craig craig

biography books audio and video contact news blog


"There are never any... successful suicides."
   —Ernest Hemingway

July 2, 1961

He rose with the sun as he had every morning since childhood.

It was Sunday and the old man was alone in the house with his wife, Mary.

George, his ex-boxer pal, was in the cinder block guest quarters next door. He trusted his damaged memory on that much.

The old man shrugged on his "Emperor's robe" that draped his wasted frame like a red circus tent. He hardly recognized his own face in the bathroom mirror—his wispy, white fly-away hair was going every which way and his smile back at himself was something terrible to behold. Passionate brown eyes each of four wives praised as his best feature were now as empty and dead as those of the trophy heads gathering dust at his abandoned Cuban Finca.

He reached for his toothbrush with a trembling hand, then thought better of it: perhaps the funk of morning mouth would mask the taste of the oiled barrels of the shotgun.

Mary had locked his guns away from him in the storeroom. She left the key to their hiding place resting on the ledge over the kitchen sink. He had seen the key there last night—as she had perhaps intended...left the key just sitting there on their first night back from the Mayo Clinic. The old man's rattled brain kept wondering at Mary's reason for hiding the key in plain sight.

A taunt, or invitation?

A characteristic half-assed kindness?

He snorted at the mystery of his last wife's motive for making this he was about to do possible, and, grimacing, tiptoed down the stairs to the storeroom.

The old man selected a silver-inlaid, 12-gauge double-barreled Boss bought years before at Abercrombie & Fitch. He broke open his carefully cared-for shotgun and cradled it in the crook of his left arm. He pulled open a drawer and selected a box of shells. The old man's hands trembled so badly he couldn't draw any from the container. Disgusted, he emptied the shells into the drawer and scooped a handful in a fast reach for his robe's puckering pocket. Two cartridges—more than enough to do the job—fell true; the rest pinged as they hit the floor and rolled to the four corners.

The self-declared "former writer" would normally be deep into his morning's composition at this early hour, but that was in another country, the old man thought bitterly, and his muse was at last dead.

He trudged back up the stairs, lugging the big English-made gun. He thought of his father, making a similar last climb up a flight of stairs, intent upon effecting a bloody escape from his own intolerable half-life. He now had the answer to the question he had posed so many years before, in a story inspired by his father: "Is dying hard, Daddy?"

He knew now how easy it could be, denied your desires and the things you are driven, for better or worse, to do.

He crossed the living room to the foyer directly under Mary's bedroom, pausing to stare out the window at the cloudless sky and rising July sun glistening on the ripples where the rocks lay thickest on the bed of the Wood River from which two deer now drank.

Gnats sported in the rapid's spray in easy reach of the trout that gorged on them.

Chipmunks darted through the dew-kissed grass, unaware of the old man's stalking cats.

Bald buzzards wheeled on the rising vapors.

It would be a good morning for others to hunt or hike or to go fishing.

As he turned, he was startled by a reflection in the mirror on the wall—thought he saw a familiar, hated face peering through the window. He whispered distractedly, "Creedy? Creedy, is that you?" He turned but there was no one at the window. He shook his head: What did it matter if they were out there? He was so tired of looking over his shoulder. So tired...

Seppuku by shotgun: If he could wait nineteen days, he could celebrate his sixty-second birthday.

The old man's trembling hand rooted the pocket of his robe for the first shotgun shell. His heart beat faster. Robbed of his own words, he resorted to those of another to whom he had once been improbably compared. He muttered the favorite quote over and over to himself:

A man can die but once... he that dies this year is quit for the next.

© Craig McDonald