Finally, he died. Today, at lunch, he died.
“He’s dead,” I told him. And he didn’t believe me that he had died.
He had lived for so long. So incredibly long. Years. Decades. Maybe even a century. No one really knows, even the doctor didn’t know. Which doesn’t surprise me, but what does, was that the doctor couldn’t even kill him. I had tried for years and years and decades, maybe even a century, and no one could kill him.
When he first took me the police tried to kill him. He was too fast. It was too hot for the firemen, so hot the fire hoses melted into ugly rubber.
And then I decided to run. Because I could run fast enough. I watched the Olympics last year, and those people, those people ran. Ran fast.
“I could run that fast.”
“Sure,” he said.
So if I ran fast enough, maybe I could outrun him, if I challenged him to a race. Or run away from him. So I ran all the time, everywhere I went, in every moment, I ran. And for a while I got faster. And then faster.
“Today’s the day.”
“I’m going to challenge him to a race today.”
“But what if you lose? I mean, I think you can win, but ever think, what would happen if you lost.”
“Well good luck.”
And he was right, I did lose. So I stopped running. Everywhere I went, I walked like everyone else. Sometimes people noticed. People would notice, and say:
“You’re not running anymore.”
“Well, why did you stop?”
“He’s right, I’m not fast enough.”
“Well sure you are.”
“Too bad, something else then?”
But other people, the people who met me for the first time, also had to meet him. Eventually, they all have to. See, if you keep a secret long enough, it eats you. For food. People like to eat hot dogs and birthday cakes, pasta, or sushi. Secrets though? Man, they love to eat the insides of a person. They love it so much they never get full. I asked him one day,
“Don’t you ever get full? Don’t you ever just want to stop?”
But he kept on eating. And eating.
The funny thing is when they eat all the way through. Sometimes you don’t even know, I didn’t even know. I was sitting like normal, listening to music. And he said
“Hay is for horses.”
“No, hey. What’s that?”
And I didn’t even know but he had eaten all the way through. No, they still enjoy the insides of a human, but it just means they start enjoying the outsides, too. And he knew I hated it. I think, that just made him eat more, because when you hate something and you’re awake at night, you tell something you hate it for not letting you sleep like a normal person.
“Normal people can’t always sleep, either. You know that?”
“But it’s different.”
“No, it’s the same kind of not sleep. I can’t sleep, sometimes.”
“Why not? Do you have one? Does it eat you too, when you can’t sleep?”
“Well, no. But I think. Man, I think a lot. Too much.”
“About what? What could have so much thought that you couldn’t sleep? What could be so incredibly huge, amazing, big? What is so big it keeps your eyes open?”
“God is pretty big.”
“But all the time?”
“Yeah, all the time.”
After that I spent a lot of time just letting him eat me. I can’t lie, I deserved to be eaten. Even when I knew I didn’t, I did. I deserved it. I guess he stuck around for a long time when people really started to mind.
“Doesn’t he bother you?”
“Why don’t you tell him goodbye?”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
Goodbye. That should do it. Goodbye was saying it was over. Hello’s were for walking into houses, shaking hands, and then, after that, other things. Depending on who you were hello-ing. Goodbye’s were for leaving, shaking hands and other things. Depending on who you were goodbye-ing. Maybe a goodbye wouldn’t work.
But today, he did die. I didn’t even have to run. I didn’t have to take any of the pills with only water, only after a breakfast. I didn’t even say a word, a goodbye. All of the sudden, the eating stopped. Maybe he got full. Maybe, he was just as sick as I was. I don’t know how, but he died. He left. Like the neighbors did last spring, up and gone. Just like that.
“He’s dead. Forever.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, he’s dead, I’m sure.”
“What did you do?”
“I don’t know, but he’s gone.”
“Well think about it, just a second ago, what did you do?”
“Well I just–I don’t know.”
“What was it? What did I do?”
“You were smiling.”
“No, you smiled. I remember because you were sitting right where you are, and we were talking, and then the sun came through, just like that. And then you smiled.”
“And then the smile, that smile from right there, it got too big for you. I got so big, so incredibly big, it started to pour out of you. I remember, it was right here, and it poured out of your mouth all onto to the floor. It spread everywhere, like—like rain? No…like a flood. It went everywhere, so fast, too, out the door, out the window, it probably flooded the whole town by now. I bet it’s all the way across the world right now. He drowned. He died in the flood. And now, he’s dead forever.”
“How come you’re not dead, too?”
“See, I was waiting for that smile. And me and the whole town, and the whole world, we’ve been waiting a long time for that smile. Years. Decades, maybe even a century.”
“And now what?”
“Whadd’ya you mean ‘now what?’
“Nothin’s eatin’ at me anymore. Now what do I do? It’s been so long. What do I do?
“Lock up your heart, lock it up good, don’t let anyone in, not for a long time. They’re going to tell you things, they’re going to tell you to open it up for the whole world. They’ll say it’s what’s best, it’s what’s good, but promise me you won’t listen to ‘em. Promise me.”
“Good. That’s another thing. Them, they’ll make promises too. You know, promises about all kinds of things. But don’t listen to ‘em. And promise me another thing.”
“Don’t ever forget how to smile, never, ever again. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever stop smiling. Smile like that for a year, a decade, maybe even a century.”