As he drove hurriedly down the street he couldn’t help but notice the sun was shining. It was supposed to be a cloudy day; there was even a small chance of rain. He liked the rain. Rain, darkness, and clouds; these all fit his personality. The sadness that permeated his life was still very much there. After all these years he had finally just gave in to the realization that it was just a part of him. It was who he was, sadness. And he could never figure out why. Emma had always said he needed to see someone. “Get to the root of the problem,” was the line she repeated many times. She repeated the same things over and over every time she brought it up. It was always her that brought it up. “Don’t you want to be happy, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be over this sickness you have?” Those were her go to words. He never really saw it as a sickness, just sadness. And it made him wonder why she stayed with him. Why stay with someone who was miserable? She said she loved him. It must have been true considering they had been together for three years now.
He wondered if the sun was an omen; a light at the end of the tunnel. If it was good news maybe it could be the springboard he needed to start enjoying life. Maybe he could start living life and stop just letting it float ever so slowly away from him like a boat leaving a dock. Or maybe the light signified something else. If the news was indeed a worst case scenario it could be deliverance. Maybe it could be a way to slip away from life with no consequences. He had thought of suicide many times. In fact it was just another part of who he was. He thought of it every day, several times a day, but he knew he didn’t have the courage to do it. It wasn’t an option and even though he was an atheist every time he let the thought run through his head he couldn’t escape the realization that no one can be one hundred percent certain of anything. What if he went through with it and there was a god? What if reincarnation was true and he came back as a cockroach or even worse, an accountant. Even if he was certain he couldn’t die like that. For all his faults there was one thing he wasn’t and that was a quitter. But this wouldn’t be suicide would it? If he did have a serious illness and just let it take him that would not be quitting. In fact it would be quicker and less painful, no drugs, no long string of doctors visits knowing the inevitable was coming soon anyway. As he pulled into the doctor’s office the idea started to form in his head.
Pulling slowly into the parking spot he put the car in park and shut off the engine. The ideas filled his brain. And the chance of him not having this illness no longer occurred to him. It was like he had already been informed of his fate. And he knew exactly how to deal with it. He would leave. He would leave this life, his job, his girlfriend, and everything that comprised the life he lead, the life he hated and didn’t know why. That was the answer. The disease would be his deliverance.
Checking in at the receptionist and waiting to get called in the time never flew by so fast. Everything was flashing before his eyes, the scenes playing out like snapshots in his head. His mind was no longer set on finding out whether or not he had a deadly disease but on what he would do when he heard the news. Again, a short flash of time and he is sitting in a doctors office and hears someone tell him to come in.
“Hello Mr. Rockwell,” said the doctor with an even tone. He answered with the same even keel, “Dr. Orwell, how are you?”
“Quite alright” was the answer. The doctor wasted no time in delivering his message.
“Mr. Rockwell, I’m afraid it is as how we feared.” Dr. Orwell continued on in the vein of someone delivering awful news. “The good news is that with heavy treatment this is something you can survive.
He didn’t want to hear this. “Doctor, you mean to say something I can survive with heavy treatment or something I will survive with heavy treatment?”
Rocking back in his chair Dr. Orwell said, “Well, there is never a hundred percent chance of anything, but you would have a fifty-fifty shot at beating this, that is with you following the treatment regimen to the letter.”
More of Raymond’s plan forms in his head as he asks his next question, “So I’m guessing that would include drugs and other quite uncomfortable procedures?”
Dr. Orwell with a steady voice answers simply, “yes.”
He knew the conversation could not have ended there but the next thing he knew he was in his car pulling away from this place of deliverance.
Thoughts ricocheted inside his brain like a pinball. He pulled into the parking lot of an old abandoned department store. Was this his decision? Was this how it was going to end? He remembered how unhappy he was. He remembered how the rest of his family was already dead, lost in a car accident. His mind moved to Emma and how she would feel. He hadn’t told her he had been going to the doctors. This would kill her. But maybe he could save her by leaving. Everything around him ended badly, this could be her deliverance as well. Without him in her life she could move on and be with someone who was happy. This would be the best for both of them. As he pulled out of the parking lot and started home he had come to his final decision.
On the drive home he thought about how he could tie up all loose ends and leave. He had to tell Emma, that was a necessity. He didn’t want people looking for him like he was missing. He wanted to be left alone to die. Should he call work? No, they didn’t need to know. They would call Emma after he didn’t show up anyway, she was his emergency contact. What he was going to do was another question. That answer came easier than any other. He was going to go to the only place that made him happy.
His parents were always strict when he was growing up. He never got to go to the big parties in school. He had never been more than thirty miles from his house until his senior year in high school. That was the year they finally let him go. His friends were going to Myrtle Beach and he was going with them. His first taste of freedom opened something within him. He loved the beach, the fun, and the adventure. Spring break of that year was the last time he could remember being truly free, truly happy. This was where he discovered writing as well. He enjoyed writing. It got him through some of the bad times. Short stories, poems, and essays filled his computer. He dreamed of penning a great novel and being beloved and admired by his heroes like Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. Maybe his memoirs could posthumously achieve this. That would be his final task, writing the story of his life.
The inside of his apartment looked like what you would expect from a place inhabited by a couple in their early thirties. A women’s touch easily observable, pictures of friends and family on the side tables, fake flowers sat atop the bookcase, and a particularly frilly, aggressively pink blanket strewn across the back of the couch. Walking across the living room he picked up the picture of him and Emma on their first vacation together. Behind them you could see the giant billboard advertising the tiger experience at Barefoot Landing just outside Myrtle Beach; their faces frozen in a perpetual smile. He knew looking down at this picture this might be the last time he sees her smile and it would be from a photo. But he could not think on that now. He had to pack for his trip, his journey to the promise land. It would be quite an easy decision on what to bring. Aside from the essentials like a toothbrush, clothes, and other assorted needs he packed several of his favorite books for inspiration. Evelyn Waugh, Martin Amis, and Saul Bellow novels had helped him get through life in a way. He read when he was sad, when he needed a friend, he even made it a point to read for at least thirty minutes every time before he sat down to write. Several notebooks were thrown into his bag along with a handful of pens. Finally, he slid his old, dirty laptop into its case and laid it on top of his dad’s travel bag. He had kept this bag when his father died. He didn’t quite know why. His father had taken this small blue bag with its yellow logo of an eagle on its side every time he went away on business or vacation. He would now take it with him to escape this life he so despised.
