen counter had been severely mutilated on the end, looking as though they might have been chewed up by a dog. There were wood chips coming from the sink, littered around the disposal in the middle.
"DONT FOLLOW ME!"
"Ok I wont, just let me have a look at your…machine here."
She walks back into the living room and disappears behind the bedroom door. Among the chipped bark and wood chunks on the counter were several cut out personal ads from the newspaper. When she wasn’t shoving wood through her kitchen disposal, Anna scoured the newspaper personals looking for Mr. Right.
It’s amazing that people will go to great lengths to meet someone on some kind of romantic pretense. Through the paper? It struck me as odd that lonely people would pay money to put their little snapshots of humanity into print there for all to see. They end up paying by the line and letter for someone to hand them a shovel to bury themselves with, custom fit holes in the ground, sad sad sad newspaper affairs. Anna yells from the bedroom as I stood over her kitchen disposal.
"Will I need some help with something today, can you come along? Will? Where the hell are you?"
I really didn’t want to come on whatever errand it was.
"I am at your disposal," I remarked.
"Good then, lets leave this place, it stinks of romance and rubbed tree bark."
She looked at me for a confusing moment, and pointed to the shredded wood and said, "I never did understand how they make newspaper paper.”
I also never figured out how newspaper was made or what she was doing with the tree branches. What was always clear about Anna, and there wasn’t much, was that when she was driving you were going to grip for your life to whatever was stationary in the car. She would grapple with ten cd‘s at once, light a cigarette, adjust mirrors and makeup, switch lanes and talk on the phone while holding down a conversation with the passenger at the same time. She did everything but drive, when she was behind the wheel. You got used to that, because she was incredibly fluid with all her actions.
Every now and then, nature will make a person that seems to permeate everyday tasks like a beautiful mesh. Anna was like this, as if her ability to be beautiful gave her superhuman powers of ease with the daily facets of life. While it was easy for her, all those around her seemed to be tumbling in her wake. She swerved around a man on a curb without even looking; I heard his yell fade into the Doppler Effect as I turned around to see him pointing at our car.
The inside of the U.S.P.S. office was crowded with the reek of licked stamps and overworked government paychecks. There was such an abundance of people in there that numbers were being handed out on slips on paper at the front door.
”Be sure not to throw it away after," said the front clerk, "we reuse them."
"What happens if we do?" I asked.
"We've got your number."
Someone always has your number in the beginning.
"Number 28, please come to the front," an overhead speaker rang.
I looked like at our ticket, it appeared to be four to the power of fifteen. I told myself I read it wrong, shifty eyes.
“What do you have to mail Anna?"
“I’m sending a suicide letter."
“To you, idiot.”
"Why not just give it to me now? I am standing with you. I couldn’t be any closer for delivery."
"Because that would be ridiculous, we are already at the post office."
"It would be ridiculous to mail it to me when I'm already here."
"No it wouldn’t, because you could just pick it up at the front instead of waiting for it to come to your house."
A couple was sitting next to us; they sneered up at me and said, "Would you mind keeping it down for a tick? We can’t hear our number being called."
Anna propped up, closed her fingers around her hand in a tight fist and said, "Do you mind? I am dying."
"Anna please, I wouldn’t wait in this line twice just to pick up a letter that you already have with us now. Just hand it to me.”
I reached over but she closed up fast and said, “I've already bought the stamps!"
"Number 29, come to the counter please."
People in lines, at government offices, seem so drained of life you can almost see right through them. They shed opaque, like thin layers of plastic stripping off a severed limb. If they stand just right, with the sun, you can see straight through the organized tolerance for waiting and observe that beneath the translucent social mores is just another torn appendage like everyone else, waiting to be delivered to another line. It is incredible that in the face of vast amounts of time being sucked dry, everyone will wait patiently and thank the leeches for starting the bleeding. The patient appendages just jockey for a smaller increase in the fraction of personal space that a government office will allow each person. Just enough so that you get a clear view of the angle of every body hair the man in front of you has, under overly bright fluorescent lights, illuminating all the scars of society with precision and clarity.
"Four to the power of fifteen, come to the counter please."
I followed Anna up to the desk. She set the manila down and explained her plan to the postal clerk.
"I need this delivered quickly, because I am dying, within the hour. Will I be able to receive post mortem confirmation of delivery?"
"I‘m sorry ma’am, this isn’t the delivery desk, here take this.” She handed Anna another slip of paper with a letter 'R' inscribed on it. "We recycle these slips daily for reuse so please return the one you had originally in this basket here."
The clerk directed us to another waiting area with even less space for breathing than the first. I almost expected that at some stage of this process we would be sitting on each others’ laps.
I looked at the girl next to me; she was clutching another slip of paper in her hands like ours. Instead of a letter, she had the Greek symbol for delta on hers. Across from me was a guy with the symbol for Mu on his. I started to worry that I was in the wrong waiting room. I hoped that when we reached the counter they wouldn't just exchange our slip for another one with a symbol on it. All these tokens of chronology, a number for an hour, a letter for a day, a Greek symbol for a lifetime.
Anna stared down at the girl next to me.
"Don't look at him, I'm dying."
“Theta, come to the front desk please."
"Jesus Anna we may never get out of here. We will just end up shifting ceaselessly through these innumerable offices, exchanging our numbers for letters for symbols for pictures, it may never stop."
“I need to mail this letter Will, I’m dying."
"In this place I think everyone is dying a little by the minute."
"Yea they've got our number," Anna said to me.
Even the signs around us were strangely morbid, claiming to offer incredible discounts of on post mortem delivery confirmation. Dissolving stamps that disappear in embalming fluid, stationary that disintegrates in rain or funeral tears. I began to wonder what kind of post office this was. At the front desk they seemed to be exchanging the symbols on the paper for slips marked with some strange hybrid of the Phoecian alphabet, perhaps even Egyptian hieroglyphs. The proper denotation for waiting on the paper appeared to be going backwards in liturgical time. I flashed that eventually they would just a hand us a stone wheel or flint rocks to wait with.
"Loin cloth, please come to the front counter."
Anna looked down at her envelope, "I wish I could just drop it in the limbo drop box and be done with it. I hate waiting in lines."
I peered down an open doorway to my left; it was littered with more people than I could count with numbers or symbols. There were mirrors or something in there, the offices and waiting rooms seemed to go on forever. With each additional waiting room, the people waiting seemed to be more and more translucent. They went on exponentially, each one more prismatic than the previous, waiting in enumerated shifts with their little reusable slips, severed limbs in a sealed luminous plastic wrapping.