The doors open and I move with the crowd onto the A train heading south. The only seat left is a rear facing seat in the corner and I slip into it before anyone else can. I pull out my phone, hook up my ear buds, and blare my music. The tenuities is worth it. I pull out my beaten-up copy of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ but I end up just staring at the pages.
All those claims today. All the claims I have to sort through tomorrow. That seventy-year-old woman whose husband has just passed. I pinch the bridge of my nose and squeeze my eyes closed but that only makes the image of her stronger. How she had to take off her coke bottle glasses to wipe her tears. How she begged me to put her claim through.
She’s only thirty years older than me. She still has so much life to live.
Why does she want to die?
On the outskirts of Philadelphia lives a couple. Married just after the girl’s 18th birthday and spent the next 24 years together. In fact, their anniversary is near. Myself being the man in this story, one might think everything is great. But it’s not. After my wife’s miscarriage ten years ago things got estranged between us.
I hop off the bus and walk down the block. Weeds eat my lawn alive. The pathway to the house is cracked and uneven brick. The door sticks as I push it open. The house is dark. I drop my briefcase on the dining room table down the hall. As I ascend the stairs I pull off my tie. I throw it on my dresser and slip into sweats and a white beater.
When I get back downstairs Marge is just coming in the front door with fists full of grocery bags. I relieve her of the weight and we stash away the boxes and cans in silence.
“Beef stroganoff for dinner,” she says quietly as I take my leave.
“Sounds good, hon,” I say back. She turns away from me to dive into the fridge. I saunter to the table to work on claims papers until dinner is set down in front of me. She places a beer bottle next to my plate and my papers spilling from my briefcase. When she sits down in the seat perpendicular to mine with a light sigh. I know what she’s going to say before she says it.
“Not at dinner, John.” I glance up and meet her brown eyes and wrinkled brow.
“Let me just finish this one,” I mumble and hunch over the sheet with my red pen I annotate corrections that need to be made. The only sound is Marge’s fork tapping lightly on her plate. She’s not eating, just fiddling with her food, becoming impatient. I slip away my paper and push the others away and smile softly at her. She looks down and starts eating. “How was your day?” I ask to alleviate the quiet.
“These kids need a beating,” she grumbles. I chuckle softly. A smile breaks through onto her face. I hold my chin up with my upturned palm and look at this gorgeous woman. She pushes her stray lock of her soft brown hair behind her ear. I still dote on this woman. I love her until the end of the world. But something bad happened after the miscarriage, something she never recovered from. Her heart died that day. Her love for her job as a kindergarten teacher. Her passion for cooking. Especially her interest in me.
One day, when I was at work she moved all my things to the spare bedroom. I never confronted her about it. I just accepted this is how things are now. And has been for ten years.
“One kid poured glue in a girl’s hair.” She rolled her eyes and stabbed at her food. “I spent the next hour on the phone with her mother trying to wash a screaming five-year-old’s hair in a hand sink.”
“Her hair going to be okay?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said with a dismissive shrug. “How about your day?” She continues to just stare at her barely touched food. “You have to witness anyone today?”
“No, tomorrow maybe. An 80-year-old that just found out he has cancer. He put in an Assist claim instead of trying treatment.”
“He’s already lived a long life. It makes sense.”
“He has so much more to live.”
“Yeah, hooked up to a bed in the hospital racking up thousands of dollars of debt,” she scoffed.
“Better than just giving up,” I mumble. She chuckles under her breath and finally looks back up at me.
“You are the strangest Asist Claim Agent,” she accuses with a slight, playful smile.
“How’s that?” I scoop the rest of my food on my spoon and choke it down. I miss when she had passion for cooking. Food was better.
“You are in the business of taking people’s assisted suicide claims and you are so fervently pro-life. Do you read each one of your claims the riot act?”
“No, I just file the paperwork and try not to think about it,” I explain. I take our dishes to the kitchen and stuff them in the dishwasher. I hear her go upstairs. She’s shutting herself in for the night. I grab another beer from the fridge and sip it as I continue my claims at the empty dining room table.
In the year 2050, assisted suicide became legal but state regulated. Just like a claim for any other government assistance, you come into an Assist office and plead your case. If we accept your claim, on the next available day, you will be driven to the hospital for your lethal injection. Every organ, all your blood, and even your body will be donated. Your body will save lives. Your death will mean something.
I started working at the Asist office after Marge announced her pregnancy. I felt my job as a line cook at the greasy diner down the street and traded it in for an air-conditioned office and a cushy 401K. After we lost the baby a few months later, I never thought about leaving. When we lost him, our world just stopped spinning. Everything was frozen in time for the last ten years. I just go through each day like a drone.
I chug the rest of my warm beer after I shove the scattered papers back into my briefcase. I stand up and stretch out my bad poster from my aching back. It’s 1130 when I close my eyes to the day. Tomorrow, I have to witness someone. With that on my mind, I don’t expect to sleep well. If at all.