He knew he didn’t have much time before Emma got home. She left work regularly at four and glancing at his phone he saw that that was a mere twenty minutes away. Being packed, all he had to do was tell his girlfriend of three years that he was leaving and never coming back. He sat down upon the couch with its blazingly pink blanket and thought about what he could say to make this as quick and painless as possible. But before he realized what he was doing he had pulled his phone out of his pocket and had dialed his work number. This was not part of his plan. He could just hang up now and no one would ever know.
“Thank you for calling Puzo’s Distributing this is Lance.” His voice was cordial enough for someone expecting a client.
He kept his cool as much as he could and soldiered on. “Mr. Cruet, its Raymond.” “I’m just calling you to tell you I quit.” He could not believe he came out with it like that, so quick, so straight to the point and as the last part of the sentence left his throat his voice trembled like it had never before.
There was a brief pause before his boss answered this unexpected resignation. “Raymond, this is Raymond Rockwell?”
He tried to regain his composure as best he could. “Yes, I’m out, I won’t be in tomorrow or any other day, I’m done.”
Mr. Cruet desperately tried to find an answer to why one of his employees was quitting so suddenly; after all Raymond Rockwell, while not at the top of his profession always pulled in good numbers and never caused any problems. “Raymond, why are you leaving us so suddenly, is there is a problem?”
He wanted nothing but to be done with this conversation and so he ended as quickly as he could. “There is no problem, I’m moving on, and that is the end of it; thank you for your opportunity, goodbye.” It was like ripping off a band-aid, if the band-aid had been on your skin for eight years of your life. He hung up on his boss, the man who had taught him quite a lot about what he knew. He was through; he was done, that part of this insane business was over. Now if he could just tell Emma, he could start the last leg of his life.
He never thought to call what was left of his family. He had one grandmother and two uncles on his mothers side but only spoke to them around Christmas. There was no need to bother; Emma would let them know when the holidays rolled around. As for Emma, she would come through the door at any minute. What was he going to say to her? Before the first thought could be formed in his head he heard the sound of a key being slid into the lock of the door. She was home and he now had to perform. He knew it was going to be ugly so he just let it all go in one long burst.
As she walked in he said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you but, I’ve been going to the doctors. I’m sick and I’m dying, and I’m leaving you. I want to die alone.”
She just stood there with a look that seemed to be equal parts shock and disgust. Emma said all that she could think to say, “Is this a joke, you’re not leaving.”
Raymond tried to make the retort as definitive as possible. “I am leaving. This will be good for you. You deserve better. I just want a chance to clear my head.”
“This is insane,” Emma screamed. “You can at least tell me what’s going on. What do you have, can you be cured?”
Still trying to get through this conversation as quickly as possible Raymond answered defiantly, “The doctor said I have a fifty-fifty shot at living, but I chose not to fight. I want to die.”
Emma, still shell-shocked from the unexpected admission said in a much calmer voice, “Is this what you think of life, of me? You are just going to leave and lie down like a dog and die?” The tears that had been streaming down her face now began to wet her shirt. Raymond, unable to say anything else grabbed his father’s old bag and his laptop, slid past Emma like a stranger on a crowded street and left the apartment without saying another word.
Reaching his car he threw his bags into the back and got in. There was no hesitation, he instantly put the key in the ignition, backed out of his parking space and was gone within seconds. The highway was only a mile from his apartment complex and once he turned onto Highway 74, the road that led to Myrtle Beach, the pressure he felt telling Emma he was leaving her fell away immediately. He was now on the open road and heading to freedom. He screamed to no one but himself,” YEAHHHHHHHH, I CAN DO ANYTHING!!!” It was like some dam had broken within him; a dam that was holding in emotions, and dreams. He felt liberated. All questions had now been answered. He knew where he would go. Care’s Sea Inn was the hotel he stayed in when he had his first taste of freedom over a decade ago. He knew what he would do when he got there. Raymond wanted to pen the story of his life. With the life giving beauty of the golden sand and massive ocean he would have plenty of inspiration. And finally he knew how he would die. Hopefully, his memoirs would be complete before the disease took him. If not then he would at least enjoy his final moments being in the place that gave him his fondest memories.
Turning on to the A1A in Myrtle Beach Raymond could see Care’s Sea Inn scrawled across the tall gray building. There had only been one hotel building with the Care name last time he was there. Now it had expanded into four separate hotels. Raymond Care was a frat boy who took the money his father left him when he died and opened a hotel on the strip in Myrtle Beach. He would follow his father in death not long after. The Sun News, the local newspaper of record read, “Hotel Owner Parties Himself To Death”, the day Raymond Care died. Care had used what was left of the money after buying the hotel to buy drugs and party with any college co-ed he could find. He was found dead on the bed of a top floor room of the hotel that bore his name, the needle still in his arm.
Raymond Rockwell always thought it was some sort of omen that he shared a name with this man. He thought of him every time he thought of suicide. Raymond Care lived a life he wouldn’t mind living, having fun and going out quick. Now he was pulling into his hotel. Walking through the double glass doors he approached the check-in desk. An old lady with snow white hair was sitting behind the desk reading. Her name tag read Elli. He stood there waiting for her to notice him.
After several moments of being ignored he said, “I’d like a room please.” Finally, looking up from her novel, she spoke with as little emotion as one could imagine,
“For how long?” she said.
He had wanted to stay here as long as he would be alive, but could not remember having the conversation with his doctor about how long he would live without treatment. “Can I get the room for a month?”
Again the receptionist answered with a voice of immense disinterest, “yeah, credit card and I.D.”
He pulled the necessary things from his wallet and handed them to Elli. “May I have a room that is as high up as possible please?”
Elli, the receptionist, again with as little fervor as imaginable answers Raymond, “yeah, here you go, room 1607, elevators are down the hall.”
As he takes back his cards he thanks her to no response. He thought to himself if he were to reach that age he hoped he wasn’t that standoffish. But then again he wouldn’t have to worry about that and losing his life while still young didn’t bother him. Taking the elevator up to the 16th floor he turned right and found room 1607.
