Thursday, July 28

Gentleman's Choice

Under the first finger of your left hand, there is a button. The slick, slightly grimy surface against the pad of your finger, made for the quick depression and the subtle click. Is it part of a keyboard? Perhaps. Perhaps it is an alarm. It's too dark in here to tell. Just you and the warm plastic hardness of a mysterious button. What will you do? Will you push it? There is no telling what will happen if you do.

There is an old ethics lesson people always reference in situations like this, about choices, I believe. It goes like this: you are alone in a room with a button that will, cleanly and legally, transfer an astonishing amount of money into your bank account each time you press it. The only catch is that you will kill someone every time you do. It probably wouldn't be anyone you know, and they may be a terrible person. Someone on the other side of the world, no doubt, someone you would never meet. You would never have to face the reality of their death--and the best part of the lesson? No one would ever know you did this. Make no mistake, you would be responsible for snuffing out that person's brief candle, simply to make your life a little easier. You would be responsible.

It's a terrible ethical dilemma, if you consider yourself a kind person. You might be the kind of person who refuses to eat meat, buys only ethically sourced and sustainable products, green evangelist who volunteers at hospitals, builds houses for the homeless, and donates money as often as possible, and you will still think about pressing that button. Anyone would. It's human nature, right? We're not programmed to consider other people at the most basic levels. Especially ones we'll never meet, people whose blood we will never see shining wet on the hands that pressed those buttons. These are some of the things she said to me, with her sharp little teeth gleaming in the light from her watch dial. I called her bluff, though, pushing that button without hesitation.

It was just some game, I thought, a stupid prank one of my friends decided to play, getting me back for some ridiculous thing or another. Especially with that weird costume she was wearing when she picked me up at the bar. It was a joke. Until someone behind me in the dark untied me, drove me blindfolded back to the house, dumped me unceremoniously at home. I went inside like any other hangover morning, expecting Emily to be sitting at the kitchen table. Expecting to see her thin fingers clenched grimly around a coffee cup, nervous eyes checking the oven clock, flicking up to meet mine when I finally stumbled in. She always waited up for me, even when she knew I wouldn't be home until the cold blue light of the morning warmed into true day. I told her she didn't need to, that I would call if anything went wrong. I don't think she distrusted me so much as she couldn't think of more to do with herself. I know she had trouble concentrating when I wasn't at home, sleeping.

So I thought she had gone out, finally taking me at my word. I went in, unknotting my tie and flinging it over the desk, pinching at the bridge of my nose and pressing into my temples to move my hangover along. I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket and tossed it after the tie, fumbling to catch it as it began to vibrate midair. Imagine my stupid sleepless face at that very moment, unshaven and bleary-eyed, wide square hands juggling a small blue phone, last night's sharp French cuffs now hanging like broken wings around my thick wrists. Now imagine the look on my face as I check for the vibrating message and find an alert from my bank, confirming a three million dollar deposit to our savings. A payment, it said. From the state lottery.

There was a trail of blood leading into the bathroom, Emily's bathroom. I'd walked through it without even noticing, that's how hungover I was. The door was closed. I don't remember much else of that day. I do remember being surprised at how few questions they asked, how little suspicion ended up centered on me. Isn't it always the husband they look at most thoroughly?

I don't know what happened at home, the night I spent with the girl in the red mask. I may never. Emily's parents stopped calling after the funeral, I remember that. The board looked at me so strangely when I quit the company, the next week. And our friends fell away, couple by couple, one by one. I spent a lot of that money on learning things. Some on a few useful objects. It's been a while, but I think I'm ready now. I'm going to find that girl, with her foxy face and sharp little teeth. That girl with the weird 1980s green-glowing watch and ridiculous skintight jumpsuit. I'm going to find her if it's the last thing I accomplish in this lifetime. When I do, I'm going to find out what she loves, what she cherishes, and how I can get to it. Then I'll give her an ethics lesson. I wouldn't kill her--I like to think of myself as a kind person. I'll just ask her to make a choice.

For this week's Indie Ink challenge, Kat Sidhe offered me a prompt of "You are a superhero.  Tell us about your nemesis."  I think this is more of an origin story than a biography--I hope it does the job.  For my part, I sent Dishwater Dreams off with a nudge toward Alice Through the Looking Glass.  For those of you paying attention to the weekly poetic format challenge, you may have noticed a disruption in the routine.  Family issues precluded a Wednesday post, but it will be up soon.  Thanks for your patience, and as always, for reading.