(“Travel fiction” is just that: Stories that involve travel, but are made up of whole cloth, and not necessarily based, even in part, on real people, real places, or real events. The following short story is one I submitted to National Public Radio for its “Three Minute Fiction” contest–stories that could be read on the radio in three minutes or less.)
He knew that this would be the last time that he would read the newspaper like this, but he gave up halfway through it, skipping the World and Business News altogether, scanning the headlines in the Sports pages, skimming over his favorite comics, but (looking at the solution and cheating a little) finishing the crossword. If he could only live long enough to track down and strangle the fool who wrote the incomprehensible (and sometimes outright wrong) clues for the Friday puzzle. Some things, he realized as he got up from the café table leaving the paper behind, just weren’t meant to be.
The barista hadn’t known what to make of his request: “It doesn’t matter. Today I’ll just have whatever you like.” The sadness in his eyes and resignation which his slumped shoulders displayed didn’t register in her mind. Finally she said: “Single Grande ‘Why Bother’ okay with you?” “Sure,” he said, “that’ll be just fine.”
He considered taking a cab back to his apartment. But it was only a mile. Not that he needed the exercise. Where he was headed lung capacity and muscle tone would be irrelevant.
He hadn’t slept well. Soon sleep would no longer be a problem. So he had arisen at 5:00 a.m., showered, and walked the mile down to the café. He bought a Chronicle from a rack outside, bothered to get his “Why Bother” drink, and indulged himself in what his late wife would have considered a sinful breakfast: A chocolate croissant.
Back at his apartment he picked up the cat’s food dish and water bowl from the kitchen floor, washed them out, and then set them in the cabinet next to the now-empty refrigerator. He took the trash down the hall and emptied it into the garbage chute.
It was now 7:35 a.m. Only two hours left in this place on earth. “How should I spend them?” he said out loud to no one. He picked up a week-old issue of the New Yorker, leafed through it while standing up, glanced at the cartoons, and dropped it back onto the coffee table. He turned on the TV, channel-surfed across the news stations, but quickly tired of the yammering by the “talking heads” and clicked the “Off” button on the remote.
He walked into the bedroom. The clock radio’s LED display read 07:47. He stooped over the bedside table and ensured that the alarm was turned off, straightened up the already neatly made bed, then went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth.
Opening the medicine cabinet, he took out a pill bottle and read the warning label. Content that he understood the consequences of taking an overdose, he meticulously counted out the number of tablets in the bottle. Then he counted them again, and then a third time. Satisfied that he had enough of the medication to do the job, he scooped the tablets back into the bottle.
At 9:15 a.m. he turned off the heat and closed the blinds. He shut the door to the apartment, locked the dead-bolt, and took the elevator to the lobby. Stepping out into the still-damp morning air, he hailed a cab. “Too far to walk this time,” he thought to himself, “I need a ride.”
Over Idaho four hours later, he pulled the iPad out of his carry-on bag and switched it on. “I wonder what poor Obama will have on his plate today,” he mused while reading the copy of the New York Times that he had downloaded in the departure lounge before boarding the ten hour flight to London.