Putting the room key into the slot he didn’t know what to expect. It had been years since he had stayed here. Opening the door he walked in and found it was exactly as it was those many years ago. To the right up against the wall was the queen sized bed. He thought to himself that this could indeed be his death bed. Beside the bed was a small desk where he would write his memoirs. On the desk sat a tiny lamp that looked like it had been sitting there untouched since he was last there. Straight ahead was the bathroom and over to the right beside it were the sliding doors that lead to the balcony. This was the first thing he wanted to do; to open those doors and look out into the vast ocean that always gave him comfort. Every time he came to the beach he would sit out on the balcony of his hotel at night and stare at the moon and the waves smashing against the beach. Now he was here and he could sit and stare at them for the rest of his life. There were no more work days, no responsibilities, no one else in the whole world he was beholden to. His life was his own.
After gazing at the dark blue ocean for what seemed like an eternity he decided to lie down and get some sleep. It had been a long day. But his past was no longer apart of his life. From now on his life was about him and him only. He would pen his story and let this disease that ravaged his body take him away. Raymond Rockwell slid out of his clothes and fell into bed and the last thing he thought of before falling asleep was no matter how dismal his life had been up until then the final chapter would tell of a joyous man.
Upon waking the next morning he thought about going straight to his laptop and beginning to write the story of his life. Instead he walked to the sliding doors that led to the balcony and stepped out into a day that was bright with sunshine. The waves crashed against the beach like they perpetually did; the sound of which made him feel at home. Again, giving thought to sitting down at the desk that held his old laptop he decided to eat breakfast. The hotel did not offer anything until lunch so he went across the street to a coffee shop that luckily had some sandwiches and croissants. Taking an egg and bacon croissant and coffee back to his hotel room he sat down for the first time and began to write.
Raymond believed that any good autobiography should begin with ones parents. Finding this easy to write, his fingers pressed down upon his old Hewlett-Packard and he typed the first words of his memoirs quite easily. He didn’t need to write any further outlines or notes for his book. He had been working on those for years. Raymond simply started putting words into his computer.
Ever since he started to write he would always say the words as he typed them. It helped him weed out the good from the bad. “Mother was an engineer.” He sighed knowing this was the first sentence of the only book he would write.” He always liked to start stories and essays with short, extremely blunt sentences. His teachers had never approved of starting this way, but he never changed this. After this opening sentence he flew through the stories of his parents telling of their births, to their careers, and finally ending with the car crash that took their lives along with Raymond’s younger brother. It was his first day in Myrtle Beach and he had rough drafts for two chapters. It was eight o’clock. He had been writing uninterrupted for nine hours. Saving his files, he closed his laptop and decided to get a drink.
Pressing the button for the lobby, Raymond knew he didn’t have to go far to find a bar. There was one in his hotel. Every time he had visited it looked same, but always had new staff and a new name. The elevator doors opened and he walked out to the right and went down the long narrow corridor that led to the hotel bar. The walls of the hallway were painted light blue and had assorted ocean themed decorations like life buoys and mini lighthouses as many other hotels did that sat right on the beach. Coming to the door of the bar he noticed the theme continued. The bar was now named, The Ark Beers Hotel Lounge. There was picture of an old man with a long white beard on a very large boat carrying kegs of beer and cases of liquor. Raymond laughed to himself and said, “I guess Noah wised up and got rid of the animals and brought what was really important this time.” Opening the glass door and stepping inside he saw that nothing had changed about the look of the place; just as always. The walls were painted that same blue the hallways were and had the same types of décor. To his left there was mounted a small figurine of a man with a captain’s hat reeling in a large fish. Straight ahead there were old lifejackets and diving equipment pinned to the wall. And above his head there was a seven foot long sail fish mounted over the entrance. The bar was to the right and in between it and the dining room there was a four foot blue wall that separated them that looked like it could be knocked over by a very aggressive sneeze. As he approached a chair at the bar a short, bald man that looked to be in his late 30’s or early 40’s turned to greet him.
With a huge smile on his face he said, “Hey there, welcome in, what can I get you?”
Raymond answered as he did on most occasions such as this, “Gin and tonic please.”
“Sounds good to me,” answered the man behind the bar. Mixing the drink and putting it down on the bar along with a thin cocktail napkin the bartender began with the obligatory server, customer conversation. “So what brings you to Myrtle, are you on vacation or are you one of the seven locals around here?” he says with a large grin spread across his small round face.
Raymond was taken aback by the question, not because it was out of the ordinary; he should have been ready for such enquiries, but because he had not thought of what to tell anyone who might ask. Creating a new life for himself he told a half lie. “I am a writer. I’m just here to hang out, and maybe do a little work, I don’t know, we will see.”
The bartender, seemingly more excited than Raymond was expecting shouted, “Oh great, well good luck to you!” “I don’t read much but, I admire someone who has a creative mind like that. I wish I could do something like that,” the bartender bellowed.
“Well there is no reason you can’t,” Raymond replied. As he said this, a small woman with dark brown hair came bursting out of the kitchen with two plates full of food. Raymond could not help but gaze across the room to where she was taking the order. She passed the small dilapidated wall that separated the dining area from the bar and turned right and bypassed one table only to arrive at her destination. There sat an old couple he had not noticed when he came in. The old man sat there with a look of excitement upon his face, napkin in lap, ready to devour the meal he had ordered. He was bald, expect for the sides of his head, the hair seemingly clinging to breath as he was. Wearing a white shirt with brown stripes, he seemed to burst with life as much as he seemed to be about to burst out of his top and matching brown pants.
The old lady wore a long, purple dress, with anchors on it. She sat in her chair, not quite as excited as the old man, but with a look of definite joy on her face. Her hair was white as the placemat that sat in front of her and she wore glasses that matched her grape coloured, boat themed dress.
The bartender continued the conversation as Raymond turned around again, “I don’t know. I have nothing to say.”
With a small grin Raymond replied, “That’s what everyone says.”
“I’m Arthur, by the way,” said the balding bartender.
Raymond leaned forward to shake the man’s hand and introduced himself. “Well now we are friends in my book,” Arthur said. “What do you write, Raymond, novels, stories?”
