John technically had three kids: Mary, Maggie, and Mark. John also knew that he was going to die, probably alone, because his kids were all grown-up and off frolicking in society, unlike him. John wasn’t afraid of death, he rather embraced the concept, and the only thing he was afraid of was that it was so uncertain. People died of bad things all the time, from tripping over a nail before getting their Tetanus shots or finally signing up for a PTA-read-to-your-kids event on the one day an alumni pops in and tries to murder the place. John thought he had been a cheated person. That meant a good death he would be cheated of as well.

      So, John wrote a will. That’s just what the almost-dead do. John found a piece of paper and sat down, writing “To Mary” at the top.

      He had a little house on the edge of town, not entirely the country but in what the suburb of the suburb would look like, the diluted-city, which he wrote down. He had a savings account that was probably drained, but he wrote it down, too. He had an old, grey jalopy car that was his father’s old, grey jalopy car passed down to him in a will, so he continued the tradition. He wrote down whatever else he could think was of value, all his furniture that was probably better off used as firewood, or fire-upholstery, if that was a thing, though resourceful Mary could probably make it one; all his photographs and important documents, like the recently-renewed life insurance that John thought was a waste but Mary insisted on; and, in an immaculate frame but caked in dust, his Harvard diploma. Yes, John was a graduate of Harvard University, class of 1999, though John himself barely believed it and often touched it, took it off the hook on the wall and held it close, just to make sure that it was he himself that went to Harvard and not an unknown twin brother. John was a common name, after all, and with the looming Y2K it wouldn’t have been hard to mix things up.

      John’s Harvard memories were fleeting and pale, like a weathered greyscale photograph, and it was mostly the knowledge John had acquired that stuck with him. He had studied Mathematics and remembered most of it, the formulas and large, powerful calculators and such, and was on path to getting a Master’s until he met his wonderful wife Elizabeth. She was gorgeous, but not in a purely cosmetic way, which John prided himself for noticing. She was the smartest in the whole school, probably, following a double-major path. She was a success-story, too, coming from a small, unknown town, a dead father, and an alcoholic mother, but none the worse for it, as she was labeled as gifted early on and skipped a few grades of elementary school, went to high school early, and managed to be placid and angelic throughout the whole ordeal. And it took five proposals before Elizabeth looked at him with her doe eyes, fluttering her long eyelashes, and instead of shaking her head and claiming it was too early she parted her lips and whispered “yes,” then they were married and John settled down for the wonderfully dull world of accounting. It didn’t matter how mind-numbing his work was, because John could come home and see his beautiful wife and his baby daughter Mary, and their diluted-city house was cozy for the three of them.

      Then Elizabeth died. “Of mo-no-tony,” baby Mary said, struggling to enunciate the long word. Elizabeth packed up Mary and moved halfway across the state, dead to John. Sometimes Mary would send a letter, but as she couldn’t write, John couldn’t read the scribbles, and according to the courts Elizabeth and Mary called weekly but John’s phone lines were faulty and he never received anything. Also according to the courts John had to pay child support, because nine months after the first boyfriend Elizabeth claimed to adopt Maggie, impressing the courts, and nine months after the second adopted Mark, further smittening them.

      Thus ensued the months of John mourning his dead wife and daughter. But despite the hardships, John wasn’t immune to miracles. On Christmas morning of 2007 Mary came running, her feet crunching on the frost and slipping on the icy fallen leaves, and pounded on his door, sobbing. John was confused at how a 7-year-old had ran nearly two miles without adult supervision, but it subsided to his general concern with the smell of smoke. Mary’s hair was singed, and a large, angry burn marked her forehead, and as John swept her up into a hug and dialed an ambulance, hope blossomed in his heart, because he knew this was his ticket to primary custody. And primary custody he got, when Mary claimed that “Mommy had purposefully hit her with a hair iron,” and Elizabeth’s well-coiffed hair wasn’t doing her any favors.

      Mary was then his true daughter, and Mary had gifted him with a new life. Even when renters and roommates, as John tried to ease the financial burden, left his property, the most outlandish claiming that “the Devil had inhabited the place,” Mary stayed, never once abandoned John, or felt ashamed of his condition, or asked him for anything in return.

      Hence it was logical for John to leave everything to her. The rest of his family was never there, he argued. Maggie and Mark were barely his kids. Elizabeth was a dead wife. Mary was the only one left. And Mary was going to gift him with the best gift of all: the gift of death. Yes, Maggie recommended therapy and Mark counseling, but Mary was going to relieve him once and for all.

      Euthanasia was illegal. But so were lots of things that eventually became legal that so many previously had to suffer through to get. John was willing to behave illegally if the next widow could be gifted like he had. And it wasn’t like John was going to live with the consequences.

      Mary, however, was, so she decided that the best practice was for her to make the death as random and coincidental-looking as possible. John found it uncharacteristic of Mary to do anything randomly—she organized his entire schedule by the five-minutes and checked in on him at the same time each evening without fail—but he trusted her. And a few weeks after John completed his will, on the eve of his 50th birthday, a click in the lock signaled that Mary was paying her final visit. She was older, much older than John had been when married, but lived by herself in the middle of the city as a successful corporate leader, on track to being a CEO. John had never been prouder.

