The Decision Button
by Rune Froseth
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Maurice kept looking at the page for a few seconds before he lifted his head and looked at the chair again. A broad smile emerged on his lips. “Well, well, parfait !” he whispered to himself. “This guy may have his quirks and faults, but he really is a pro!”
He pulled out the keychain from his pocket, and looked at the funny little key again. He took it off the chain, walked over to the chair and sat down. “Aaaah! Very comfortable! Almost as comfortable as or perhaps indeed more comfortable than the old chair!” And a nice leather smell as well.
“Well, let’s see ...” He looked at the insides of the chair, and could barely make out two round spots, just a nuance less black than the rest of the chair, probably not discernible unless you knew they were there, he thought, again with admiration for the inventor.
He put his thumbs on the spots and pushed gently. Immediately, and without the slightest sound — only as a sigh — the right armrest divided itself and a small control panel came into sight. He put the key into the slot and turned it to the right. The little light came on. Only now did Maurice’s smile vanish; he actually felt a pang of fear. Oh, my God! What have I got myself into? And what do I do now?
* * *
Maurice did not push the button. At first he just looked at it. It was beautiful. Big, black — seemingly made of some kind of rubber. It really looked alluring. He stared at it for a long time. Finally, he could not resist it anymore and touched it ever so slightly. He quickly withdrew his hand as soon as his fingertips merely brushed it, as if he had burned himself. Yes, it was indeed made of rubber. He looked at it for a while again, before he sighed, turned the key to the left and removed the key from its slot. The cover of the panel instantly and noiselessly slid back, and the armrest appeared whole, as if there were nothing special concealed there.
He stood up and walked out of the room to unpack his things from the trip.
Maurice didn’t return to the armchair that night. He hardly looked at it, as if it were a monster he had to avoid. However, little by little, his curiosity got the better of him and, the next evening, just before going to bed, he sat down in the chair again. And opened up the panel. And unlocked the key mechanism. As on the night before, at first he only sat staring at the button.
But then he put his hand over it, so that his index finger rested on it. He sat back and closed his eyes. “So, this is it,” he thought. “Here I am: alive with all my senses intact. And with a mere push of my finger I will be annihilated. All my worries will be gone. I will not need to get up in the morning. I will not need to wash, shave, dress and have breakfast. I will not need to see the smirky face of the damned concierge. I will not need to endure the eternal Paris rain and avoid all the dangerous drivers lurking around every street corner, trying to run me down. I won’t have to face my sour colleagues and my moody boss.” And so on.
Actually, there were many unpleasant things he would not need to face again, but they were — and he was very conscious of this — mere trifles, not scary, dangerous, or really painful. On the other hand, he would never again smell coffee, or the flowers on his daily walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg; he would never again savour the sight of a beautiful woman in the street; he would never again taste a magret de canard accompanied by a vintage Burgundy or listen to a symphony of Beethoven. All in all, when he made up the “accounts,” it was a vast victory for the go-on-living side. So he didn’t push the button. He just kept sitting there a while longer, feeling the texture of the button under his fingertip and musing over how easy it would be to put an end to his life.
This became a habit. Every night, before going to bed, he would install himself in his armchair, open the panel and unlock with the key, and sit there with his finger poised on the button. He would sit there for at least a quarter of an hour, sometimes half an hour and, once in a while, for an hour or more. All kinds of thoughts would go through his head — about his life, his ups and downs, his pleasures and pains, and he would do a calculation that always added up to a decision to keep on living. Or he would simply muse about life in general, or not think of much of anything.
The habit turned into an addiction. He spent more and more time in the chair. The button grew in significance. It also ended up symbolizing a woman for him. With its shape and texture it quite naturally reminded him of a téton — a nipple or even a clitoris — which he would carefully and ceaselessly caress.
He would even fall asleep with his finger on the button, and then wake up with a shock and a shudder, afraid that he might unintentionally push it in his sleep.
His curiosity also grew stronger and stronger until he just couldn’t restrain himself. Late one night, sleepy and a bit boozy, he actually pressed the button.
* * *
Nothing happened. Maurice waited; for exactly what he did not know, but at least he was sure that he must notice when he would start losing consciousness. He waited a bit longer. Finally he just couldn’t stand it anymore, and opened his eyes. It was pitch dark, but the moon gave a small flicker of light so that he could barely make out the features of the room. Then he waited a little bit more.
Finally, he decided to get up from the chair. He tried to sit up, but his body didn’t follow him. He tried to lift an arm, but to no avail. What? Have I been paralyzed? he thought. Then he realized that his mind could actually leave his body. He floated up towards the ceiling, turned around, and saw his unmoving body — with eyes closed — still in the chair. What in h... is going on? Is this my mind — my soul — leaving the body after death?
He floated around the room some more and then headed for the door. But how could he open it without any arms? That proved to be no problem, because he could easily float through the door. He flew back into and through the living room, and now headed for the window. Yes, the same thing: he flew straight through the window and hovered in the air above the street, without falling down. Remarkable!
Now dawn was approaching — he could see the sun climbing above the suburbs to the east. He decided to take a flight around the city. Oh, what a marvellous view he had from up here! He flew along familiar streets, across squares and parks he knew as well as his own pockets, but it all looked very different from above.
He decided to visit his office. And there, to his great surprise, he could see colleagues — even his boss — with moist eyes, and even some openly crying. They had apparently just received the news about his untimely death and were actually grieving. He was flabbergasted.
Then he decided to fly home. And there he found his family — even relatives he had little or no contact with — visibly distressed by his sudden and unexpected departure.
They were now leaving the apartment. His body was placed in a coffin, which was placed into a hearse, and they drove off slowly, slowly. At the Père Lachaise cemetery, the grave was already made. It practically beckoned the coffin, and he felt that it also beckoned him. And as the coffin was lowered into the grave, he felt he was sucked into it. He heard earth being thrown on the lid of the coffin. He started screaming. And then he woke up. Phew! It was all just a dream—
Maurice now realized that this had gone too far. The button had become an obsession, and taken over his life. He simply had to get rid of it.
He called Igor. A drowsy voice answered. Without as much as a bonjour, Maurice blurted out: “Igor, you have to come and take this bloody chair away!”
“Oh, yes? Well, you know that—”
“Yes, I know perfectly well that you will not pay me back a single sou of what I paid for it, but you said that I could return it, so please just come and take it away. I will even pay you for doing it!”
Igor coughed. “OK, OK, Monsieur, I will come and get it, but I am busy today and cannot come before tomorrow. I will be there first thing in the morning. Ça va ?”
“Yes, OK, but please come as early as you can, I simply cannot have this thing in my house much longer; it is really driving me insane!”
After this, he calmed down, and the rest of the day was very pleasant. He was in an excellent mood at the end of it, and after an exquisite evening meal, as he was going to bed, he glanced into the living room — and at the chair — for the first time that day. He smiled. “OK, my friend, I guess I will have to say goodbye to you before you move out!”
He walked across the room, sat down in the chair, pressed the two grey pads, and took out the key and turned it a quarter to the right. Then he closed his eyes, and slowly and deliberately pressed the button.
Copyright © 2020 by Rune Froseth