Captured dead or alive

Written in response to: Write a story about someone whose time is running out.... view prompt


Contemporary Speculative

This story contains sensitive content

There are those who worry about the end of their lives because they think they haven’t lived life yet. Some who worry about the pain of death. And then those who worry about who they leave behind and how they will get by. Then there are those religious ones, who imagine they will find their reckoning in front of a God that will show them the tally book. Christians worry they will be sent to blazing fires in the earth’s core; Hindus worry about being born again as a beetle, and Muslims that their souls will be tormented in the afterlife.

I have sidestepped all these landmines. I have designed my own death, which will be swift and complete. Until then, I play the odds and decide accordingly. Chances of dying in a car accident - one in 107. I don’t drive or allow myself to be victim to drivers who have seven beers before getting in their cars. I take trains and buses everywhere because I like the combined probability that all of us on there will meet our ends at the same time. By the way, I am no gambling nut. I leave that to those who want to disbelieve the high probability that the house will win, and get into gambling debts and either kill themselves or be killed by a loan shark. I simply research these probabilities. The National Safety Council posits there are too few deaths being on a plane to calculate a probability.

I fly a lot. I don’t have a family or children to worry about. Even if I had ever wanted children, which I didn’t, I did a personal calculation of the odds that they would turn out self-sufficient and it wasn’t looking good. My mother was a drug addict; I never knew my father. My mother never bothered to think about whether and how many children she really wanted. My twin-brother killed himself when we were seventeen. His death was painful and my mother is sure he is going to go to hell to then be reborn as a leech. My older sister has three kids of her own and a husband who beats her who she can’t imagine leaving. The jury is out for my younger sister and I try to talk her through my rationales, but being the youngest in a family with no money gives you a certain single-mindedness about getting the one thing you weren’t allowed to have. So she sleeps with anybody with money who is willing to share it with her. Men, women, couples, strangers, uncles. I am not saying she is a hooker because I don’t know where you draw the line on what people are willing to sell to make money. What about those who sell their souls?

I have lived life. Or at least what I believe life has to offer. I am a freelance photographer and sell my photos to the highest bidder. What do I photograph? The aftermath of a school shooting (probability of dying in a school shooting 1 in 1.5 million), families at border crossings, underground dog fighting rings - anything that people want to see, but not with their own eyes. They’d rather see the story someone else wants to tell them and I am happy to do that. I make good money but not enough to be targeted for it. I am sure by now you are pitying me because you are wondering if I have truly experienced life - because you will tell me that life is nothing without the love of your life staring into your eyes, or holding a newborn in your arms. And to all those things I tell you, when you see the worst of what humans are capable of, you don’t believe in the best of it. After all, the newborn will grow up and go into the world. You will try to protect it. Maybe you will say, don’t swim in the ocean, there are sharks there. Risk of dying from a shark attack: one in four million, three hundred thousand. Risk of dying by suicide, one in 119. It is more likely your kid won’t be accepted in your family for being queer or be a victim of cyberbullying. And this is all if you are part of the privileged group. When you are a mother crossing the border illegally or a Black woman, keeping your child alive is a daily battle against probabilities.

You are unlikely to remain with the person you claim to unconditionally love right now. You already know the statistics on this one, so I won’t insult your intelligence. I have loved - the man across the bar with broad shoulders, the maitre’d at my favorite restaurant, the saxophone player at my neighborhood jazz bar, a Mexican woman who was trying to keep her dying child alive at the border. I love often and well - condoms, always condoms - and if I add up the pieces of people I have loved, the length of time I have loved them individually, I have loved one person a lifetime’s worth. We believe love is so precious we have to reserve it; you don’t care who is dying at the border so you can secure your child’s future in your country. You will wish someone dead who hurts someone you love. If maybe we loved more people more often, we could save ourselves.

Why am I talking about all this? Am I nearing the end, you might ask. I’d say, aren’t we all? Either you live your life sensibly, knowing it’s coming to an end, or under a delusion of mortality. You might say you just don’t want to spend your life thinking about death. And I say the probability that you will die one day is 100%. This might bring you to the question of what death I have designed that I can’t seem to shut up about all this.

The first atomic bomb was built in 1942. Nine countries have nuclear power; US and Russia have a near equal number of warheads deployed and their agreement governing nuclear behavior runs out in 2026. I am betting on the worst of humanity. It’s undeniable around you every day. It’s known to the Black boy who is taught to fear cops, to the woman told to never walk alone at night, to the families in war zones who wonder when their flesh will burn. My death is guaranteed, just like all of yours. Make peace then will you, that your worst fears about life after death are that life after death isn’t better than your life now.

January 26, 2024 13:24

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