Excerpt: Lincoln Michel, "The River Trick"


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"The River Trick," by Lincoln Michel

Upstairs Jack uses knives, Mrs. Murmur prefers pills, and Lloyd drops electrical appliances into his bathtub. We all have our vices. I, for one, drink heavily. I try not to on the job, though; with suicides, timing is everything.
Patricia and I moved into this apartment complex four months ago. We had been having a hard time making it in the city, and after I lost my job driving subway cars, we could no longer afford the rents. It isn’t so bad here on the outskirts. We have a nice building made of solid brick. There is a small garden in the back and we can take our cats, Spick and Span, outside to dig around in the flowers. Patricia has a longer commute, but I get to work out of home.

My various neighbors try to kill themselves at least twice a month. They are not very good at it. Upstairs Jack’s kitchen is stocked with plastic utensils. Lloyd doesn’t bother plugging the toaster in and sometimes doesn’t even fill the tub with water. Mrs. Murmur fails to realize you can’t overdose on sugar pills; the placebo effect just doesn’t reach that far.

In the mornings I eat a sawed-in-half grapefruit and a bowl of cereal. If I can, I exercise. Twenty push-ups, twenty pull-ups, and a twenty-minute run. It’s easier to remember that way. Afterwards, I check my schedule. Each month I take the stack of orders from the Apartment Wellness Committee listing the who/what/when/where. I lay out my schedule, squeeze my neighbors into their proper slots.

Of course, sometimes the clerk forgets to fax an appointment or else I sleep through my alarm and rush down the hall to find Mrs. Johnson or Upstairs Jack crumpled on the floor, neck wrapped in a broken piece of twine, glaring at me.

Mix-ups, complications; these are the inevitable kinks in the hose of human operations. Yesterday, Patricia burned my toast while talking on the phone with her sister. I understood.

*   *   *

It isn’t anything sexual, the suicides. I feel I should make that clear. I was raised in the country, a full-fledged farm butting right up against my backyard. When I visit my family, they ask me about this.

“We hear that people in the city do weird things in bed,” they say.

“We hear they are perverts, every last one.”

“We hear of acts that aren’t right to speak about in proper company.”

“Well,” I say, “it’s a crazy world every which way you look.”

But as far as I can tell, the suicides are not a part of this. My customers do not seem to be in any erotic throes. I do not find them with wet latex hanging from their limp organs or flecks of fake blood dotting their exposed nipples. They are always properly dressed, their faces curled in pain, not pleasure. I know there are people who believe that sex is an extension of death, but I have never experienced this. Things are what they are and not other things.

Read the rest of this story in Unstuck #3.