Abbiatti. With an exotic last name like that I could do all sorts of things, I imagine. Flipping through someone else’s mail in the hallway and hmming like I’m them is kind of exciting. What has Elliot Abbiatti been up to? Looks like he’s gotten a credit card bill, junk mail, and a small blue envelope with a hand-written address. It’s illegal to open someone else’s mail. I’m about to do something illegal.
My apartment is four-hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. The hallway is a worn ocean of sticky green sprinkled with blue fibers, spit and dirt ground deep between them. I read somewhere that most carpet contains fecal matter, picked up on shoes and carried in from outside, but in this place, somebody probably took a shit in the hallway at some point.
I like the layout of my complex because there’s a real narrow hallway leading from the front door, and then stairs leading up, and I like to imagine what would happen if there was a shootout right here. A guy bursting through the front door, slams it back against the wall, adding to the puncture wounds in the drywall, lifting his pistol and getting into a real-life gunfight with the guy at the top of the stairs.
I also like the stairs because a lot of the time the elevator doesn’t work, and you need stairs to get up without an elevator unless you're a ghost. Then you wouldn't. I guess there are probably a couple of ghosts in here, who knows?
Back in the elevator up to my apartment, I inspect the envelope as though I am checking it for anthrax, flipping it this way and that in my fingers, curling up the edges. I wait until I’ve locked the door behind me to make the first tear.
A sparkly, pink unicorn head is revealed, and then the unicorn’s body, and then “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Some of the glitter from the unicorn falls onto my sweater. Inside the card, written in a sloppy, difficult cursive is the following:
I love you and hope you have a good birthday today.
Elliot doesn’t seem like the type to have a kid, but what do I know? I only see him every now and then when he and I cross paths in the hallway or the elevator or the laundry room downstairs. He’s blonde, but it’s not natural looking, and he's lightly tanned and looks younger than I am; twenty-something, maybe. He isn’t a laborer I’m sure. He never has grease on his hands or callouses. I always look at people’s hands in the elevator. Hands are good indicators of who people really are. Elliot has soft hands, and he dresses business casual.
I look at the card again and feel kind of bad for taking it. Sometimes I do stupid, impulsive things like read other people’s mail.
The next day I thought about it on the bus instead of sleeping. When you take the bus enough, you don’t have to consider your stops. Your body just knows where your stops are and wakes you up at the right time. I’ve only ended up woken up by the driver at the end of the line once.
I was thinking about Elliot, and looking at all the sad people on the street, waiting to get on the bus, to go south, where buildings look sadder and streets are all crumbly. I thought that maybe I should give the card to him and say sorry for taking it. Maybe I’d say I opened it by accident.
When I got back to the apartment, it was bathed in alternating red and blue from the flashing lights of a police cruiser. An ambulance swallowed a stretcher between unlatched doors in front of the stairs.
The ambulance workers didn't rush, like they do when they’re trying to save somebody. On the corner in front of the apartment, my fat, loud neighbor Lydia from across the hall had her hands over her mouth, as though she is trying to trap something in there. She was standing right by the tree that is probably dead, but that nobody ever bothered to remove.
“What happened?” I say.
Lydia’s eyebrows pinch together and she grimaces at me under her hand.
“That nice boy Elliot killed himself,” she says.
“Fuck,” I say back.
I wonder if maybe had I given Elliot the card from his daughter, he wouldn’t have taken all the pills in his cupboard.
The woman in front of me in line at the drug store was twitching a lot, so I decided to talk to her.
Not like a tweaker, or anything. She looked impatient, bouncing on her heels. She was wearing this dress that looked like she just came from an interview, and she looked very nice even under the harsh fluorescents. I’d been looking at the back of her knees, not to be creepy, but I like knees.
I said, “Great weather we’re having, huh?”
She turned around and had those kinds of eyes that are almost clear colored, like marbles. She looked like she was searching for something, like maybe confirmation that I wasn’t some weirdo crazy guy trying to touch the back of her knees.
“Yeah,” she said and she twitched a smile at me. She had little laugh lines around her mouth, and straight hair. She touched her hair with her hand and a diamond winked at me under the fluorescent lights.
It was her turn next at the counter and after that I noticed that she waited a while until I was done at the window, too.
She stopped me as I was leaving.
“Hey,” she said, “Are you doing anything tonight?”
“No,” I said, “Not really.” I had been planning on looking at Elliot’s card some more.
She kind of squinted at me with her laser marble eyes,
“Do you want to get a drink with me?”
I nodded yes.
“My name’s Millie,” she offered.
“My name’s Elliot,” I said. I don’t know why I said that because that's not my name.
She began walking out with me, through the sliding doors, and into the parking lot, where the sky was starting to turn gray.
Dive bars are full of people like me, and I don’t really know what that means. Ordinary people, I guess. Unremarkable people. That’s where I usually go when I'm alone, but that’s not where Millie and I went. Millie took me to a place in the city. She had her car valeted on the corner. It was some French place where the plate you order is big and the quantity of food on it is tiny, and you pay a rent’s worth of cash for the privilege.
