"First Me, Then You" by Brandon Adams
Veronique lowered her chin.
Sean poured the final mint julep. The ice pinged and blinked back sun at his eyes. Was it? Yes, it was: this pitcher was a belated wedding gift from his niece. Oh, that weird, wonderful girl.
The chores and affairs were now finished, having been sorted out in the city, a day later than planned, but what the hell. And here they were at last in solace, wife and husband, alone at their pine-needle-stabbed picnic table. But here he was thinking about his niece, now technically a nephew, who was at Vassar, where his ex, Justine, taught, who happened to go to a UCC where his neighbor’s son Albert oddly enough was a minister. It went on and on.
The low lake, meanwhile, gave them the silent treatment.
“We did it — we picked the perfect day,” Sean said. His eyes provided a commentary all their own.
Leaves rustled underneath a loon call. Sean asked, “Can we go over the checklist again? Just so–”
“It’s time.” Veronique grooved the soil with her stompers.
“Okay.” His hands squeezed hers on the moist tabletop. “You’re right.” Kent would be there in half an hour.
“Should we have warned him somehow?” Veronique said. “How long will he hate us? Oh, wait. I keep forgetting. We won’t be here, what do we care?" She gave Sean’s hands a quick squeeze.
“Right. Right. Honey, he’s a lawyer — we’re paying him to be objective.”
She took her hands back. “Is that a euphemism for immoral, my dear?”
“No, it’s a euphemism for professional. But for the record, yes, this is immoral.” His right leg pistoned up and down.
“You know, we are maybe breaking a code among homo sapiens, but as far as the planet is concerned, it’s a win.”
“I know,” he said.
Sean’s grandmother, an Agnostic’s Agnostic, had reached the age of ninety-nine before she cracked. Over afternoon tea and orange slices she’d asked Sean (actually she’d asked beyond him), “What happens to us when we die? Where do we go?" Primal defeat. Would he succumb, too? He stopped himself from glancing around the dank shore for a hide-a-key place to stash his spirit/soul/essence/what-have-you, just in case.
A slash of sun hovered, auburn. Then it left them.
Veronique inhaled, “First me, then you.”
"I know. Okey-doke.”
Her phone alarm, set for the end of sunset, went off.
Sean hollered at it. “WE KNOW!”
Veronique jumped up and hurled it into Lake Manhassetta, howling with laughter. Fantastic, Sean thought, with barely bearable regret. She was again the girl that had launched him on the wooing warpath. Then they hurled their glasses at a husky redwood, opa-style. Crash! Crash! Sean grabbed the pitcher to throw next. Wait, they had left it to her niece; oh, the fun was over.
“I’m ready,” she said, gently spinning the opening thingamabob of the revolver to face her direction. What’s the technical term for that? She looked at Sean without blinking, sitting on her hands. He looked at his loons dotting the lake – remember me.
A sparrow, branched four feet above them, was a bit too high to hear their six syllable benediction. What else could be expected of them now but to say “I love you” back and forth?
A shot was heard, and then another was not heard.
* * *
Sean rapped on the car window before Kent turned off the ignition. His face was Pollocked red. “You have to help me, Kent. You have to shoot me. I can’t do it. I can't, I can’t.” In one hand was the gun, in the other a note. He offered both with the insouciance of an uncle asking a child to pick which hand hid a chocolate.
Kent opened his mouth to say nothing. He twisted front, strangled the seatbelt across his chest, locked the doors, and closed the window. His elephantine tires popcorned the gravel on the pavement as he inched away.
Sean stared at his phone. Why hadn’t he chucked it into the water, too? He texted Kent to come back or else he would find another estate planner.
Or else what? Indeed. Wait. Not likely would Kent risk criminal collusion for a four-figure estate commission. Merely a week ago it would have been ten figures, and he would have been able to engineer a deliverance with no more uncertainty than hopping across a stream. But now this was getting dire. Well, not getting, had gotten. Oh, God.
Veronique would have known what to do. She had forbidden him to look at her remains, but she was dead and he could get away with it, and so he snuck a peek and lost his nerve to shoot himself. Stupid. Grief was for the living, and he was supposed to be dead.
Street-lamps on the road flashed on a half-mile away, peeking through the leaves. “Think,” Sean said. So, he failed at offing himself, and he would be unable to prove in court that they’d had a pact. No documentation. It was a pity, for transcripts of their preparation could have filled a tome. What’s more, the Liebestod plan they’d hatched was the result of deliberations so steeped in mutual accord that it would have actually proved quite the dull read. “So this is how it happens,” Sean almost said out loud. Well, not really almost. His face went slack. Fifty-six was not an unheard-of time to pass, but it was a poor age to become an inmate. Right. The prospect of incarceration finally gave Sean the impetus for suicide he couldn't conjure from the shame of insolvency, the threat of environmental apocalypse, the regret of murder, or the grief of widowhood. You learn something new every day. “Okay,” he said, “back on track.”
Steering clear of his beloved’s remains, Sean descended to the lake, side-moseying down the incline between his driveway and the shore. He held V’s gun by the barrel between his index finger and thumb.
Sometimes you own the plan, sometimes the plan owns you.
“Good night,” Sean said to his loons, who were looping back around the stilled waters. “Look at me,” he said to them. As soon as he touched the gun to his head, it clicked, the word he couldn't remember: "muzzle."
He pulled the trigger. It clicked. It fired. They looked.
About the Author: Brandon Adams was born in Texas and lives in NYC. He is an award-winning music director and an emerging writer. His stories have been or are about to be published in Chaleur, Two Sisters Writing and Publishing (contest winner), and Light and Dark magazines. He has taught at American University, San Francisco State University, and the Urban School of San Francisco. He has worked at Z-Space, 42nd Street Moon, and 3Girls Theatre in presenting new and rediscovered musical theatre works in San Francisco. Brandon is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature at Bennington College. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. https://brandonadamsfiction.weebly.com/