BEFORE my time (the 70s, I’ll say, though I view the entirety of the time before my arrival here as a single longish day), there was a spate of a certain type of Suicide in Dodge City. A hard-to-sort type, as the story goes, because it wasn’t unanimously clear whether these Suicidees were in fact dead. They were still, for what it’s worth, present in town, though they kept to themselves. It was broadly considered to be the case that they’d committed Suicide without any consensus on what, in particular, this meant.

 

At first, the Suicide Cemetery Manager campaigned to bury as many as possible, but very few turned up at their gravesites, even when subpoenaed, and none could be forced into the ground against their will.

 

This began when, one summer, a figure called or calling himself Suicide Sam either came to or arose from Dodge City.

 

What he did was approach people, in broad daylight, and whisper, near enough for them to smell his breath, “Now you may, as do most people, have until now shrunk from serious consideration of Suicide because of your perfectly reasonable reluctance to undergo pain, gruesomeness, agony, suffering … ”

 

He had their attention.

 

“BUT, what if I were to tell you that you — You! –could commit Suicide right here and right now with no strings attached, no blood spilled nor organs ruptured, and, best of all, no work or patience required?”

 

He’d pause, then continue. “By which I mean, would you give it all up if it didn’t hurt and you didn’t have to think twice?” He’d wave a hand suggestively, a calculated mixture of menace and enticement. “Think about it … no more tedium, no more fatigue, no more not-enough and way-too-much … no more worry about next things.”

 

Suicide Sam got a number of Yeses. When he got a Yes, he simply touched the consenting man, woman, or child on the shoulder, and said, “There it is. All done. Welcome to Suicide.”

 

By July, he was to be seen walking around Dodge City with a gaggle of distracted, uncertain looking people, all of whom were very careful not to talk or respond to or even look at any of the living they came in contact with, especially not their own former friends, lovers, colleagues, families, pets, etc.

 

Those lines were cut. If they ate, slept, or attended to any other functions of life, they did so in private. No one knew where they went, only that they could not be gotten-through-to. By August, they’d disappeared for good.

 

*****

SO MUCH FOR THE PAST, except to say that, somewhere in all of this, Suicide Sam fathered or in some other manner produced a Son.

 

Now, this Summer, 2013, is The Summer of Son of Suicide Sam. I see him all over town, propositioning people with the old promise of “No-Step Suicide,” touching them on the shoulder like his Father supposedly did, shutting them up for good. They fall into step behind him, hanging back, not making eye contact, while he works his game.

 

He’s propositioned me several times. I always rebuff him, saying, “If it comes to that for me, I want it to hurt. I want to work for it.” I consider this a core tenet of mine.

 

He always seems taken aback, but he shrugs it off and moves on. I saw him talking to Big Pharmakos the other day, and it appeared as though my old friend was about to accept the offer when he got a phone call and lost interest.

 

BY AUGUST, a new thing is going on: Son of Suicide Sam has retreated from the streets and his Suicidees have begun proselytizing on their own. They’ve broken with precedent.

 

Some say this new crop of Suicidees is nothing but a Band of Rebels, aimlessly stirring up anarchy that will buckle under its own weight by early autumn. But others see a more darkly religious aspect in it, something way beyond the small-time cult trouble we’re by now used to. “Son of Suicide Sam is a darker horse than his Father,” is a popular phrase of late.

 

The Suicidees come right up to you and, their breath awful and copious, whisper, “Do you wanna come back to my place, and … you know?” Always like that, with no variation in inflection or punctuation.

 

They’re good at finding you, too: they’ve cornered me in every restroom in town, many more than once, even the one-person kind that I lock on my way in.

 

No one knows what place “come back to my place” refers to, even whether it’s a physical or metaphysical one. The center of controversy, of course, is the solicitation’s final, ironic, “you know,” since, well, we don’t know. There are those who believe the whole line is simply a rephrasing of the old One-Step Suicide Offer, but these tend be the types who are in the habit of not putting too fine a point on things.

 

Others believe it to be a classic Murder Pickup Line, and are correspondingly wary. Yet others — those who want no part of the possibility that these people are indeed, legitimately dead — hear the line only in its obvious sexual register, believing it to be an entreaty either to spectate or to partake in the realm of the pornographic.

 

Needless to say, any requests for elaboration from the Followers of Son of Suicide Sam are met with silence or, at best, the exact same line repeated.

 

*****

THESE ARE THE general circumstances afoot when, early one evening, one of them approaches me in an ATM stall and asks, “Do you wanna come back to my place and watch some porn?”

 

I’m so thrown by the variation on the familiar theme that I don’t reply.

 

“Both genders,” he adds.

 

The thing in me that makes me do things makes me nod. “Okay,” I say. Something about the concreteness and the clarity of the question … after such a vague summer, I feel not at liberty to say no. Like I might never get another chance to understand something.

 

We walk a long way, past the defunct stores, the weed-cut parking lots, the cars on cinder blocks, the empty billboards, the depots where nothing is any longer delivered. Piles of metal parts, piles of fur and rubber, piles of sawdust and stripped paint. Train stations with smudged chalkboard Departures and Arrivals.

 

It’s safe to say this is farther out than I’ve been before. “Soon we’ll be close,” he says, and I realize it’s the first time he’s spoken since the initial query. “I’d hold off on any Darkness on the Edge of Town jokes you may have been about to make,” he advises.

 

I take his advice. After a lot more silence, we get there. It’s an encampment in a dry riverbed. People are standing around, gawking, moving in a reduced and restricted way.

 

This, apparently, is where The Followers of Son of Suicide Sam are living. Or if “living” is too fraught a word just now, I’ll amend it to “staying.” There are younger and older ones, and, as promised, both genders. The older are, apparently, the crop that the original Suicide Sam brought out of this lifetime all those years ago, in the 70’s if you will. There are bulky dirt-covered forms all around, in the shapes of trees, huts, animals, but with no definition, all equally dusked.

 

There is certainly no fire or smell of cooking food, or, for that matter, smell of human waste. I get very cold very fast. There are no chirping crickets or garter snakes whipping around my toes.

 

There’s nothing to say, but I say, “Okay, so where’s the porn?”

 

Of course, whoever led me out here is nowhere around. He’s melded back in among his fellows, just as dead as they are … as dead as, apparently, now, I am too. I can’t even distinguish people from background shapes like rocks and metal anymore, though I try to hold onto the idea that I’m not alone.

 

I’d say, “I take a moment to process what just happened,” but, suddenly and for the first time, I feel no hurry to get to things. No pressure to deal with them. I sit down and think maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a hundred thousand, I’ll stand up, or shift my sitting position ever so slightly.

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