—So tell me why you’re here.
—I’m tired. Not exhausted, but … just, I don’t know, tired.
Sarah’s wearing that gray face sad people wear, that mask with dead eyes looks like an unpainted statue.
—Can you describe it? “Tired” is so …
—I didn’t want no attention, she says. —Some people, I think, will think I did it for attention. But it wasn’t attention I wanted.
—What did you want? What did you hope to achieve?
—Shit. What you think?
—And that seemed like a solution?
—No, she says. —Not a solution. An escape.
—But an escape’s not a solution.
—Didn’t say I was looking for no solution. Escape sounded fine by me.
The doctor glances at his notes. He spins his pen between his fingers and clicks his tongue. Seems like there’s some place he’d rather be, like maybe drinking martinis on his yacht or whatever it is doctors do when they ain’t talking to suicides.
—It says here you’re on LexiPro and Wellbutrin, he says. —Were you taking them when you attempted …
—Hell yes I was, Sarah says. —They numbed things, but they didn’t stop the thoughts, the bad thoughts flying through my head. They didn’t make me feel full when all I feel is empty.
—Elaborate on that, would you please?
—On what? Feeling empty?
—Mmm Hmm. Just how you feel in general. Guide me on a tour of a day in your life. And don’t leave anything out.
A clock on the wall ticks, ticks. Sarah feels her eyes pull toward it, like they hear the ticks and want to see what time it is, even though she ain’t much interested in the time, and she don’t even really want to look. But then it’s too late. She’s looking. And what does it matter what time it is, anyway? Ain’t like she’s got anything better to do. They holding her here for three days. They have to by law, or so they say. So what’s time matter anyway?
But then now the clock’s distracted her. And so she tries to think what to say. How does she even tell him about that empty feeling? How can she even describe it? Like it’s like this feeling crawls through her, like her bones is made of those hollow plastic tubes they use for plumbing, like her organs and skin are balloons filled with that stuff … What’s it called? Helium. Like everything she sees is gray. And everyone she sees is practically pretty much dead. That’s how she sees everyone: dead. They just walking corpses ain’t realize yet they dead—or will be soon.
Or so should she even tell him about how she stands in the bathroom in front of the mirror, staring at her face and eyes? Should she even bother trying to explain how dead her face looks? how it usually seems like it don’t even belong to her? how sometimes she stares at her face so long it seems to fade and age, and how her eyes usually—not always but usually—seem dead and decayed and … But then what’s it even matter? What’s it matter what she tells him? Ain’t no one can help her. No one’s been able to help her yet.
But then she thinks, ‘why not?’ Ain’t like she’s got anything better to do.
—What compels you to stare at yourself in the mirror? the doctor says.
—Don’t know. Just something to do, I suppose.
—What about when you’re at work? Do you find it difficult to interact with co-workers?
—Then social functions: how do you cope when you’re around other people?
—I don’t like spending time with other people much, she says. —They too sad, too dead and sad, and it makes me feel like my bones want to jump out my skin.
—What do you do all day?
—Watch TV. Or sit online. Sometimes I sit on the couch with music playing and just kind of stare at the wall.
—What do you think about when you’re doing that?
—Sometimes I don’t think nothing, she says. —And sometimes I think about … I don’t even know.
What does she think about? Should she bother to tell him about the time she stared at the wall for so long she saw her thoughts scroll across it like they was part of that stream of words scroll across the bottom of news shows? Or what about that time she watched her marriage break down, watched it right on the wall, like she was watching reruns of a TV show she didn’t like the first time around?
Maybe she should tell him about the way she like sits and thinks about maybe going on some TV show, maybe trying out for some reality show to make herself famous. Or rich. Or about how she sometimes thinks she should start playing the lottery. How she sometimes wonders if being rich will solve her problems.
But then she ain’t never heard of money making people feel less dead. Everyone knows money don’t buy happiness. Just look at the celebrities with lives like one long-running gossip column. She don’t even really think money can solve her problems. Her problems is in her head. Her problems is the fact—the sad and tragic fact—that everyone losses everyone, that happiness don’t or can’t or won’t last, that everyone does and will die. And ain’t nothing gone happen after death. Be a fool to think otherwise. You die and that’s all there is. You die and then … nothing.
—So you’re not, I take it, religious? the doctor says. —Do you believe in God?
—The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
—So I take it you a Christian.
—Good for you, she says. —But it don’t do nothing for me. If God exists, he ain’t helped me none. If God exists, I got a bone to pick with him for making me this way. For making me at all.
The doctor flips through his notes. His face and eyes are red, like he’s drunk or sick or ready to pass out or something.
—There’s a note here from Dr. Bel, he says. —It says you sometimes think you’re an animal?
—That’s ’cause Dr. Bel don’t like to listen. She hears something and assumes.
—But do you know what she’s talking about?
—Probably I told her we all animals. Born like every other animal. Only we think. And thinking makes us know things, things like how we gone die. Then we know we gone die, and we know ain’t no one can save us. But then we think and think, and then we think maybe fame or money will make us happy, or we think maybe buying something will make us happy. They tell you all the time buying stuff will make you happy. And then we try that and see it don’t work, and so we think some more. And we think maybe someone can save us. We think love can save us. But then we date and fall in love and we think some more, and but then it don’t even matter because we know whoever we with is a walking corpse don’t know he’s dead yet, she says. —And Dr. Bel probably wrote that note that time I said I wish I was an animal, an animal not cursed to think, to know everything is dead or dying.
For some reason, saying this and thinking this reminds Sarah of the time she was riding her bicycle—this was back when she was still a kid—and she hit the curb and her front wheel turned and she fell into the street and skinned her palms and knees. She remembers the sting, how much it hurt. And she remembers sitting on the street near the curb, the bike lying half on her and half on the street. And she remembers crying and looking around, hoping somehow that her mom heard her and was running to save her, to pick her up and kiss her wounds and tell her everything would be all right.
But her mom didn’t hear her. Her mom didn’t come to save her. And so she limped home, crying. Blood flowed from her hands and knees, and everything hurt when she walked. And she cried. She cried. And she cried harder and louder when she stepped into her house, like probably because she wanted her mom to hear her, to know she was hurt. And so she limped into the kitchen and into the bathroom. But she couldn’t find her mom. And so she limped into the living room and into her mom’s bedroom. And she stopped crying. Something made her stop crying. Like someone somewhere flipped a switch inside her head made her stop crying. And she stopped crying ‘cause she saw her mom hanging on the closet door, a belt wrapped around her neck. Her face all purple and her eyes bulged, like they was ready to pop.
—Sarah, the doctor says. —What’re you thinking about? Right now?
The clock on the wall ticks, ticks. Sarah drags her eyes to the clock and watches the second hand bounce, bounce. Then she thinks about her mom, hanging there. And she thinks about the note, that note stuck with a safety pin to her mom’s shirt. She remembers what it said, word for word: Everyone is dead and I’m dying and I don’t want to keep dying. So I’m going to die once and for all and just get it over with. I love you, my darling. Be good and do good. I love you.
The clock ticks, ticks.
— Ms. Poe?
Sarah watches it, the clock. Focuses her attention on it.
Everything is dead and dying, and the clock will die, too. Any minute now. Any minute the clock will stop and everything will stop being gray, and everyone will stop dying and simply die. Any minute now everything will end and she won’t have to think. Any minute now she’ll be just another animal drops dead and stops thinking. Any minute now. Any minute.
The clock ticks, ticks.
Another Thinking Animal appears in the short story collection, A Peculiar Arrangement of
Atoms, which you can buy here. Half of all proceeds will go to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.