Again, Raymond having not anticipated such a question came up with a quick answer not entirely true but, not quite false either. “I am writing a biography, it’s on an obscure figure you’re probably not familiar with.”
“Sounds good,” Arthur replied.
The waitress returned from delivering the food to her table and leaned across the counter on the corner where the staff area met the bar.
“How are William and Carrie?” asked the Arthur.
“They’re fine, they are always fine,” came the retort.
Arthur continued on,” This is our new friend Raymond, Liz why don’t you say hey.” Without looking up from her phone Liz said a very unenthusiastic hello. Raymond returned the greeting with the same lack of fervor not wanting to meet anyone else. Sensing Arthur was the talkative type Raymond excused himself and went out the door that led to the beach. The hotel had a large patio that looked out onto the beach. He came to the edge of the concrete and was about to step into the sand when he heard someone yell out.
“Hey, did you just check in?” Raymond turned to find two young, blonde girls lounging on the plastic chairs by the door of the bar. They could have been confused for identical twins at first glace but as he came closer he saw they were not. Although they did dress a like in short white shorts and bikini tops, one blue, one yellow, they were distinguishable in another way. One girl had a tattoo of an eagle across her chest, the others tattoo was simply of wings, no bird. Both girls had a cup in their hands that resembled something you would see in an old gladiator movie.
“I checked in last night,” Raymond replied.
The girl with the wings replied, “yeah, we thought you must be new, we know everyone here.” “I’m Annie and this is Alexa.” Alexa lifted a hand in greeting. Raymond, with his mind on other things returned the greeting and said,” nice to meet you ladies,” and went back inside.
Raymond was not in the mood to talk but was in less of a mood to be sober so he took his seat back at the bar. The old couple was still enjoying their meal.
“Another one of these please.”
“Sounds good, Raymond,” Arthur shouted with a big smile on his face. While Arthur was making his drink Raymond gazed around the dining room again. He saw that the old couple had already gone. He thought it funny considering he just saw them as he came in. Arthur handed Raymond his drink and with one gulp he took it all down.
“Well, I have to get some sleep; you can put it on the room, yes.” Arthur answered with an emphatic, “sounds good!”
Walking back up to his room Raymond thought of nothing but shutting his eyes so he could get up early and work on his life story. Slipping off his shoes he got into bed and laid there staring at the ceiling listening to the calming sound of the waves hitting the sand. Soon his eyes became heavy and he drifted off to sleep wholly content for the first time in many years.
Raymond’s second day at the beach started off much better for someone trying to pen their memoirs. Eight o’clock and he was up and immediately at the computer relating the early parts of his life. When he was a kid he lived a pretty normal life. Going to school, playing in the back yard of his house during summer, and making friends he thought he would have forever made up the majority of his existence. He enjoyed his life like most children do even if they have a terrible one. When you are a kid you don’t know any better, but his life was perfect. His mother and father loved each other and he had a brother to play with and share life with.
It was his teenage years that life started to go chaotic. Most teenagers think life is hard and unbearable but his actually fit the bill. He was sixteen when he was told his father had cancer. Raymond was sat down on his parent’s bed and told that chances were his father would not be around much longer. After that day his mother seemed different. Not just worried and upset but, she changed in a way that didn’t seem normal. She was never herself after that day. One morning Raymond walked out of his house to go to school and the first thing he saw was his mother standing on the porch smoking a cigarette, arms folded and a look upon her face he had never seen. She looked like a defeated person, like her husband of twenty years was already dead and now she couldn’t go on. She had never smoked in her life as far as Raymond knew. The sight of this shocked him almost as much as the revelation that his father might not survive his disease.
But, as it turns out life never seems to run out of surprises. His dad came home one day and announced he was cancer free. It was a miracle! Raymond listened as his father relayed the message his doctor had told him; the chemo had worked and he was going to live. He wasn’t completely out of the woods yet but, now chances were he was going to live to see his children get married, have kids, and he would grow old with the only woman he had ever thought about loving.
And he did live; for four more years. Raymond was twenty when the car crash took the lives of not only the person he had once had come to terms with he might lose, but the lives of his entire immediate family. There was no illegal activity, no one to blame really. A man slid through the intersection due to brake failure or that was the official report anyway. His car collided with Raymond’s family’s car and killed everyone inside. Raymond wasn’t there because he was arguing with his dad that day. They were all going to get ice cream and he stayed behind.
Raymond wanted to stay in the dorms at college even though he lived five miles from there. His dad was insisting he stay at home to save some money. But Raymond wanted freedom, freedom from the man who not that long ago he could have lost forever. He just wanted to be out of his parent’s house and have the full college experience. Now they were all gone. Raymond couldn’t help but blame himself after the wreck. “Was dad not paying attention because he was mad at me?” “Did I cause the accident?” Raymond had kept these feelings inside since that day.
He couldn’t write anymore that day. Raymond saved his file and went down stairs for a couple drinks at the bar. The first thing he saw when walking through the door of the Ark Beer’s Hotel Lounge was the old couple. They were sitting at the same table wearing the same clothes from before, only different colors. The man’s shirt was still white but with blue stripes and blue pants. The old woman was wearing the same dress as before with the anchors but, in a pretty green color. It looked like a deep blue green you would see sparkling on the ocean.
Making his way to the bar he noticed that apart from the old couple he was the only one there again. Arthur was cutting limes at the bar with his back turned to Raymond, his bald spot shining in the light of the bar.
“A G&T Arthur, if you don’t mind.”
Arthur whirling around to greet him, said, “Hey, Raymond, good to see you again, sounds good.” As Arthur turned to make his drink Raymond was startled by Liz bursting out of the kitchen carrying two plates with steaming food. She was headed for the only table there, the old couple with the consistent fashion sense.
Feeling more at home and accomplished due to his getting some writing done the past two days, Raymond sparked up a conversation with Arthur as he finished making his drink, “So has it been as slow as last night?”
Arthur, always seemingly very positive answered, “Oh, there has been people in and out all day, how is your work going?”
Raymond, now with his guard down a little said, “I did a little writing today, I’m happy with it.”