      “Hey Dad!” Mary called as she unwrapped her red, wooly coat yet for some reason leaving on milk-colored, plastic gloves, scanning him up and down; though she had the stoic eyebrows and wavy hair of her father her penetrating gaze was wholly her mother's. When looking at Mary John felt himself falling in love all over again. “You should probably get into something nicer.”

      John nodded and found his suit. Tweed, highly fashionable in the ‘90s, his graduation suit. All that was missing was the cap and gown, too tacky for a graduation of life.

      “Better,” Marry approved. “Now come and sit on this chair.” She plugged something into a socket, and it sparked before settling down.

      John craned his neck, which was difficult in the stiff, tight collar. “Why do you have a hair iron?”

      “It’ll just feel like a nosebleed.”

      John felt his heart pulsing in his throat. “What?”

      “Dad.” Mary put down the iron. “This is how you’re dying.”

      “With…with…you’re burning me?” John’s palms were sweaty, and he wiped then on his knees until patches of darker grey spread.

      “Exactly.” Mary picked back up the iron.


      “Because, Dad,” Mary sounded slightly exasperated, “you have an awesome head of hair for a middle-aged man. But your hands are always so shaky. It would make sense that you would try to do your hair and slip up!” She turned the iron on and let it heat. “I was going to cut your hair, but I figured a burn would be easier and less pain than slowly bleeding out.”

      John winced at the gore and closed his eyes. “Couldn’t you just feed me Windex or something?”

      John felt something hot approaching his nose; he didn’t know if it was the comforting Mary or the ridiculously threatening iron. “Dad, trust me.” I’ve done this before. Mary didn’t actually say that, but she spoke with the confidence of somebody who did.

      With Mary's words John felt his heart slow down. He felt almost peaceful. A world of abandonment, a world of responsibility, a world of working hard and it never paying off, and he would finally be leaving it. He would go to the afterlife, if there was one, and whether it was a good or a bad place he would know that there would be no consequences, for what could be worse than fleeting beauty leaving your mouth like after eating cotton candy or a cloud: you think there’s substance but once you bite down it all evaporates. 

      His nose grew warmer.

      Or John could be reincarnated, hopefully as a squirrel or a worm, something scurrying without a care in the world. He had experience living day-to-day, surviving off tasteless food and searching for any meaning to cling to. Mary was his only meaning but she had to live her own life.

      His nose was scorching. He could smell the singe of his nose-hairs and the skin boiled and burnt, dried blood caking onto the edge of his nostrils. The smell was awful, putrid, like rotting meet burned in a pan, until the caking blood and smoking hairs blocked his nostrils and he couldn’t breathe at all, let alone smell.

      Or John might have no future at all. He was already just a combination of haphazard atoms; the atoms could just reinvent themselves. Hopefully in somebody more useful. Hopefully in somebody with better judgement. Hopefully in somebody less of a failure.

      John’s nose felt worse. It was impossible to breath and beyond his eyelids light flashed white. In his delirium, he asked Mary for some Saline. “Please help me breathe,” he heard himself beg.

      The light grew brighter, like a sun bursting from behind the moon of a solar eclipse, not gradual but as if the sun destroyed the moon, blew it up as if there was no moon and never was a moon.

      John’s lungs failed. His heart stopped.

      Mary splashed her face and rubbed her eyes raw to look as if she had been crying, then called an ambulance where they declared John dead from excess smoke inhalation. They took an X-ray of his lungs and asked if they could use it in school presentations to discourage the use of cigarettes. Mary approved. They took the details of his death and asked if they could use it in nursing home presentations to discourage activities that might be harmful to a declining physical body. Mary approved that, too.

      Mary locked up the tiny house one last time and climbed into the old, grey jalopy car, clutching the Harvard diploma to her chest. It had taken a long time with its fair share of trials, but Mary was the one recipient of the will. She knew her step-siblings would be disappointed and her mother angry, discontent with their shared genes, their shared memories, their shared love. She had everything. She was her father’s everything.

      A cool breeze picked up and tussled Mary. She swept a strand of hair back behind her ear, her hand brushing the pale scar on her forehead. When she first got the scar, she winced at the pain, wondering why she would do such a thing, but as it faded Mary gained a new appreciation. It was a small price to pay to be everything.

August 29, 2020 15:29

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Batool Hussain
05:48 Sep 23, 2020

This is amazing. I'm glad u invited me over and I picked the story with the title that appealed me the most. You have got some really good way with your words. Truly. The vocabulary, the description and the pace was smooth. Good job!


Meggy House
14:00 Sep 23, 2020

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your feedback :)


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Meggy House
15:31 Aug 29, 2020

Hi everybody! This is my first story so I would really appreciate some feedback! Also, if you have any questions please just ask and I'll do my best to clarify quickly. I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your day!


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Arianna Noelle
13:45 Sep 05, 2020

Hi, Meggy! I just wanted to tell you that I think you have a real gift for writing...every word of yours is well-placed, and the character development is top notch! I really enjoyed this story. Please keep writing :)


Meggy House
14:26 Sep 05, 2020

Oh my goodness thank you! Your kind responses are the real gift here :) I'm working on a new story right now, so I hope that when it's submitted you enjoy it!


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