The waitstaff wore gloves, and led us to the back, where she’d reserved a table.
After pleasantries were said and we ordered, Millie leaned close to me and squinted real carefully at me, into my eyes. I don’t know what she was looking for.
She reached in her big purse and pulled out the crinkly prescription package she got at the pharmacy earlier. She pulled out her orange capsule of pills and plopped them on the table between us.
“I managed to get seconal,” she said, plopping them down on the sticky table before us. She looked at me again, with this same particular expression, trying to find something.
“What’s that do?” I asked.
“It helps you sleep,” she said. “I’ve been saving them. I have two month’s worth of bottles already. This is the last one I need. Tonight I’m gonna take them all at once.”
“Oh,” I said, blinking at her. “Why?”
“Because it’s going to kill me,” she said.
“Oh,” I said again. “I used to know this guy who killed himself.”
She looked like maybe she was waiting for a bigger and better reaction. But I didn’t want to tell her anything else about Elliot, because she thought that’s who I was. I was relieved when she started talking again.
“When I was in eighth grade, I made a suicide pact. I told my friend that if we both reached 40 and didn’t have husbands, we should kill ourselves together.” She looked kind of angry then.
“She did it a year early. And she had a husband."
I thought about Millie at her friend's funeral. "Sorry," I said.
She smiled at me, kind of weakly, and continued, "Now I need to keep my end of the bargain," she said, "I turned 40 two weeks ago and I’m divorced as of last week.”
“You’re a difficult guy to rattle, you know? You don’t overreact, huh?”
“Nah,” I said.
“I guess I just thought everything would be different by now. I just want to start over or be done, or something. Maybe it’s like hitting a reset button.” She had that faraway look in her eyes, like maybe she was imagining what happens after she got to reset things.
“I’m only thirty,” I said, even though it wasn’t true.
She laughed and took a drink, lips closing around the straw. “I knew you were young. I like young guys.”
And then our food came.
She was drunk, so I drove. It was the most expensive car I’d ever been in. We went to her big, empty hole of a house, up the stairs, music playing in the background, chandelier dancing to the beat, and had the kind of sex where no one cares too much, and there are no real expectations. It was nice, and she must have thought so too, because she thanked me.
She said, ‘It’s been a really nice last day alive.” That meant a lot to me.
Then she went in the bathroom. I waited for her to come out, but it was taking a really long time. Thirty minutes or so passed, and I got out of bed to see what was happening.
When I opened the door, I saw her sitting on the floor in her bathroom, under the towel rack.
She was crying, and the tears were leaving little streaks down her cheeks where they were messing up her make up. It wasn’t like she was crying hysterically. It was a silent, resigned cry. She was just staring at the pills.
I watched her, standing from the doorway. She didn't look at me as she popped open the container and started slowly slipping the pills between her lips, two at a time. I wanted to say “don’t,” but I felt like it was selfish of me to say anything. Maybe it would just ruin her perfect suicide day. And it wasn't what Elliot would have done, anyway.
After the second bottle, she started getting sloppy, slowed down some in her actions. Her eyes were a bit glazed. And then she leaned her head back against the wall, two pills still nestled in her open palm. She closed her eyes.
I looked at her for a really long time and thought about how she didn’t even really know me. She just knew Elliot. And I thought that maybe they’d meet somewhere and know each other, where ever people go when they die.
A week passed. Maybe a little longer.
I listened to my coworker Josh talk about his kid. I listened all the time to people, trying to figure out what kinds of lies to say when I pretended I was Elliot, which was more and more often.
“Hey Josh,” I said one day, “What do you think happens when you die?”
“You mean what’s my religion?” He asked.
“No,” I said.
He kind of looked confused for a second, drawing his eyebrows together and looking at me, but then his face smoothed out again, and he looked away from me.
‘I think you just rot in the ground,” he replied, and he was real quiet the rest of the shift, so I didn’t say anything else about it.
Just before my break that day, I got a call. I went outside to answer it and when I hit accept, it was Millie’s voice on the other end.
“How is being dead?” I asked.
“Great,” she said, “I gave Jesus a blow, and have wings and shit. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”
I chuckled, looking at the side of the building where everyone snubs out their cigarettes and leaves black streaks across the bricks.
“No,” she said, “Actually I got my stomach pumped. At first I thought it was you who called an ambulance, but then I found out my next door neighbor heard me crying earlier and us talking through the fucking paper thin walls.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I’ve just been wondering something. How come you didn’t call an ambulance, Elliot?”
“Are you mad?” I said.
“No.” she replied.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It wasn't what you wanted.”
There was a really long pause.
“I have to go,” I said finally, “I’m at work.”
“Okay,” she said.
And, I don’t know.
I guess that was the last time I ever spoke to her.
To be continued.