By Anthony Perrotta
When Dave entered the dimly lit viewing room, he scanned the area for any familiar face he could find. At the age of forty-seven, he already said goodbye to many friends. But this one was difficult. Dave had just burrowed his way through the sea of people outside and was now tasked with finding an empty seat inside. The other guests varied in appearance, behavior, and mood. Some were stern and composed, while others were yielding and distressed. Donald, the man responsible for the gathering, could always draw an audience. Dave hoped to get a seat at the front of the room. It was there a large window was etched into the wall. A drab colored curtain on the other side of the glass covered whatever lay behind it.
As he looked for somewhere to sit, Dave heard somebody call out his name. There was no mistaking that voice. It belonged to Steve, an old friend of his and Donald’s. He was sitting by himself a few rows down, and lo and behold, the seat next to him was empty. Dave excused himself as he brushed his way past a dozen or so guests in the pew-like setup. The two friends shook hands and asked how the other was doing. They both responded, “Enjoying the time I have left.” That was Donald’s motto—before and after the news that changed his life. Despite the circumstances, Dave and Steve were in good spirits, and glad to see one another.
“So, I see you’re on the guest list as well, huh?” Steve laughed.
“It’s a shame Donald didn’t have anyone else,” said Dave.
“You wouldn’t know it with all the people in here,” Steve said.
“And there’s even more outside,” said Dave. “You could always count on Donald to draw a crowd, but this is insane.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “you’d think this was for Oswald.”
“Well, he is the first one in the state in over fifty years,” said Dave.
“Donald always wanted to be famous, right?” Steve said.
Dave asked how long it had been since they saw each other last. He couldn’t believe it when Steven told him it had been seven years. It was for their friend Jaron’s birthday that year. “For some reason or another, he found himself in Rotterdam,” Steven said.
“That’s right!” Dave recalled. “It was probably the only time he was ever upstate.”
“Most likely,” Steven laughed. He had a much different tone when he said, “It was also six months before,” Steven paused, “you now.”
“I remember,” Dave sulked. “It always bothered me that I couldn’t make it to the funeral. Or at least the wake.”
“It was a tough one,” said Steve. “His mom was never the same.”
“I always liked Jaron’s mom. Her cornbread was amazing,” Dave said. “Whatever happened to his ex-wife? What was her name?”
Her name was Kim. “I heard she got remarried a few years ago,” said Steve. “It was horrible how they found Jaron.” He was in his apartment for two weeks. Eventually, his neighbors reported the smell.
“And now we’re losing another one,” Dave said. “Well,” he tried to continue but became distracted by two other guests, one man, and one woman, as they walked past. They were in their late fifties to early sixties. The man held the woman close as she sniveled into her glove-covered hand.
Dave said, “Donald always had an effect on people.”
Steven agreed as they watched the couple take a seat at the front of the room. “I still can’t believe this is it, though,” he said after a short pause.
“We knew it was coming,” said Dave.
“I know,” Steve said, “but it feels just like yesterday we heard the news.”
Once again, Dave asked how long ago this had been. “Your memory is horrible,” said Steve. “It was fifteen years ago. Other than the one time we visited Donald together, did you ever go see him?”
“Only once,” Dave said. “It was a few years after you and I visited. We got into an argument about me not coming to see him.” He explained how he always intended to visit Donald more, but just couldn’t bring himself to do it. “It was tough seeing him like that.”
Steve said how he felt bad saying goodbye the time he and Dave visited Donald, together. “I hated when he asked if we were doing anything after,” he said. “Like he wanted to tag along or something.”
Dave insisted they couldn’t tell him they had plans after. “Oh, of course not,” said Steve. “We did have a crazy time, though.” Both men laughed but forced themselves to bring it down a notch. Steve asked if Dave would be up for a drink at the same bar they went to that night. “If it’s still there, that is,” he said. “It’s been over ten years since we’ve been there.”
Dave said he could use a drink after. Steve asked if he remembered the name of the bar. He didn’t. “I just remember it was down the road, ” said Dave.
Steven started running down a list of possible names. “Rudi’s? Tommy’s?” he asked himself aloud. “Jilly’s! That was the name of the bar! Jilly’s! Do you remember the brunette in the tight slip dress who came onto you?”
“Of course,” Dave remembered, fondly. “Those platform boots, too.” Although he was looking forward to that drink, Dave admitted, almost shamefully, he couldn’t party like he did years ago. “Most nights, I’m in bed by nine o’clock,” he said. “Ten the latest.”
“Same here,” Steve shook his head. “But, if we have a few too many, we could always stay at same motel we stayed at that night, too.”
“Tried to stay at,” said Dave. “Don’t you remember when those hicks came gunning for us?”
“Yes, I remember,” said Steve. “One of the shotgun blasts blew out the window right by my head. I’ll tell you; that killed whatever buzz I was sleeping off. And what do you mean they came gunning for us? You’re the one they were after. I just happened to be there.”
“It’s not my fault that yokel couldn’t keep his wife from running off,” Dave laughed. “She had to have told him where we were staying.”
“And then he brought his entire pose with him,” Steve laughed, too. “I actually managed to hit one as you were pulling out of there,” he said while making a shooting gesture. Dave quickly forced Steve’s hand down.
“I don’t know how we made it the entire hundred and sixty-something miles home in the middle of the night,” said Dave. “We were doing at least eighty for most of the ride back.”
“You were all over the road.” Steve tried to hold back his laughter. “It’s amazing we didn’t get pulled over. And say what you want about rednecks up here—or anywhere for that matter. When everything finally goes down, they’re going to be ready.”