“Hey, sounds good my friend!” Arthur answered empathically. “I’m still jealous of that, I wish I had a story inside me somewhere, but my life is just a little too boring for that, but hey, I’ll take what I’ve got here at the bar.”
Raymond, repeating what he told Arthur on his first night, “Everyone has a story to tell, you just have to sit down and let it out.”
“Yeah, sounds good to me”, came the reply. Raymond not being able resist the sounds and smells of the ocean excused himself,” Listen, I’m going to take my drink outside and enjoy some fresh air for a while okay?”
“Sounds good, Raymond,” came the reply.
Walking out onto the hotel patio, looking out to the ocean Raymond failed to see the blonde girls sitting on the same beach chairs from before. “Hey man, back again?” “Oh, hello ladies,” Raymond tried to sound like he wasn’t happy to see them. They were extremely attractive even though they were a lot younger than Raymond and most likely out of his league on his best day; holding up the same antique cups from before they shouted in unison, “cheers!”
It made Raymond happy to be talking to them. He had planned to be tucked away in his room for the most part during his short stay here but, now that he had the attention of people he had never met he felt a little more alive. Raymond couldn’t help but fantasize about being friends with them. Not only because they possessed a sexual appeal anyone would notice but, because they seemed so happy, and had a contentment about them like nothing could upset the life they had carved out for themselves. He pictured in his head that he was their age and was sitting in a beach chair right beside them, talking endlessly and laughing at everything that they saw.
Being too shy to strike up any further conversation he went back inside to the bar. Upon entering he noticed the same scene he had seen his first night. The old couple was sitting in the same chairs enjoying their meals. Taking a seat at the bar Arthur offered him another drink. “Ready for number two, Raymond?”
“Yeah, go ahead Mr. mixologist.”
“Sounds good, I know how you like ‘em.” Arthur said.
Raymond leaned back and finished what was left of his first gin and tonic of the night and laid the empty glass on the bar. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed an empty space where the old couple should have been. They disappeared again. There was no way they finished eating and paid their bill that quick. He had just come in from the beach and they were still eating. He would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit this had peaked his interest. How were they leaving so fast that he didn’t notice them? “Arthur, who are the old couple that was sitting over there, do they stay here in the hotel?”
“That’s William and Carrie; they’ve eaten here every night for a week. They must stay here; no one ever comes to this place unless they are staying in the hotel.”
As Arthur said this Liz came out of the kitchen and leaned against the end of the bar. “Well, I’m done for the night,” she mumbled.
“Why don’t you stay for a drink, Liz”, Raymond’s shyness melted away. He wanted to know about the old couple and their waitress might have some information. Liz, with the quickness of a supermodel turning down the chess club president, said,”Gotta head out, see you tomorrow Arthur.”
“Have a great night.” Came the reply from the bartender.
Raymond didn’t know why but he was intrigued by the couple that had made their way out of the bar on two consecutive nights without him noticing but after a couple more gin and tonics he forgot about them.
“I think I’ve had enough for tonight Arthur, stick it on the room will you?” “Sounds good,” came the reply from the giddy barman.
Early the next morning Raymond found himself sitting at his desk ready to recall another part of his life. He had not looked forward to reliving the death of his family but he powered through and painted that picture as best he could. Now it was on to another dreadful chapter in his struggle.
Lily had brought the sun into his life. The sadness that lived deep within him disappeared for the short four years he knew her. From the second they met he loved her. There was something about her that no matter what she said or did he could find no fault in her.
They shared everything. Their hobbies were the same, their likes and dislikes matched perfectly. Everyone they knew said they should hate each, that they were so alike they should have never gotten along, but this wasn’t the case. Outside of work there was no moment they didn’t spend huddled together doing something. Raymond wouldn’t have believed it if he could step outside his life and see how wonderful he felt. But he couldn’t so he just lived in his fantasy, enjoying ever moment with Lily and dreaming up more fun adventures they could share together when they weren’t.
The day it had ended Raymond had come home with brochures for skydiving. Lily had a streak of adventure just as strong as his. He had not known it at that moment but he would never lay eyes on her again.
Her disappearance baffled police. No clues, no evidence of foul play was ever found. Raymond was even a suspect for a short time. She had been seen leaving work and was never seen again.
Raymond let his imagination run wild with theory. The most plausible answer was she was abducted and…….He couldn’t’ write it. He had seen those shows on TV where the local girl, popular with everyone in the community gets taken and is never returned to her family. They all ended the same. They were all the same.
If he wanted to write his story he had to go on, it was too important to leave out. She was likely abducted and violated, killed and dumped in some thick deserted wood. The police actually told him this. This was her most likely end they had said. There was very little hope of finding her. He remembered how nonchalant they were about the whole process. But he didn’t let their theories get in the way of making his own.
He wondered if he had been good enough. Had she just left him and didn’t want a big scene. Was it possible she was out there somewhere, happy and living a new life? If this was true he was happy for her. At least she would be was safe and secure. Maybe he just didn’t give her what she needed. Maybe he had been too overbearing, too quite, too loud, too anything. He played any trick he could play with his mind just so she could live, if only in his head.
He still thought about her everyday. Even when Emma came along he still thought of her. It made him feel guilty but there was never any moment he imagined he might prick the vein of her memory and let her flow out of his body forever. She would be there always, washing his memory with the most wonderful times of life, and consequentially polluting his head with her demise. She became part of his sadness.
He couldn’t put any more writing in on the day. It was time to go visit the little place of refuge downstairs. Raymond needed a drink or ten after his work today. Hoping Arthur wouldn’t ask how it went today, he headed for the elevator.
Like a soldier guarding the castle there Arthur stood ready for his next customer. “Raymond!!!!” “Ready for another G&T I see!” he belted out.
“Well I’m always ready for one, but I wouldn’t ever get anything done if I had as many as I wanted.” Raymond joked. He had always had a good sense of humor. It got him through the day sometimes. No matter how dark or bleak the situation he could always find a way to make people laugh. Having been writing on his own life it was himself he needed to make laugh now.
Taking number one on the night from Arthur he headed for his nightly visit to the beach. This time he noticed the two blonde girls lounging on the patio. Alexa and Annie were on their usual chairs with their usual cups. Their tattoos seemed so out of place for them. He didn’t really know them but Alexa’s eagle and Annie’s wings, both prominently displayed between their breasts seemed something you were more likely to see on a biker. “How are you tonight ladies?”
