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I've Recently Thought About Ending My Life
Words by Charles Rammelkamp
Image by Christine Stoddard
“‘Gold dust twins’ is a three-word phrase in which the last letter of the first word is the first letter of the second word, and the last letter of the second word is the first letter of the third word,” Mister Wizard was saying on the radio. “What’s another three-word phrase that follows this pattern? The first word contains four letters and the next two contain three: four, three, and three. The final letter of the phrase is N and the first is G. Write your answers down on a postcard and send them to me, Mister Wizard. The winner, chosen at random from all the correct answers, will receive a Mister Wizard tee-shirt!”
Hewett hated these puzzles, but he always felt compelled to try to figure them out. G-blank-blank-blank, blank-blank-blank, blank-blank-N. What could it be? He turned up Keswick Road, on his way home from running errands, thinking of words. Run, Sun, Gun, Can, Dan, Tan, Sin, Tin, Win. What could the phrase be? First letter G. Fourth letter same as the fifth, seventh the same as the eighth, the last one N.
“Just say yes!” he blurted out loud. But no, the phrase may be three words, with the first containing four and the next two three letters, and the final letter of the second was indeed the same as the first of the third, but after that it fell apart. The fourth and fifth letters were different, and besides, the first letter had to be a G, didn’t it? Or was that an N? Or was the final letter an N? Or was it an S?
Confusing himself, Hewett gave up on the puzzle. He pulled into the driveway and collected the bag of bagels, orange juice and newspaper, and went to the door. He made one last stab at remembering the beginning and final letters before giving up. N? G? S? R? Puzzles! How he hated them. Who needed these cryptic messages, anyway? Lucky you can just walk away from them before they become too obsessive. He’d have to tune in next week to get the answer.
Hewett walked through the garage door to the basement and into the kitchen. He shouted to his wife, but Nancy did not respond. In the kitchen, he put the bag of bagels on the counter and went into the dining room, shouting Nancy’s name. Silence.
In the dining room, Hewett saw the note written in crayon in the middle of the table. It said, “Gabe, I’m leaving you. I’m sorry to be doing this in such a cowardly fashion, but I want out of our marriage. I’ll call you in a few days with an address where you can send my belongings. Believe me, this is best for both of us.”
“What’s this about Elaine Martin going out with Richard Wells?” Hewett asked his mother over the telephone. He was making his usual weekend call to his mother back in Potawatomi Rapids. It was a joke between them. Hewett, who hadn’t lived in Potawatomi Rapids for thirty years, since he went away to college, entertained his mother with stories about mutual acquaintances. Their next door neighbor, overweight, priggish Alice Barker, going on a crash diet and becoming a show girl in Las Vegas; miserly Maynard Lucas, the high school principal, having a sudden change of heart, like Scrooge, and giving a bundle to charity; the juvenile officer, Ted Nichols, secretly running a heroin ring. As it turned out, Elaine Martin, the divorced wife of Charlie Martin, the president of Potawatomi Rapids First National Bank, was a frail woman in her mid-80’s and Richard Wells, a man Hewett’s age, with whom he had gone to high school, a notorious homosexual.
Helen Hewett barked a short laugh. “Wouldn’t that be something,” she said–mostly to herself, it seemed to Hewett. Charlie had dumped Elaine thirty-five years ago for a younger woman and then had suffered a stroke only three years later and had spent the last fifteen years of his life in a wheelchair, spoon-fed by nurses. Elaine had gone around town hinting at divine retribution, karmic revenge. She’d had God on her side. Ultimately, Elaine became a deeply religious person as a result of these events and developed theories about moral rewards and punishment. Homosexuals had been high on her list of those needing heavenly chastisement. AIDS, she believed, was God’s way of punishing homosexuals. And yet, she’d always had a soft spot for Richard Wells, who’d worked in her husband’s bank and was known for the volunteer work he did for local charities. “I wish we had a girl good enough for Richard in Potawatomi Rapids,” she was fond of saying.
Helen Hewett had repeated Elaine’s words to her son on more than one occasion, mocking Elaine’s supercilious nasal tone, and they’d both had a good laugh at the irony.
“So, how’re you doing?” Hewett wasn’t sure if he should tell his mother about Nancy or not. What good would it do, getting her involved? She’d never cared much for Nancy anyway, and this would not only make her worry but would confirm her suspicions and make things more uncomfortable for Hewett.
“Oh, so-so.” Hewett’s mother had recently had hip replacement surgery and was hobbling around on a cane, having graduated from an aluminum walker. The conversation continued in this way with the usual uneventful news. Hewett told about his children’s accomplishments in school and commented that things were going well at work, though this wasn’t necessarily the truth.
“Oh, I saw Yale Franz’s name on television the other night,” Helen Hewett said, remembering.
“Oh, yeah, somebody else I know mentioned that, Roger Clark. He sent me an e-mail about it from California, but he said it was a different Yale Franz.”
“He’s lying, of course.”
“Roger?” Hewett wasn’t sure if this were part of the tongue-in-cheek exchange he shared with his mother. “Roger said he talked to him on the phone. Maybe Yale’s the one going out with Elaine Martin.”
“Believe me, Yale and Richard are very different.”
Hewett was taken up short again. What was it about his mother’s tone that made him think she was saying less than she meant, meaning something more than she said?
“I could call Roger and get to the bottom of it.”
“There’s no top or bottom to get to. And if there were you couldn't get there from here anyway.”
What did this mean? Was she losing her mind? Were they talking about the same thing? Hewett decided it might be best to just ring off, so he invented a story about having to take his daughter Eve to a birthday party, and he said goodbye to his mother.
“Why can’t Nancy take her?” his mother demanded, and Hewett was sure that she knew. “She’s always off somewhere else, isn’t she?”
