3.18 – a short story

I was given a month, day, and time. Notice how the year is conveniently missing. I was told that if anyone found out about this unfortunate condition of mine, something terrible would happen. Again, the important details were not included. Regardless, I wake up living on March 18 at 12 noon. The powers that be give me another year.

I look around the room I’m in, all hiccups and stale beer. Attractive people are draped over every piece of furniture with various shades of Solo cups strewn in every direction. It’s a perfect disaster, and because I’m miraculously alive for 365 more days, I’m honored to be a part of it.

To my left is the girl I spent St. Patrick’s Day with — we’re wearing “I’m with Stupid” / “I’m Stupid” shirts. Somewhere in my booze-encrusted mindscape I remember choosing the shirts unironically. Terry is pretty stupid sometimes, but that’s why I love her.

I reach out and trace a mascara trail down her cheek, relishing the feel of her scarred skin under my calloused fingers. It occurs to me that there will be a day I can’t touch her. Can’t feel her breathe under my fingertip. When the death day comes, she might think I disappeared and maybe she’ll be relieved, but I’ll be devastated. I’ll never tell her that, though. We tolerate each other in our absence of labels and kiss in the shadows of society’s gaze. We’re desperately horrible for each other, but if her love kills me I’ll welcome it with open arms.

I stretch my arms and arise from my comfortable slice of the floor. My back screams so loudly that my ears fear bursting, but otherwise I’m functional. Somewhere in my stomach lies the sour remains of my drunken escapades from the day before, and yet the kitchen calls to me with promises of hydration and a full stomach. I dance over feet and legs to reach the fridge. I grab the orange juice and chug straight from the bottle, the pulp lingering long after the harsh taste. I find a passable pan, a single egg, and some oil to get started. The sound of breakfast fills my ears and goes unheard by the sleeping masses.

Lost in the moment, I hear a familiar buzz. The buzz of reality coming to a halt. I look around and the bodies have evaporated into fuzzy nothingness as if hidden behind a gauzy curtain. The egg sizzles on another plane, and even the pulp stuck between my teeth dislodges. Out of habit, I look for Terry and hear my heart in my throat fearing the worst. Then I see her gentle curve on the floor next to the coffee table. Untouched. Alive.

“So we’ve come to another year. Congrats, Pea!” A voice echoes.

It’s only a matter of seconds before the disembodied voice takes physical form. A grand show of glitter dust spins in place until a dapperly-dressed someone steps out of the clouds. He’s the perfect description of Mardi Gras throwing up onto an outfit — all yellows, greens, purples, and white trim. His voice is legato and somehow knocks the wind out of me, leaving me constantly gasping for breath.

“You seem surprised,” I reply in bursts of wheezing air.

“Pea, Pea, Pea. Always a kidder,” he purrs, laying a cold finger under my chin. The gesture sends shocks through my body.

When I give no response, Mardi (as I’ve come to refer to him) removes his finger and points it to the sky. “Before you even ask, dear Pea-uh-turr, your time hasn’t come nor will I tell you when it will. All you can know is that you live to see another year.” His voice drones on with the burden of practiced speech. With a jolt I realize this is —

“Our fifth year together! Oh, Pea, I’m so glad you remembered. I know in the past I’ve given you the gift of extended life, but I think this important milestone deserves an extra prize, hm?” Mardi gives me a crazed grin that sits like a rock in my gut.

Without my realizing, Mardi disappears from the alternate reality and actually wraps the curtain-like state around his body like a cape. His figure fazes in and out of my sight as he walks. I’m frozen to my spot with the sound of my egg sizzling suddenly a deafening noise. I can smell it burning, can taste the orange pulp. This is happening.

Mardi hovers over my lover-but-not-girlfriend and follows the mascara trail, an action which lights my body on fire. Beyond my reach, Terry stirs and reaches for a familiar body. Mine. When her hands find air, she really wakes up — eyelashes fluttering and pupils large with panic.

“Peter?” She calls out, looking around. All of our friends have become translucent, and not even her trained sight can find me in the stark-white kitchen.

“Hello?” Her voice grows shrill. The way she whips her body back and forth makes me realize she senses something. Does she see the way I’m flailing? The smell of burnt egg? The pop of the stove being on long after its task is completed?

Then I see him — Mardi comes up behind Terry and looks uncertain as he performs his task. He unlatches his cape and twirls it around her shoulders in a long arch. With a mesmerizing leap, Mardi disappears into a rift. Terry shakes as the cape’s translucency shrouds her body and squelches any sense of normalcy. Meanwhile, my reality creeps back phase by phase.

First, the drunk idiots continue to snore on couches and banisters.

Second, I stumble forward as my feet gain purchase on the linoleum.

Third, Terry is gone.

I know her fate before my body; I run around like mad feeling every corner of the room, every fiber of the carpet. I know Mardi has taken her. I know Terry won’t return. But why can’t I understand it?

I was given the supreme gift of knowing the date and time of my death. The ultimate sacrifice included in the fine print was that no one else could know. As I think this, my tongue burns and I choke up black ink. As the drops fall on the carpet, one message becomes clear.

I know. You know. Now, she knows.

Featured image: reverse of volume RG by Yasuaki Oishi via My Modern Met