“Oh, hey guy!” Alexa was always the one to speak first. Annie followed with another hipsterish greeting, “Hey, man how is life treating you?”
Raymond was never the most open person but he was starting to feel at home at the hotel quite quickly. “Its not too bad, I’ve been doing a bit of writing.”
“You’re a writer?” Alexa asked with some degree of interest.
Raymond not wanting to take credit for something that wasn’t true, answered,” no, not really, just trying it out.”
“I see.” Annie replied, always laconic.
He couldn’t help but have that feeling of exhilaration with being near them. He seemed to feed off their youth, but at the same time felt out of place around them. Being the shy man he was he fought off the urge to continue the conversation and went back inside to his now usual seat at the bar.
The old couple William and Carrie was at their same spot eating their dinner. Arthur was head first into the cooler, cleaning it when Raymond hopped on his chair. Just as he was about to take another drink Liz came cascading out of the kitchen with her things, always looking ready to take flight from the bar. “Well, I’m outta her, see ya tomorrow.”
“Aren’t you going to finish waiting on William and Carrie?” Raymond asked.
The answer surprised Raymond like everything about the couple did, “they left already, no more people for me wait around here for.”
Turning around in his bar seat, Raymond gazed upon the empty chairs where not thirty seconds ago the old couple had sat. They had sneaked out of the bar again without him noticing. Raymond now too curious to control himself asked,” do they pay their bill before leaving.”
Liz, looking at him like his head had just exploded answered, “of course, they have been eating here every night, do you think we would let them back in if they left without paying.”
“Do they stay in the hotel?”
Liz, again bothered by the question replied, “how would I know, I assume so, who would come here if they didn’t.” With this she picked up her things and headed for the door. Arthur with his head still in the cooler never heard I word of the conversation.
After a couple more drinks Raymond went back up to his room. He couldn’t get the old couple out of his head. How do they leave so fast? It’s like they vanish into thin air. Maybe they are ghosts he thought, but he didn’t believe that junk. The last thought that ran through his mind before drifting off to sleep was William and Carrie floating through the ether, haunting the hotel. But the smile that this gave him disappeared when it made him think of the people he missed so much; the people that were taken from this planet too early. He knew he no longer had room for death in his life.
The sun rose and brought a soothing warmth to Raymond Rockwell’s Myrtle Beach hotel room that morning. He had no plans of deviating from his routine of getting up and going straight to his computer to continue penning his life story. The disease that racked his body lay dormant and didn’t keep him from living a normal life for now. But as he rose from his bed his first thought was not of his project but of the old couple he kept seeing in the downstairs bar.
William and Carrie had been there all three nights he went down to have a drink after writing. The strange thing about them was that they seemed to disappear every night. All three nights Raymond had been sitting in a chair at the bar with the couple, probably in their eighties, sitting not ten feet behind him. And all three nights they vanished without him seeing them leave. One second they were there and the next they were gone. Old people don’t move that fast, he thought.
For some odd reason they overtook his desire to write. He wanted to meet them. He didn’t know why. They had to be staying in the hotel; locals wouldn’t be eating at the Ark Beers Hotel Lounge, especially not two people on their way out of this life. It was a beach bar for young people cutting through to the ocean.
“I’ll just take a quick peek around the hotel and come back and do some writing.” he thought. Leaving his room he looked around the floor where he was staying. Putting his ear to the first door he heard nothing. He repeated this process several more times until he had listened in on every room on the floor. Coming up with nothing he hit the button to go down to floor fifteen.
Floor fifteen proved to be a little more interesting. Listening in on room 1505 he could hear Alexa’s voice. “I know but do you think I should wear the blue top or the yellow one. Not wanting to eavesdrop anymore than he already had he moved on. Sticking his ear to every door he didn’t hear anything that might make him think there was an elderly couple inside.
On the sixth floor he heard people having sex. On floor four he overheard an argument with a married couple about where to send their kids to school. On floor three he recognized another voice. Annie was speaking into the phone just loud enough for him to hear, “I’m wearing what I always wear Alexa!” Continuing on he checked floors one and two to no avail.
He thought about trying the front desk and asking if they knew William and Carrie. Making his way to the lobby of the hotel he saw Elli sitting there with her book. “Excuse me,” Raymond said, remembering how standoffish she was when he had checked in.
“I was wondering if you knew an older couple that is staying here, they are about seventy-five or eighty.” He realized he didn’t have too much more information to give her and as he was thinking of how else to describe them he got his answer.
“No, I just check people in I don’t get to know them.”
Knowing there wasn’t going to be much more information coming from her he left the front desk without another word. He cut through the bar on this way to the beach but there was no one there. The door was unlocked but the lights were off and no one was behind the bar. Stepping out onto the patio he scanned the beach. There weren’t many people out today, a big surprise considering the sun was out and it was warm and a perfect day to lay out.
He decided to head back up to his room and think of a plan. Undertaking this search had given him a little excitement. He had wanted to be an explorer when he was kid. Raymond had imagined himself discovering new wonders of the world and finding treasure worth more money than the crown jewels. This gave him a new adventure. The couple had taken over his thought process. He had forgotten about his writing for the day.
Upon entering his room the first thing his eyes fell upon was his computer. “I really should be writing.” he thought. Lying down on his bed he stared at the ceiling wondering who this old couple was. He spent the rest of his day thinking, pondering, obsessing over them. Drifting off to sleep he had passed his first day in the hotel without writing a word.
Waking up the next morning Raymond went straight to putting his ears to the doors of the Care’s Sea Inn guests. His floor again proved disappointing. On floor fifteen he heard Alexa on the phone again;” I don’t know, I just think we should go shopping first, so we don’t miss out on anything!” Floor seven he heard a sound of a phone ringing in one room but no one answered it. The couple from the fourth floor had apparently made up and decided where their kids would go to school because Raymond could hear them laughing hysterically through the door. On three, Annie was on the phone again just like her friend on fifteen. “I think we should hit the outlets first.” Moving on Raymond began to think all of floors one and two were empty because this was the second day he hadn’t heard a single sound from any room.
