By Pete McArdle

Tucker started to lock his apartment door but then stopped and laughed at what a creature of habit he was. He removed the key from the lock, threw open the door, and down the hallway he went, his apartment wide open and available to anyone, the curious, the concerned, or the merely larcenous. Perhaps someone would steal Tweety, his parakeet, and take care of him. Hopefully they'd take the time to find his bird seed in the kitchen closet. Tweety was a pretty finicky fellow and Hartz Mountain was the only brand of bird food he'd eat.

Tucker took the stairs instead of the elevator and as his footfalls echoed like gunshots in the narrow stairwell, he felt a pang of guilt over poor Tweety. He'd been a nice enough pet, a bright blue budgie who liked to perch on his master's finger and ask for treats. Tucker hoped his bird would be all right without him, whereas the rest of the world could go fuck themselves.

Tucker stopped in the stairwell to open the bottle of Jim Beam he'd bought. Never a drinker, the first thing he learned was that it's practically impossible to break a bottle's seal by hand. He used his car key to tear open the seal, twisted off the cap, and then learned a little something about 1.5 liter bottles: unless one possesses the iron grip of an oral surgeon, both hands are needed to drink from such a large bottle.

This would make drinking and driving problematic, thought Tucker, but where there's a will, there's a way. He took a huge, two-fisted swig of the whiskey, a particularly smooth and mellow Kentucky bourbon according to the clerk at the liquor store, and was shocked when it went down like jet fuel, scorching his throat and setting his insides on fire. Tucker bent over and made strange whooshing sounds, doing his damnedest not to puke. Finally, he stood up, wiped the tears from his eyes and stared at the bottle of Jim Beam. Liquid courage, indeed. You had to be courageous just to keep the damn stuff down.

Tucker capped the bottle and hastened down the stairs and out the back door into the parking lot. It wasn't simply raining hard, on this night of all nights, no, there was a gale-force wind blowing cold rain into Tucker's eyes, ears and nose, and down the neck and up the sleeves of his tee-shirt. He briefly considered going back for a raincoat and then laughed, a little too loudly, at his creature-of-habit ways.

No, the appropriate thing to do while catching pneumonia, on this most savage yet special March night, was to take another hit of courage. So he did.

This one went down a good deal easier than the first, Tucker noted with a grin, and he chucked the bottle cap into the wind and sauntered over to his car, fully drenched by the time he got there. For once his old jalopy started on the first try and Tucker saw this as a positive sign: he was sick to death of this shitty world, and the shitty world, apparently, was just as sick of him. He set the bottle of bourbon down in the passenger seat, next to the thick, leather work gloves he'd bought for the occasion.

The idiots who ran the Catskill Gorge Bridge had seen fit to add ten-foot of butt-ugly wire mesh above the guard rails to discourage jumpers. Had they not heard of gloves, those fools, did they think a ten-foot climb would stop a desperate man? Tucker put on his wipers, which hardly seemed up to the task, and pulled out of the poorly-lit parking lot, taking a left onto Hemlock.

Between the worn wiper blades and the sheeting rain, Tucker caught only sporadic glimpses of the road and was having a hard time staying in his lane. Luckily, no one else was out, only the insane or suicidal would be driving on a night like this. He steadied the wheel with his knees and took a two-handed belt of bourbon, and before he could put down the bottle, he'd flown through a red light.

"God-damnit, be careful," he growled. He wasn't looking to kill anyone else, only himself. O.K., maybe Donna too, that lying little bitch. And her monogrammed gold cufflink-wearing boyfriend, Todd. Yeah, thought Tucker, grinning, it would be perfect if he accidentally T-boned that asshole's red Vette and took the pair of them along with him to Hell.

As he careened down the dark boulevard, Tucker became increasingly adept at steering with his knees and increasingly fond of Jim Beam. It was a shame he'd discovered liquor so late in the game. To pass the time until he arrived at the bridge, Tucker made up a passenger manifest for the imaginary bus he would drive off the road, causing it to crash and burst into flames, killing everyone aboard.

The mother who'd given him up for adoption would definitely be on the bus, along with the chain-smoking Jesus-freaks who'd raised him. The fifth-grade teacher who'd ridden him until he snapped and got thrown out of school would sit right in front. Perhaps some flying glass in the face for her.

Tucker laughed, the first good laugh he'd had since he'd been fired from the warehouse. Mr. Oswald, his former boss, and that uber-bitch, Janice, who'd filed all those ridiculous complaints, they'd share a seat, alright, directly across the aisle from Donna and her boyfriend. Hopefully, his ex would be thrown from the bus and die a slow, agonizing death, hidden from sight in a foul-smelling gutter. Yeah, baby!

A loud jarring bump-bump-bump-bump told Tucker he'd left the road and he jerked the wheel to regain the pavement, spilling some bourbon on his crotch in the process.

"It's O.K. if you wanna kill yourself, ol' hoss," he said to no one in particular, "but take it easy on the Jim Beam!"

Damn, that stuff was good, Tucker felt loose and relaxed as he fishtailed onto the entrance ramp to the Interstate. He'd wanted to fill a few more seats on the Bus to Perdition but found he'd lost that razor's edge of righteous anger. Tucker had to admit, he deserved at least some of the blame for the bad things that had happened to him.

He was not an easy man to live or work with, far from it, and God knows he never should have raised a hand to Donna. Tears welled up in his eyes and Tucker realized that on some level, he respected his wife for leaving him. Even if it was for a total moron like Todd.

As tears rolled down his unshaven cheeks, Tucker saw the Catskill Gorge Bridge up ahead, its majestic towers and cablework hidden in fog. The squawk of the windshield wipers told Tucker the rain had subsided and he turned them off and slowed to a reasonable speed.

He tried hard to concentrate on his plan which was to jump from the middle of the span, where the long fall was uniformly fatal. However, the view below the deck was also obscured by dense fog, not to mention the stupid wire-mesh fence.

Tucker slowed down further.

Amazingly, he was still alone, not a headlight in sight, and there, on the right, was a sign.

"Life is Worth Living" it read.

"24-Hour Suicide-Prevention Hotline" it added.

Tucker stopped the car, straddling the line between two lanes, and got out. He lurched over to the sign and read it aloud, a big shit-eating grin on his face. Life did seem pretty good about now, even if it was only the Jim Beam talking. And it was a minor miracle that he'd driven here drunk in a Nor'easter, and somehow arrived in one piece.

Perhaps God still had a plan for him.

The man was stone-stupid drunk, in a state of utter despair, but maybe, just maybe, the person on the other end of the hotline had a miracle to bestow. A kind word, the right advice, a touch of warmth to soothe Tucker's cold weary soul.

Tucker picked up the phone and said, "Uh . . . h-hello?"

"You've reached the Suicide Prevention Hotline and all of our representatives are currently busy," said the suave, tape-recorded voice. "However, your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line until —"

Tucker dropped the phone and started climbing the wire-mesh fence. I hope someone feeds Tweety, he thought as the sharp wire cut into his hands.

Pete McArdle is an aged but content husband, father, dentist, and former triathlete. These days, when he's not pruning azaleas or drilling teeth, he's busy torturing words, especially adverbs.

The author has delighted omdb! readers with two previous stories... "Bless Me, Father" and "The Aged Avenger."

Copyright 2012 Pete McArdle. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.