I was at my usual table in our crowded restaurant when the woman approached. I had been expecting a visitor, but not her, not someone so beautiful. I was surprised and, quite honestly, pleased. Did they all look like this, or was I so important they felt they had to send one of their best? Whatever. I welcomed her and she sat down.
You can learn a lot about people by close observation. I studied her while she fished for something in her purse. Late thirties, clean, regular teeth, blonde hair coiffed in a popular business cut. She shrugged out of her winter coat, twisting her body to reveal a graceful neck, slender shoulders and delicate hands, the manicured fingers of one clutching a business card. This woman had obviously been cared for in her childhood, hence the regular dentition. She obviously had a decent job, or at least a generous life partner, ergo the stylish and probably expensive haircut. She was athletic and strong because, despite the narrow shoulders and slender bones, she had lowered herself into her chair depending only on her thighs to settle her in place. Most people, especially those my age, will use at least one hand for balance and a bit of extra power. But the biggest signifier was the way she held herself. She was not afraid of men, in fact she probably liked their attentions because, with the slight twisting of her upper body, she had revealed small, but prominent breasts that thrust forward against a light blouse.
She flipped the business card towards me. “Hi. I’m Kara. It’s nice to meet you.”
The card had the familiar logo. Like most corporate signifiers it looked thoughtful but meaningless, professional but evocative, leaving the final interpretation up to the viewer. I saw a simplified human figure, a bit like an Inuksuk, standing on a path. Somehow you could tell the figure was facing away from you and that the pathway had come to an end.
Of course I knew what that logo meant. I held the card up in front of me for a long time, concealing my face behind it. I didn’t want her to see my eyes. If she saw my eyes she’d see my fear. And if I couldn’t see her, said the crazy child inside me, maybe she’d disappear and the meeting would be over.
“So soon?” I asked.
“You’ve been thinking of this for a while. It’s time.”
I finally met her eyes. It was like accepting a WiFi connection. Somehow information was conveyed and somehow I signified agreement and clicked Submit.
She continued, a touch of formality in her voice. “Geoffrey Daniel Parker, we at Life Solutions are prepared to make the following offer: We will pay off your outstanding debts, sell your belongings, close up your apartment and offer a two-hour counselling session with either a spiritual or therapeutic practitioner. We will publicize your passing and conduct a Life Memorial Service for your friends, lovers and acquaintances. Your beneficiary or charity will be offered a tax-free payout of $387,200. We will act in perpetuity as your agent of record, defending against any claims made against your estate. You agree to accompany us to our clinic you will meet your counsellor and participate in an in-depth life history and photography session. I assure you that our medical procedure will be absolutely painless. Our team will perform it within the next 48 hours.”
I tore my eyes away from hers and looked around the crowded restaurant. I saw that two large men were standing at the entrance waiting to be shown to a table. But I doubted if they were there to eat. They were probably there in case I made a scene and tried to leave.
They needn’t have worried. At 76, with emphysema and a heart condition, I wouldn’t be much trouble. My slender partner could probably hold me down on her own if it came to that.
Suddenly I wished my visitor wasn’t so beautiful and efficient. Why couldn’t she have been closer to my age, tired and fading, with a wise twinkle in her eyes? Someone who would know what I was feeling and know how to act. She would smile, maybe put one hand over one of mine, thank me for my sacrifice and tell me I’d had a good life.
“Oh…” I said, by way of acknowledging her offer. That was all I could think of to say. A quiet utterance in a crowd that stood for my whole life, my thousands of small triumphs and failures.
I had squandered my good genes. I’d been lazy, smart, introverted, sullen and arrogant most of my life. I’d been a slacker at work and unkind to the women who liked me when I was young. I’d been self absorbed and cowardly, a preoccupied father and, worse, a sullen husband. I had wound up living alone in a low-income apartment estranged from my daughter and ex-wife.
Loneliness is an epidemic in our society. It shortens your life like smoking. But my slow death would take years and cost a fortune in medical treatments and drugs. That’s where Life Solutions came in, an experimental program that turns suicide into sacrifice, a noble way to say goodbye and an inspired way to cut costs.
Suddenly I felt the woman’s hand on mine. “Geoffrey,” she said. “I know this is hard but you’ve made your decision and it’s the right one. The government will save a lot of money and those dollars will be used for things like housing, education, healthcare and lots of other government programs. Your picture and life story will go in our memorial gallery along with others who have made your sacrifice. You’re doing the right thing, believe me.”
The right thing. I had heard that in their campaign song.
I’ve had my life and now it’s done
So many trips around the sun
My healthy years are on the run
But my painful years have just begun
You get the point. It’s doggerel, but with a catchy tune and a lot of happy faces and artsy photos of gnarled faces, it’s pretty convincing.
“I want you to meet our photographer and our writer. They’ll interview you and get your full life story. You’re a good man, Geoffrey and you’re about to make the noblest sacrafice of your life. I can’t think of a greater contribution to humanity. We will be forever grateful.”
She was squeezing my arm with one hand and reaching out with the other. She had brought her face close. Her eyes were huge and moist. She wiped them with a tissue, sniffled a bit and turned away.
“I’m sorry. These encounters are the most profound and joyful of my life. I want you to know you’re brave and strong. I don’t know you well, but I wish I’d met you when you were younger. If our ages weren’t so far apart, maybe things would have been different.”
That did it. It had been decades since a woman had stroked my hands like that and had looked at me with those big, longing eyes. Almost never, actually.
I stared at her for a long time, soaking up the love and adoration she was projecting. I knew it was an act but I didn’t care. It was all I’ds ever wanted.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”