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Four Days Before The Birthday

He reread the note. It might be better, he thought, but it is not bad. Short and clear. He went to the entrance and checked once more that the door was locked. It was. Probably, he already checked it twice earlier in the morning. Well, his short-term memory became not as good as it used to be three or four years ago but it was good enough for ninety. Well, almost ninety. And it was definitely good enough to go on with living. Mentally he was OK for his age; even good, he would allow himself to say.

Now, there was the main task in front of him: to climb the stairs. All the seventeen of them, two flights. Nancy always loved high ceilings, this is why she insisted on buying this house despite its price being ridiculously high. He never had guts to resist Nancy when she really wanted something. He looked up at Nancy’s portrait – right in front and above, at the stair landing. Caroline wanted to move Nancy’s portrait to some other place but he said “No”. Unlike Nancy, to Caroline he could resist. He, actually, often cut her short. Strange, he thought, isn’t it strange? Everyone would agree that Nancy was much softer and gentler a person that Caroline is. Anyway, it was time to act, to move up. Wasn’t he just trying to buy time with all his thoughts?

Yesterday it was the first time he couldn’t climb the stairs himself. He couldn’t even reach the landing. Only with Caroline’s help was he able to complete the ascension. She got red and breathed with difficulties at the end. “Sorry”, he said. “Wrong word, - she smiled, - you taught Ben to say ‘Thank you!’, right?” – “Well, - sighed he, - well, yes. Thanks.”

He set the milestone a long time ago: inability to reach the second floor without help would be the signal. Yesterday he received the signal.

He has been getting ready to this for a long time. He knew this was coming; he just did not think that it would come so rapidly. A couple months ago getting to the second floor was not a major problem.

He hoped, at least, to celebrate his nineteenth birthday. Maybe, he can postpone it? Just for a week. No, he can’t. He always was a man of great resolve; in his business there was no other way to act. The decision is the decision is the decision. That’s all. A week would mean forever. If he would allow himself a week, why not another one? No.

He found himself on the fifth stair and rejoiced. Yes, he is still strong enough in the morning time. Maybe? No. This is not open for discussion. No.

There was a small armchair on the landing that he put there four years ago. He fall in the armchair and for some time was sitting there without any thoughts, just breathing and listening to the sound of the air moving in and out of his throat. Then he started thinking about Caroline, how difficult it all would be for her. Quite difficult, very difficult. But she will survive. Ben and the girls will help her. Caroline is a survivor. He smiled. Words are like swords, their double meanings are like edges. He thought it over for hundreds of times. All the alternatives are worse. Both for her and for him. He recalled his trip to Spain with Nancy, specifically one cool evening in Toledo. What year was it? He did not remember. But he wasn’t panicking: everything can be recalled if enough time is given to it. The trip was his gift to Nancy for her 50th birthday, so, yes, it’s true, the year was 1956. Poor Nancy, she was already ill but neither of them knew it. Ben’s wife was pregnant with George; at that time it was anybody’s guess whether she would have a boy or a girl; he thought it will be a girl. How different the times were, and the people – completely different in their attire, in their manners, even in the way they walked. Especially in such old-fashioned corners of Old World as Toledo. He recalled ladies in long black dresses with shawls on their shoulders, men in their coats, completely impractical in such weather…

He got up and started the second flight climbing. It was good that there were only eight steps here, not nine like in the first one. Eight is much fewer than nine percentwide. And this was the last flight in his entire life, something to enjoy or, at least something to notice. He recalled his strange moment of pride – when he, by pure luck, was sitting to the right hand from President Kennedy at the White House dinner. Who would predict then Kennedy to be killed in just several weeks? He addressed him directly twice. “Mr. Wilkerson, asked he, do your newspaper readers understand my Administration’s attitude toward education?” The President was sixteen years younger and seemed so youthful…

He mustered the last step and stood leaning on the banister. Good. Now are just a few things to do. He imagined all the routine for so many times that he had no need to remind himself the appropriate sequence of actions. His breathing was calming down slowly. Actually, it is even better this way, thought he. Everyone has already planned his or her visit. Today is Monday, and his birthday is on Friday. The funeral will, most likely, be on Thursday, so they will have one more occasion. He did not like that modern expression “to celebrate life”, he never understood it. Well, he did not understand it ever before. Now he did.

He went to the bathroom and tried to urinate as fully as he could. Then he brushed his tees. He was proud for many years already that he had more than a half of his own tees. He looked at himself in the mirror, combed those few hairs he still had.

And then he went to his room. He opened the window and felt the unseasonably cold air. Good, thought he, good. Then he took the second volume of his favorite Book of Civilization from the shelf. The key was there, of course. He opened the lowest drawer of his desk, took the gun out, and placed it on the bedside table. Then he had to sit for several minutes. He was tired. He thought for a moment that it might not be so important for everybody how he is dressed. His body would be taken to a funeral home, washed, and dressed anew anyway. But he disciplined himself for such a sign of weakness. Yes, it is difficult for him to dress himself and especially to put the “official” shoes, as Caroline calls them, on. But he has no reason to save his resources for they would never be needed.

Fully dressed, he sat at his desk. He wanted to write another note, to Caroline only. A very, very short note. The text of the note was thought over many times; he knew it perfectly by heart. But as he sat at the desk, he realized that he did not want to write what he had prepared. So it took longer. But the note came out even shorter. It was also somewhat dryer – but Caroline would understand. She is smart.

He bent and looked down under the bed. Everything was all right. A suitcase full of old clothes was positioned perfectly. The bullet will not damage the floor. Police will find all they need.

He lied down. He said a short prayer. He took the gun and felt his pleasant coolness. Now he had last minutes to think. He knew it would be difficult to concentrate on important things. But he tried hard and he did. He recalled all the people of great importance in his life. Eleven persons. Five man and six women. Six women and five men.

Suddenly, the phone rang. He suppressed the initial, almost instinctive urge to answer it. No, said he to himself, I am not here. And so he was repeating to each sharp, clear ding. “Bimm!” – “I’m not here!” – “Bimm!” – “I’m not here!” It felt like playing some game.

The ringing stopped. All things considered, it was the time. Just several more seconds – to relax, to relax as much as he could. He realized that he did not take off his eyeglasses as he intended to. But he did not want to spoil the last moments for such a mundane thing. He inhaled deeply, exhaled fully, and pulled the trigger.


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