What Would People Think?

by Harriett Fjaagesund


The day had dawned bitter cold. William thought it fitting that his last day on Earth should be as cold as a tomb. After all, he would be ending his life in a matter of minutes. He’d worked it all out in his mind after his doctor had diagnosed him with terminal mouth cancer last week. Dr. Philbin hadn’t said how much time he had left, so he assumed it was only a matter of weeks, maybe even days. The pain in his mouth was terrible.

William stepped up onto the kitchen stool and slipped the hangman’s noose around his neck. The other end was attached to the beam far above his head. All his friends had ridiculed him when he’d purchased the old house last year, but now its high ceilings were a godsend. “Guess I get the last laugh,” he said, smirking.

He attempted to kick the stool out from under him, but his right foot got caught in the cuff of his left pajama leg. He only succeeded in throwing his slipper high into the air. It landed on top of the fridge. He wondered what people would think when they found him hanging from his kitchen ceiling with one slipper on top of the fridge.

William ran a tight ship; a place for everything and everything in its place was his motto. He removed the noose, stepped off the stool and retrieved his slipper. Then he decided pajamas were too informal for the occasion.

“My grey pinstripe with that pale blue shirt has ‘hanging’ written all over it.” He took his pajamas off and threw them in the washing machine, turned the machine to wash and padded naked into his bedroom.

Fifteen minutes later he returned to the kitchen. He’d taken extra time to shave and pick out a grey tie and blue tiepin. He climbed back on the stool and slipped the noose around his neck.

The washing machine went into the rinse cycle. People called him an old fussbudget, but William believed in doing things the proper way. He removed the noose, stepped down again and put a capful of natural fabric softener in the tub. He’d stopped using dryer sheets after someone told him they were toxic and might kill him.

It suddenly occurred to him that Dr. Philbin might be called in to pronounce him dead. Perhaps he should leave him a note. It seemed the proper thing to do. He retrieved a pen and a small writing pad from a kitchen drawer.

Dear Dr. Philbin,

Please do not take my suicide personally. I appreciated your candor last week when you informed me of my terminal mouth cancer. As you no doubt were aware at the time, I prefer to face my destiny in a dignified, businesslike manner. I have no complaints regarding your services for the past thirty-four years.

Sincerely, William T. Baxter.

He pondered whether he should leave the note on the counter or on the table. He tried it both ways, stepping onto the stool each time and pretending to look through Dr. Philbin’s eyes. He finally settled on the table being the more dignified of the two. He placed the noose around his neck again and took a deep breath.

The phone rang. William frowned. He hated the sound of a ringing telephone. It was like someone shouting in his ear, demanding his attention. He envisioned himself hanging from his kitchen ceiling with the phone shouting at him. It would drive him right up the wall.

Muttering about inconsiderate people, he slipped the noose off, stepped down and answered the phone.

“William. It’s Sidney Philbin. I just had a call from the pharmacy. Apparently you never picked up the prescription I phoned in last week. Is everything all right?”

“Prescription for my terminal mouth cancer?”

“Huh? You must’ve heard me wrong. You have a terrible mouth canker. You need to change your diet.”

William pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it, then looked up at the noose. He’d spent the better part of one night searching the Internet for proper construction techniques. It seemed a shame to waste all his hard work.

He wondered what people would think if Dr. Philbin accidentally killed himself by sliding his neck through a brilliantly constructed masterpiece. “My white pullover and grey flannel slacks practically scream innocent bystander.”


Copyright © 2007 by Harriett Fjaagesund

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