The day ran on like this. He checked the beach, the lobby, the coffee shop across the street; all to no avail. Lost in his obsession with finding the old couple Raymond Rockwell walked up and down the strip in Myrtle Beach the rest of the day. He never saw the people he was looking for.
Again the sun was already beating down upon his head when he woke the next morning. Opening his eyes he felt a sensation he could not remember having felt in a very long time, if ever. Raymond didn’t know what it was, but he did know that he was ready to face the day. This was something he was not accustomed to. Normally, he set his alarm at least an hour and a half before he had to get out of bed so he could talk himself into living another day. He would lie there and stare at the ceiling asking himself questions like, is it worth pulling my feet from under the covers and laying them on the ground? Why bother with going to work and being a productive member of society? This was no problem today. He got right up and showered, put on his clothes, and left his hotel room to find William and Carrie.
The routine remained unchanged. Raymond listened at all the doors on his floor. The results didn’t change either; he heard nothing that made him think an old couple occupied any of those rooms. He pushed the down facing arrow to descend to the fifteenth floor, oblivious to why he had come to Myrtle Beach in the first place. His memoires completely forgotten, he rode down the one floor to fifteen.
As the doors opened to let him on to his next set of rooms two people stood directly in front of him, side by side, as they were ready to block his way. He recognized them immediately as the couple he had been looking for. They stepped on to the elevator and stared at Raymond like he was their long lost son.
“I’ve been….” Raymond was cut off mid-sentence.
“We seem to have sparked some interest in you Raymond.” William spoke with calm, even tone.
He didn’t have a clue as to how they knew his name; he was just enamored with the fact that they were standing right in front of him.
“Not just a spark but a lust for life has opened up in you in your quest to find us. If only you could put this effort into living life, living for your passions, living for the people you love, the people who love you.”
Raymond couldn’t move, he couldn’t divert his gaze from the old couple he had been chasing.
Carrie spoke now, with a voice you would expect from a loving grandmother, soft and comforting.
“You have a passion inside your heart Raymond, don’t turn away from it. Chase life, chase love like you chased us these couple days. Your time on this planet does not last long, and you don’t know how much you have left.”
He didn’t know if that was a reference to his disease; eschewing the fact that they shouldn’t know this information either, or just a simple platitude. Either would have made sense. It didn’t matter at the moment. He closed his eyes and realized in an instant that he wanted to live. He couldn’t let this disease take him away. He had a purpose; he had Emma, and his sense of adventure and his dream of being an explorer, a world traveler. A quitter he was not.
As the ding of the elevator door let him know he was at his destination he realized the old couple had vanished again. Right in front of his eyes this time, they had gone. His first instinct was step off the elevator and look for them but he knew they would not be there. Glancing at the floor number he saw he was on three.
“That’s strange, I hit fifteen and I never saw William or Carrie hit any buttons.”
Annie stepped on the elevator and greeted him.
“Hey man, I was just going up to meet Alexa, what are you up to.”
“I, I don’t… really know, just living life.”
This excited Annie, “Yeah man, I know what you mean, all you can do is live and hope for the best right?”
As she said this the door opened to floor fifteen and Alexa hopped in.
“Hey guys, I hope I didn’t miss anything.”
“Chill out miss drama queen,” Annie said while rolling her eyes.
The next stop on the elevator was Raymond’s floor.
“Number sixteen man, I assume this is you,” said Alexa.
Raymond stepped out on to his floor without a word of goodbye to the girls. He slid his room key into his door and opened it. His time at Care’s Sea Inn had been short, it had been fun, but mostly it had led him to realize he wanted to live.
His pursuit of William and Carrie had reminded him of his childhood. He thought about the times he had spent with his brother exploring the woods behind his house; the memories of him and his dad watching documentaries on explorers on television. Chasing after them had awakened his lust for life. He knew what he wanted, he knew his destiny, he was alive again, and he was free; free from the depression that had lingered so long within him.
His decision to leave and go back home had come easily. As the back of his head hit his pillow he knew that he would be checking out of Raymond Care’s hotel tomorrow morning. The hotel owner’s fate of a young death would not be his own. He would drive home, start fighting for his life and start living like every day was his last whether he had a fatal disease or not.
Checking out of the hotel he began to form a plan in his head. He would drive straight home, tell Emma his whole experience in Myrtle Beach and ask for her forgiveness. She would take him back. He had been distraught about his diagnosis and acted impulsively. He knew now what he did must have put an enormous strain on her. He was selfish and out of line, but she would forgive him. They would be back to their normal selves emotionally and begin to fight his disease. “She’ll forgive me,” he thought.
He would get his old job back too. They would understand. He had had a moment of craziness. He was reliable. The company could rely on him. They would take him back.
Getting into his car he felt good. He had gotten this out of his head. He would live like a normal person again. When you’re told you have a debilitating disease you fight; you fight with all you have and this was what he was ready to do now. He could beat this.
He had made it almost all the way home on one tank of gas. Pulling into the station he realized he was only ten miles from home so it was no surprise to see someone he knew.
“Charlie, hey man!, his excitement at being back home was overtaking him; “Charlie, it’s Raymond!”
His old friend of twelve years had looked at him like he was a disease. “I thought you had gone, what are you doing here.”
“I’m back in town; I’m heading home now to see Emma.”
Charlie looked unaffected, like he was looking at someone he had never seen. And as he turned to go into the store he looked back one last time holding an expression upon his face that gave Raymond a grim feeling.
Raymond felt confused by his old friend’s actions but could not focus on anything but getting back on the road to home and seeing Emma. It took him another fifteen minutes and he was at his apartment. He looked up at the second floor window where he and Emma had cuddled together and watched the rain so many times. Raymond didn’t think to grab his bag from his car, he just ran upstairs to meet his girlfriend of four years. Opening the door he found the apartment empty. The one person he was most excited to see upon his arrival was not there. “She must still be at work,” he thought.
Not wanting to waste another minute of his life he decided to call his work and get his job back while he waited on his companion. Lance Cruet answered the phone like he always did, in anticipation of a new or satisfied client.
“Thank you for calling Puzo’s Distributing, this is Lance.”