Dave agreed. “Not like back home,” he said. “Nobody is capable of anything in the cities. They’re so dependent on the nanny state.”
Dave changed the subject and asked Steve if he ever visited Donald. As it turned out, he visited several times. Dave also asked if Donald ever mentioned their squabble from several years back. “He didn’t,” said Steve. “And you’re right. It was tough seeing him like that. It killed him to be confined the way he was. There was just something about Donald. He had…” Steve stopped and looked for the right way to describe their friend.
“A zest for life,” said Dave.
“Yes,” Steve lit up. “A zest for life.”
Dave and Steve heard a slight commotion coming from the front of the room. The curtain on the other side of the window began to open, allowing a blinding light to shine through. Even though this was why many of the guests were in attendance, they still seemed uneasy and unprepared for what was about to unfold. The chamber beyond the window was white and sterile; and before the glass, bound to a propped up gurney, was Donald. He was wearing a light brown jumpsuit and slippers. And void of any emotion.
With Donald’s arms extended to the sides, two physicians prepared for the proceedings. First, they swabbed his arm with alcohol. Steve said, “I wonder why they bother doing that.”
Dave eyed the old, push-button telephone on the wall behind Donald. “Just in case there’s a stay of execution,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to have your sentence suspended just to die of an infection.”
As the physicians searched for a vein to insert the IV into, the woman who passed by just a few moments earlier broke down in tears. The man by her side comforted her, but soon had an outburst of his own. “Kill that murdering son of a bitch,” he yelled.
Steve turned to Dave. “Now, was that necessary?” he asked. Dave just looked on. There was numbness in Donald’s eyes. The man who always, according to himself, lived on the edge, was completely broken.”
“Do you think he can see us?” Steve asked.
“I doubt he can see anyone,” said Dave. He pointed to how their room was dark and the light coming from Donald’s room was pretty bright. “Plus, it’s probably one-way glass,” he added.
Dave and Steve heard a loud shushing right by their ears. They turned around and saw a man from the row behind them with his head over their shoulders. “Be quiet,” he scolded them. “You two have been talking and talking and talking this whole time!”
“Have some respect,” Steve spat. “We’re losing a friend here!”
“Oh, yeah?” the man said. “Well, your friend in there killed my brother!” He insisted they were “just like the scumbag behind the glass.”
“Listen,” Steve pointed. “If you don’t want to end up like your brother, I suggest,” he said before Dave intervened.
He told Steve to calm down and apologized to the man behind them. “This is a tough time for us all,” Dave said. The man didn’t accept Dave’s apology, but Dave let it go and encouraged Steve to do the same.
After the physician finished prepping, a man in an elegant, but still somehow tacky striped suit entered the room. He walked up to Donald and made a short verbal exchange. Donald didn’t bat an eye while the man in the suit stood firm and waited for a response. Steve asked Dave, “What do you think that’s about?” Dave shrugged but figured it had to be about Donald’s last words. In time, Donald nodded. The man in the suit backed away and signaled to someone out of sight. It must’ve been a cue to activate the microphone above Donald’s head. His breath and static could now be heard over the loudspeakers in the viewing room.
Last words were supposed to be kept brief. That wasn’t Donald’s style. The free Donald that is—the one without the IVs in his arm, ready to inject into him a lethal 3-drug combination. Years ago, Donald could go on rants which lasted for hours. Once he started talking, you couldn’t shut him up. He would talk a million miles an hour and end up deviating from where he began—only to go in that direction with the same energy and speed. The Donald on display, however, didn’t look like he was in the mood for such a tangent. Dave and Steve wondered if their friend’s last words would reflect how he might’ve changed in the fifteen years leading up to this moment. That was if Donald could bring himself to speak at all. It looked as though he could break down at any second.
“It could just as easily be us in there,” said Steven.
“I know,” Dave said.
As it turned out, Donald didn’t break down. It was quite the contrary. From the moment he opened his mouth, Donald’s eyes became focused. The friend who Dave and Steve knew and loved had emerged. Once he started talking, it didn’t seem like he planned on stopping. His final statement wasn’t one of defeat or regret. Donald made it clear he felt no remorse for his laundry list of supposed crimes. Everything he did, he did because he enjoyed it. He articulated this so well it would’ve been impossible for another party to put into words. His views didn’t fair well with the crowd surrounding Dave and Steve. Nevertheless, it still brought a smile to their faces.
“You have to live life on the edge” and “enjoy the time you have left,” Donald said in his final statement. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this provoked uproar among the guests. With his childlike smile, Donald turned to the man in the suit and said, “Alright, let’s do this, Warden.”
Within a few minutes, Donald was dead. The other guests filed out of the room, but Dave and Steve remained.
“It didn’t change him,” Dave said, contently.
“No, it didn’t,” Steve smiled. “And he still thought of you as his friend. He invited you to be here.”
“I could use a drink right now,” Dave said.
“Follow me,” said Steve.
And so they would drink to Donald. They would drink to what the world would now be like without him. And they would drink to the time they had left; the time their friend always told them to enjoy. Donald certainly would.
Anthony is a filmmaker and writer. Born and raised on Long Island, New York, he earned his B.F.A. in Film/Video from Five Towns College. His short film, 21st Century Shuffle, premiered at the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival, and his writing has been featured on Dan’s Papers, PopMatters, ScreenPrism, and The Untitled Magazine-Online Edition. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.