“Ixtab Takes a Day Off”
by Jennifer Dornan-Fish
Being the goddess of suicide is a total shit job. I see the threads of fate and it’s my job to prune those fuckers, cut them off at those delicate junction points where life hangs in the balance.
The Flower Prince, Dionysus, whateverthefuck you want to call the god of pleasure, gets to hang in Vegas. No shit, dude spends half his time there. Lady Rainbow, goddess of love, is in some honeymoon suite in Santorini listening to lovers shout with pleasure. The entire House of Mirth is out bringing joy to the world.
Yes, yes, we each have a job to do, maintaining the balance of the universe, joy and sorrow, life and death, blah blah blah. But seriously, every night I hear the call from ten thousand souls as they cry out their sorrow, vengeance, self-hatred, despair. They whisper in my head until one voice rises above the rest and I heed the call.
Which is why I’m here by my badass psychopomp self, clinging to the girder of this rusting, gods-forsaken bridge, watching some poor schmo jump. I look down at my pink fingernails, an attempt at insouciance, but now the color is just pissing me off. Screw you Bubble Pop Pink nail polish, screw you and your cheerful shine. When your head is full of the whispers of the lost, it’s hard to pull off easy-breezy.
But today, rather than murmur the glories of death into a despairing soul’s ear, I’m going to show someone what they have to live for.
Today, Christmas Eve, the goddess of suicide is going to save a life.
Charlie sits at a smooth wooden desk before a bay window looking out over a residential city street. Faint drizzle casts grey light into the apartment, which is clean and homey. A thin scratch of scars across his mouth mar his otherwise handsome face. Shaggy black hair hangs limp over his features collapsed into a geography of sorrow that ages him beyond his thirty years.
He has just finished composing a note.
Please take care of Hoover. His food is on the counter in the bag.
Don’t take this out on him.
As he signs it tears start to fall. Most people don’t cry, but Charlie is like a faucet.
I assume Hoover is the three-legged dog sprawled beside him on the hardwood floor. Though I’ve long ago lost my ability to feel any emotional connection to the souls I shepherd, this act of concern for his gimpy dog twinges something.
But the threads of fate are twining and splitting over his head: one side is thick, pulsing with energy, ending bluntly just above him.The other splits into an infinity of directions, off into the ether, so faint it’s barely visible, his life fading before my eyes.
Charlie is meant to die tonight. His suicide would not fail, the bullet in the pistol next to him would fly true.
It’s so freaking easy to help someone along that road. Whisper a few words about release, the glory of death, the peace. Set the scene with the right weather, the right sights and sounds, then show them images of desolation, loneliness, emptiness.
I lean in, so close I can smell sausage and honeysuckle on Charlie’s clothes. Normally I would whisper encouragement, pick up the gun, it will all be over soon. But not now.
Today I’m going to whisper….what. Suddenly I realize I have no. idea. what the fuck to say. I can outline the seven major reasons someone might kill themselves but I have no idea why humans want to live.
So I spew out the first thing that pops into my head: “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?”
What the fuck did I just ask?
Poor Charlie seems confused too; he whispers, “Now I’m going crazy?”
Okay, take two. What will work? I know, loved ones!
I frisk his mind, searching for a sense of love though I’m not one hundred percent sure I’ll even know what that feels like. The image of a girl materializes, willowy and strange but I can see why he loves her right away, she has bright eyes and a wicked smile that curls up higher on one side. The image of her increases his heart rate and he lets out a brief sigh.
Without prompting the dog gets up and nuzzles his limp hand. He absently scratches its ears, speaking to Charlie’s gentleness.
But nothing changes. The lines of fate remain the same.
I look for another love, maybe family? His mother who better take care of Hoover? But there’s no one else…yikes.
Okay, how about possible futures? Dreams? I probe and can immediately feel shame about his heart’s secret desire. Alright, maybe this is it! What dark thing does he long for?
Suddenly I see him at a hospital, with an accordion. He’s playing…Queen, in the cancer ward. Uhhh, what? Who dreams that? Gods help me, what do I do with that shit?
After thinking for a minute, I send an image of Charlie, leather clad with a top-o-the-line blue accordion, belting out, “Don’t Stop Me Now,” for an auditorium of bald patients, his polka back up band jigging behind him.
I blink repeatedly at this image. Turns out that death wish-dreams are much easier, oblivion is way less complicated than this absurdist travesty I’ve created.
Despite my own guffaw, still no change for poor Charlie. Damn.
I’m feeling fairly desperate now. Last thing I can think of is to alter the setting. I’m great at creating dead quiet. When I first started, I used to whip up a big suicide storm full of romance and drama, but something about the wild forces of nature would stir peoples’ souls. Turns out, when you suddenly feel the universe thrumming in your chest, you’re less likely to let go.
But endless drizzle is pretty good at encouraging release, so I’m thinking, clear up the drizzle, maybe add a rainbow.
Blam. Holy shit. My eyes have just burned out of my skull. Charlie looks up confused at the freaking Care Bear Christmas scene I just created. The blue sky is way too bright but it’s the rainbow that really looks like it’s right out of a Skittles commercial. Shit shit shit. I almost laugh out loud when cotton candy pink cloud puffs blow in.
He blinks in the brightness and holds a hand up to shield his eyes from the intensity.
But no change still. I’m not sure why I thought this would be easy.
People outside are starting to notice the wild shit going on, staring up at the blocky, 8-bit rainbow taking up half the sky. On the street below, a mother and daughter walk by. The mom is texting, dragging the girl who is holding aside her candy-apple-red umbrella staring up in awe. She has a look of sheer wonder and joy, then she catches Charlie’s eye.
And she smiles.
So fleeting it almost didn’t happen.
But it did.
The mom yanks her away and I sigh, wondering how much trouble I’m in with this stunt. But when I look back up at Charlie there is something new in his eyes.
I see the thread of his death unravel, turn to dust, a web of new possibilities blossom like a wave reaching outward along his future. I pump my pink-tipped fist and let out a little “woot!” as a feeling slams me in my chest leaving me breathless, wet eyed. For one moment I feel something I have never in all my days experienced, hope.
Then it’s gone and, as the voices of despair come rushing back, I put my head down into my hands and weep for them all.
Jennifer Dornan-Fish is an anthropology professor by day and writer by night. She has also been a dog walker, ditch digger, photographer, Search and Rescue K9 unit, social justice activist, video game writer, and felony one investigator. She can wield a machete, has killed poisonous snakes in the jungle, knows how to make a mean betlenut chew, and has bathed in chicken blood before getting a forehead hickey from a West African healer.
A dual Irish/American citizen, she has lived in London, Senegal, Belize, Micronesia, and all over the US, from Florida to LA. She is now incredibly happy to be settled in the Bay Area where she lives with her kick-ass husband and son.