“Mr. Cruet, its Raymond!” He had no thought that he might not get his job back. “Listen, I’m back in town and would like to come back to the company, I know you could use someone with my experience.”
Lance Cruet spoke in the tone of someone who was speaking to an old enemy. “Mr. Rockwell we do not currently have any positions available here at Puzo’s Distributing, further more I would not consider hiring you if we did. You left your position without notice and without an explanation as to why you were abandoning your job.”
Raymond tried to cut in, astounded at hearing this. “Lance, I had…….,”
Mr. Cruet continued, “This is not something we can tolerate here and I do not wish to hear your side of the story. Thank you for calling Puzo’s Distributing, have a good day.”
This marked the second failure since he had been back. First his friend turns his back on him, literally and now he had no job. But somehow, when thinking of Emma those things didn’t matter. The prize for wanting to live was her. She had stuck with him for three years even though he lived his life with depression. He realized now that he had not appreciated her or any of his life for that matter. That would all change. When she came home, he would tell her everything. He would tell her everything he had done while away, everything that made him want to live, and everything that was going to change. He was going to start living.
Emma walked through the door and stared at him in shock. The look upon her face gave Raymond a slight pause but he knew what he wanted. He knew what he had to say, what he wanted to say.
“I’m back Emma; I’m back and I’m sorry.”
“Well, why are you back,” she said, still standing by the door.
“I realized I had made a mistake. Leaving was the worst possible thing I could have done.”
Emma, with a slight twinge of venom to her voice exclaimed, “Yes it was, what a stupid thing to do! It was the dumbest thing you could have done. But you didn’t answer my question, why are you back?”
“I want to live, Emma. I want to be with you. Being away from you made me realize what I had, and I don’t want to lose that. I want to fight this disease and go on and live life with you.”
“You already lost me Raymond.” Emma’s retort was cold and void of any emotion he was used to seeing her express. “You lost me the second you left. How could you expect me to live not knowing what happened to you, were you ok, were you getting treatment, was this all just a way to get away from me?” “Had I made you unhappy?” “I didn’t know, and you left me remember, I couldn’t go on with all those questions. When you shut that door, I watched you from the window putting your bag in your car and driving off. The second you were out of my sight you were out of my heart.”
Raymond not wanting to be dealt another failure on the day tried to state his case. “Emma, I will do whatever….”
“You will leave this apartment Raymond. You will leave and never come back here. I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to hear from you, I don’t know you………and I don’t think I ever did.”
This last admission was too much for Raymond Rockwell to bear. As Emma took one step to her side to give him room to get to the door he obliged. He did not look at her, he just stared at the floor for several seconds before he said, “I’ll get my stuff when you are at work.” And with that he walked out of the door of his apartment again, this time not knowing where he was going.
It had been three weeks since Raymond had come to reclaim his life. Rejected by Emma and his long time place of employ he had concentrated on getting everything out of his old apartment. It took longer than it should having due to the fact he had to wait until Emma was gone to collect his things. One more trip and he was done. He hadn’t known why he was bothering, considering he had decided to take his own life. He had lost what he had come back for and he couldn’t bear the thought of the disease killing him any longer. Not that long ago that was the plan, to just let it take him. But now it made him sick to think he would die like that. He would rather die by his own hand than some random bunch of vicious molecules.
Walking in to Emma’s apartment; the one he had not long ago shared with her, he remembered his former girlfriend had a stash of sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet. She had had trouble sleeping a couple months ago and the doctor prescribed her medication that was too strong for her. She had only taken the one after having a bad reaction to them. But Emma was someone who would never throw anything away and he knew they would still be there.
Opening the cabinet his eyes fell upon the bottle of medication he was looking for. Taking them in his hand he felt a power he had never experienced. He now controlled his life again. Neither his disease, nor his depression, nor anyone in his life had any hold over him. He would not be remembered as someone who succumbed to illness, he would be remembered as master of his own fate.
Opening his mouth and disposing its contents into his body he twisted the top back onto the bottle and walked into the kitchen. He threw the empty pill bottle into the trash and went to the refrigerator. Emma had two bottles of Pouilly-Fuse unopened in the door. This had been their favorite wine. They had drank it at every special occasion together; birthdays, anniversaries, and even on the first night they met. Raymond uncorked both of them and sat on the couch with the wine and a glass.
He sat and thought on his life. It seemed like everyone he ever knew flashed across his mind at least once. All the tragedy, all the sadness played out in his head. At that moment he forgave himself. He forgave himself for the person he had become. The depression had taken hold of him and he had lived his life not knowing how to break free of it. And it had affected every one he knew, everyone he had a relationship with, everyone he came across. But now sitting on his former couch he let it all go.
After his started the second bottle he became drowsy. He leaned his head back on the couch with its loud, pink blanket and let the memories take him away. They were no longer his memories but strange caricatures of experiences he knew he had taken part in but he couldn’t recognize. The car crash that killed his family became a hot air balloon taking them all up into the bright blue sky; the news story of his only love being missing morphed into a documentary on their wedding and all the pomp and circumstance that came with it.
Old friends flashed by eyes, he saw schools he went to, his favorite bookstore. The life he once knew played out in his head. It was like watching a movie, not for the first time but, like seeing your favorite film from childhood many years later. But, slowly the visions started to fade and so did Raymond’s strength. He closed his eyes and uttered his last words, “I don’t care….Elli.” His wine glass fell from his hand, spilling the wine within. Raymond had lost his battle.
Emma got home around the same time she always did. She showed no concern, hate, shock, or any other emotion as she called the police. Raymond was a bad memory, an attack on her comfort and safety. Him leaving her left an impression she did her best to file away in the deepest parts of her psyche. It was almost over now.
As the body was placed on the gurney she was asked what had happened, how she found him, all the normal questions that are asked when a person shows up dead before their time. They were all forgotten when she told them he had deadly disease. There was no further reason to investigate. He had died of his illness. This is what went into the report; this is what the police believed, and what Emma believed. He had died of his illness.
Raymond had wanted to go out on his own terms and be remembered for taking his life into his own hands, to be remembered for taking his own life like the owner of Care’s Sea Inn. But his legacy was much different. The rare times Raymond Rockwell was mentioned by co-workers, former friends, or anyone else it was always said he had died of his illness.