Post Vital

by Jon Peters

It was 11 p.m. on a calm, late Wednesday spring night in the high desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico. A soft wind cooled through the trees and in through the open window of Sam Smith, a 43-year-old single bisexual man with buzzed grey hair, sharp cheekbones, and a hint of stubble on his pock-marked face. He sat in a comfortable brown lazy-boy chair on his porch, surrounded by a scattering of pine and sycamore trees, smoking a joint, watching the stars shift across the sky. His six-year-old cat, Luna, a plump tortoiseshell with a penchant for biting, slept on the armchair next to him, fur ruffling with the breeze.

Sam’s apartment sat on the first floor, facing south, his porch partially shaded by the stairs leading up to the second floor. Every hour a gong rang out through his window, reminding him that time was not on his side. The sound came from a grandfather clock he inherited from his mother after her sudden death in 2020, a victim of the first corona virus outbreak that destroyed his world.

Sam had returned from Erik’s house just a few hours earlier, smelling of sex, and after taking a shower and putting on a pair of worn satin slippers, he settled down with Luna to finish a Stephen King book. It’d taken him a month to read it and he was happy to be finished. He finished his joint as he finished the final chapter.

A police siren rose in the distance, a howl on the wind too common these days. Sam was over being scared. He’d bought three guns since the quarantine, after spending a lifetime never owning one. He always carried mace. The post corona world demanded it.

When his mother died, it was as if the world collapsed into a pinpoint and he was cradled in the nothingness of silent, deep space. He often imagined he was floating toward Neptune, and he longed for the methane blue comfort of the alien world. He left behind the desert world in those dreams, the one with an apartment under the stairs.

And this is where his mind and body sat with quarantine. If he did venture outside, it was to take hikes through the desert mountains, wearing a white, leather mask with silver spikes and cheap, fake bronze, bug-eyed steampunk goggles. He didn’t wear a shirt and he carried his mace in his right hand. He’d used it a few times, and there was a simple pleasure he took in blinding an unleashed dog and sometimes their irate owners. He hadn't used his .38 special, yet, and for that he was grateful, if a little disappointed.

The night closed toward midnight and Sam’s reflections muddled into dreams, but he couldn’t tell the difference. Mostly his mind wondered from zombie tales to true crime stories in which he was always the main character. Someone, somewhere, was always choking to death by his hands.

He desired that to be his real life, yet he felt older than he was, like some plague had swept him and given him the lungs of an 80-year-old. A joke, but not a joke, told many times, by many people.

Blinking away the stars, Sam Smith desired suicide but he lacked the constitution.