I must have been up very late the night before, since when the hammering began at my door, it startled me into the midmorning, and I signed for the certified letter in a daze. Inside the businesslike manila envelope was my death certificate.
That woke me up.
“Does the certificate have your correct name, address, and Social Security number?” growled the man on the phone when I called to inquire. It did. “Then what are you complaining about?”
“Well, I’m not dead. ”
“Give it time,” he snarled. He hung up.
I took the bus to work as usual. When I got there, the receptionist in the lobby gave me a scandalized look. “You’re late,” she said.
“I know,” I sighed, “ninety minutes. But you wouldn’t believe—”
“That’s not what I meant.”
When I got to our floor, the desks were all abandoned. Everyone had gathered in the conference room. The boss was giving a somber speech: “In light of this sad event, I think it best if we close the office for the rest of the—”
He saw me standing at the back of the room. “Oh!” he said, more in disappointment than shock. Everyone turned. I heard a few deflated sighs. “Well,” the boss said, “never mind, then. Everyone back to work.”
My colleagues ignored me the rest of the morning. “Only that moron could wreck our day off even when he’s dead,” somebody muttered.
I decided to use my lunch hour to clear up this confusion. The orderly at the morgue looked at me and the death certificate and said, “Everything appears to be in order.”
“But I’m not dead!”
“Take it from a professional—you can’t fight city hall.”
The orderly led me to a cold room in the basement. The wall was covered with square metal doors. One of the metal doors had a Post-ti stuck on it, bearing my name.
“If I don’t see myself in there,” I told the orderly, “I’m going to be very upset.”
He smirked, yanked the door open, and pulled out the slab. On it lay a full-length mirror. I saw both our faces in it.
“I bet someone’s feeling pretty foolish right about now,” he said.
Before I could start yelling, someone said, “Is this him?” It was a heavyset woman in a lab coat and plastic goggles, carrying a rotary saw in both hands.
“This is him,” the orderly told her. Seeing my confusion, he said: “You did sign up to be an organ donor, didn’t you?”
I got out of there.
Rather than return to work, I took an early bus back home. Someone had left a newspaper behind. Inside was my obituary, only a few lines long. My brother out West must have written it, since it asked that in lieu of flowers, mourners should send donations directly to his post office box. Never borrow money from family.
The mailbox in the lobby contained one letter for me, in which my student loan lender said that it was aware of my recent change of status and offered to collaborate on a new repayment plan that would enable me to meet my ironclad financial obligations.
As I stepped off the elevator and approached my apartment, I saw my girlfriend. The pack on her back was comically overstuffed. She locked my apartment with the spare key I’d given her, then slid the key under the door.
“Oh!” she gasped. “Did you have to startle me like that? Why do you always have to make a scene?”
“I’m sorry if I scared you,” I said, “but I’m not actually dea—”
She cut me off. “I have to go,” she said. “Dan’s waiting.”
I heard a familiar horn bleat in the street. “Dan from your office?” I asked, bewildered. “You let Dan from the office drive your little red Corvette?”
She reached out as if to touch my face, then seemed to think better of it. “Things have been dead for a while.”
I went inside to discover that she’d taken all my best DVDs and T-shirts, along with every gift she’d ever given me. But the laptop was still there—she always said it was a piece of crap—so I dully sat down and googled myself. Nothing came up except a message that said “404 Not Found—Why Are You Even Bothering?”
I took a nap. It didn’t last long, for my landlady came through with a group of college students. They glared in my direction. “Sorry about the mess,” my landlady said. “We’ll have the garbage hauled away immediately.”
They proceeded to ignore me. I felt a bit like crying but that was when I noticed the cockroach crawling out of the hole in the floor by the radiator. It skittered in place for a moment, then caught sight of me and froze. It’s little antennae clicked back and forth. A moment later, a dozen cockroaches filed up out of the hole behind it and they all marched in a line straight at me. I fled.
That was a while ago. I don’t know how long ago, exactly—time gets away from a person in a place like this. I know I must have made my way from the apartment to the morgue somehow, and maybe it’s a little strange that nobody saw me climb on this slab and slide myself into the wall, but who’s to say what’s really strange, in the end? In here, I bother no one, and no one bothers me. What more could you want out of life?