It started slowly, like a cable car on first hesitant take-off after thirty years of malfeasance and neglect. He saw the school, bathed in the glow of first-day promise. Standing before him was the door to the classroom, his classroom. He fingered the lapel of the new jacket nervously. It was obviously new because of the way he kept constantly adjusting how it fell on him. There was no doubt it would be a staple of his wardrobe for many years to come. He couldn’t have picked it out himself that much was sure. It had all the characteristics of Vanessa’s esotericism.
He couldn’t believe her, of all people, would have stuck around. But there she was, hands buried deep within the sink, suds floating on air. He came behind, wrapping his arms tight around her. But not too hard to protect the growing belly, the welcoming product of three years effort. Charts, consulting periods of the moon, the consistent rushing home from the endless series of meetings that grew to occupy his time, all in the effort to thwart biological impasse. Ryan would prove to be as stubborn as the forces it took to make him.
But as things began picking up speed, new parents rapidly took on the vestiges of worn testaments to time. The convertible turned minivan, then mid-size compact. His references to the students grew less and less relatable to any shared cultural reality. They thought him the old man chasing away miscreants from a manicured lawn. He, the stunted minds preoccupied with matters of the flesh. They got along fine.
Eventually came retirement. Everyone dug into the cake, one of those nasty affairs with an overabundance of slathered vanilla butter cream frosting. The older colleagues dreaming of their day soon while the younger ones salivating at the opportunity to occupy the thrones. Let them handle the meetings, the seas of glazed eyes begging for release from state-sponsored torture. Even he couldn’t stand a bell ringing anymore.
And then, the expected rush, sixty years of wants and desires crammed into ten, fifteen if they were lucky. Travel on cruise ships, busses, anything to avoid walking on joints in want of oil. They got six before Vanessa’s diagnosis. Lung cancer. Stage four. He watched vitality turn into crumbling artifice. The funeral was lovely. Casseroles, cards, condolences followed. It was a long time before he stopped thinking of joining her prematurely.
Eventually, he could feel the silent push towards the doorway himself. His days were spent chasing away reality for the warm embrace of vast blackness. He had to move. Ryan insisted. He felt suspended like a specimen preserved in formaldehyde poked and prodded by this doctor, then that one. He already knew what was wrong. Life was built with an expiration date in mind.
It was when he saw himself closing his eyes for the last time on that Friday evening in the dead of January that he snapped back to his thirty-year-old self. Firing, the bullet found purchase within his skull. He crashed to the floor, gun dropping from his hand. There was nothing to do but stare at the floorboard in his empty apartment. The last thing he felt was a synapse flickering before fading out like the projector for a film cut too soon.