When he hung up the phone, Hewett tried to think through his mother’s mystifying comments and all he could come up with was the unthinkable, that she’d had an affair with his friend Yale when they were in school together, and he dismissed that automatically. But it kept coming back to haunt him until he began to believe it.
“Your mother? I don’t know where she is, Brian. I thought you knew.” Why upset the kids, Hewett thought. Pretty soon they wouldn’t miss her. He remembered when their cat had been run over by a car and he’d obfuscated, telling them he’d just let Boots out the door and she’d be back in for something to eat in no time. After a few weeks, they forgot to ask. Of course, they’d only been four and six at the time, and now they were ten and twelve. Still, if he acted dumb, they might not suspect.
“Didn’t she say where she was going?”
“She went somewhere?”
“Well, she’s not here, is she?”
“I thought she was here,” Hewett said flatly. The boy did not look like he was going to cry. He just needed her for something.
“I need a ride to the library. I have to get a book out on Harry Houdini, for school.”
“I’ll take you to the library.”
“Never mind. I’ll wait till Mom gets home.”
“That’s all right. I’ll take you to the library, when I take Eve to her party. If your mother’s not back by then, that is.”
Harriet, the office secretary, came into Hewett’s cubicle Monday to borrow his newspaper. “Could I have the section with the death notices? My girlfriend’s brother died last night. He wasn’t feeling well, and the doctors thought it was his gall bladder, but when they opened him up, they found cancer embedded everywhere.”
Embedded Hewett thought, wondering at the word and having a vision of a man’s rib cage being torn apart, cancer cells multiplying all over the place, like maggots.
“Sure thing.” Hewett riffled through the sections of the newspaper looking for the obituaries. “What was his name?”
Hewett sat at his desk, trying to look busy. He knew the end was coming. Didn’t take a rocket scientist. His was always the type of job that got cut during a recession. Support desk. He wondered if the company gave such names to jobs like his precisely with eventual lay-offs in mind. He had nothing to do but daydream. Hewett idly regarded the nameplate on his desk with some irritation. His name was misspelled: Gabiel Hewett.
Hewett remembered his friend Yale Franz telling him how pretty his mother was, when they were kids in school together. He remembered Yale asking if they could go to Hewett’s house after school, to see his mom. He remembered Yale spending the night, when they were teenagers.
“Where’s Mommy?” Eve whined. “I’m hungry.”
“Didn’t you see her? She was just here a second ago. She had to step out for just a minute; she had an errand or something.”
“She told me to tell you to pick us up after school tomorrow,” Brian said. “She’s not going to be able to get us herself.” Hewett looked up sharply at his son. But Brian’s expression was blank.
“I know,” Hewett said. “She already told me.”
“What’s this I hear about Nancy running out on you?”
Hewett looked at the receiver, doubting he’d heard his mother correctly. He wavered between “Who told you?” and “That’s a lie.” But where did she get her information?
When he didn’t answer, Helen Hewett said, “You think she’s cheating on you?” Beat. “With Richard Wells, maybe?”
Suddenly in the spirit of things, Hewett said, “She may have gone off to Las Vegas to join Alice Barker in a floorshow. She’s been working on her can-can.” Maybe his mother didn’t know anything, after all.
“Well,” Helen Hewett said, more serious now. “At least I never cheated on your father. Unless you count that one time your little friend Yale Franz came into the bathroom after I stepped out of the shower and I let him look at me.”
“Can I just come back here, as if I still worked here? You don’t have to pay me. Just pretend I’m not even here. I won’t bother anyone.”
“I’m sorry, Gabe,” Harriet said. “I’m just the messenger. Mister Dorsey said you’re one of the people being terminated.”
“But I won’t be a burden, I promise. You won’t even notice me. I’ll even bring my own coffee. Just let me come back until I find another job.” Hewett looked fondly at the nameplate on his desk. He no longer even minded that they’d misspelled his name.
“I don’t know, Gabe. I just don’t think Mister Dorsey’s going to go for it.”
“…and for getting the correct answer to last week’s puzzle, Duane Gibbons of Arlington, Virginia, will be receiving a free Mr. Wizard T-shirt in the mail! Thank you, Duane.”
“Thank you, Mister Wizard.”
Hewett listened in vain for Mister Wizard to repeat the answer to the puzzle. Instead, he proposed a new one.
“A man overhears a customer in a hardware store asking the salesman how much ‘one’ costs, and when the clerk tells him ‘ninety-nine cents,’ the customer asks how much he’d have to pay for ‘four.’ The clerk tells him ‘ninety-nine cents.’ What’s the customer buying and how much will he have to pay for eight? Send your answers to me, Mister Wizard, and next week we’ll pick one of the correct responses and send that person a Mister Wizard T-shirt.”
“Dad? I told Mom I wanted peanut butter and jelly and she made me tuna fish,”
Brian said, holding up the sandwich as if were a dog turd. “Can I have peanut butter and
“Sure. Can you make it, or do you want your mother to?”
“Would you? I don’t think she’s home.”
“You want it on wheat or white bread?”
“Daddy,” Eve said. “Last night I dreamed Mommy kissed me.”
“It wasn’t a dream.”
“Hello, I was wondering if I could send a copy of my resume to your company
and to whose attention I should address the letter. My name? Yale Franz.”
“Daddy? Mommy’s on the phone.” Eve handed Hewett the receiver. Her voice was neutral, her expression blank, matter-of-fact. Brian did not even look up from the computer where he was playing a game.
“Hi, Nancy,” Hewett said. “Don’t tell me. You’re living with Yale Franz, right?”
“There are no answers,” Nancy replied. “Only questions.”
7/18/2018 05:20:10 pm
good pacing and a good story!!
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