Search

"The Number One Cause of Death," short story excerpt

Thursday 7/14/22

The number one cause of death for beavers are falling trees. The number one cause of death for squirrels is getting run over by cars, allowing that the they live in an area populated with humans.


A squirrel in the deep forest would have to find another most likely way to die, probably involving a bird of prey. But maybe there are invisible gnomes in invisible modes of transport that run down squirrels in the deep forest, or even demon gnomes who exist for that very purpose and the number one cause of death for squirrels in the forest or a town is the same.


An animal with a pragmatic, mathematical mind like the beaver would probably appreciate that if it were so. There’s a goodly amount of symmetry in engineering, and engineers esteem consistency.


The dead beavers are often not glimpsed by anyone, save the members of their families who know where to look. The trees fall on top of them and the beaver’s body rots into the ground.


***


A bunch of college idiot guys went on a spring break vacation and their leader had sex with seven different women which was his goal because the trip was for seven days. He called it averaging a point a game. Make no mistake, these groups always have leaders.


The other members of the group each had sex with one or two different women. Pretty good, pretty good, but a far cry from a point a game. They called the leader the Raw Dawg Legend because he didn’t use condoms and his dick was big.


He thinks about that period in his life later when he’s at another one of his girl’s boring soccer games or attending a Scotch tasting at the local liquor store so he can get a free drink from a bottle his wife would be pissed at him for buying because it’s so expensive.


A bunch of his daughter’s high school teammates are starting to look pretty ripe and fresh for plucking, a battery of terms he’s used for a long time but now does not dare to tell anyone. They say hello to him in the politest voices he has ever heard, as if they really care.


***


Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs hit more than 500 home runs and made baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he was better known for repeatedly saying “Let’s play two!” when he got to the ballpark because he loved baseball so much that just one game wasn’t enough. His nickname was Mr. Cub and descriptions of him in articles focused on how joyous he could be, with an enthusiasm inevitably called “infectious.”


He lived to be eighty-three but one of his ex-wives said that if he hadn’t been so unhappy he wouldn’t have died as young as he did, which at first seems to be a confusing statement. He paid a lot of alimony to three or four women. For decades after Ernie Banks’ retirement as a baseball player, the Cubs had to find ways to use him as an ambassador so that they could pay him and Mr. Cub wouldn’t be destitute. A lot of people have Ernie Banks signed baseballs because he was at so many events after his career ended and up until he died, which ended up being the bulk of his life, by far.


***


A woman has these fiery, in-depth friendships. They start and are immediately intense. Dark pasts are shared. Fears, dreams. There is a lot of talking on the phone, texting.

The woman thinks of where she will be later in life when she has what she wants. The job she wants, the income she wants, the home she wants, the standing in a community that she wants. She’ll still be friends with the new friend. They’ll live in different states, but bonds like theirs don’t have borders. The friend will come and stay with her. Their friendship will be undiminished.


But the woman disappears four or five months into the fiery friendship. She doesn’t give any explanation to the new friend. She stops responding to the texts. In a few weeks she finds another new friend. She tries to figure out how she could re-start with the last one.

“I’m struggling,” she could say, “and our friendship took the hit.”


But she’s not going to say that. She’s not going to say anything. She won’t say anything when she does the same thing with the new friend, and none of these people from these years are going to visit her later on in the life she wants, if she ever gets it, which is unlikely.


***


“Can we not today?” a mother says to her child who is beginning to misbehave, which is what the child’s father yells at the child’s mother when he is angry at night and the child cannot sleep because of the noise. The child doesn’t need to ask, “Can we not what?” because the child knows. It thinks that it is sorry, because mom is upset and she is extremely patient almost all of the rest of the time, but the child doesn’t actually apologize. It tries to do what is meant by “can we not today,” and the remainder of the trip to the grocery store goes smoothly. His mom kisses him on the forehead after they check out and says she’s sorry like she also wants to add she does not know what got into her, but she’s not going to say that to a child.


***


God and Satan took a boating trip together on the former’s sailboat to see if they could repair their relationship and maybe even work together again. Both were excellent sailors, and shared the navigating duties. They fished a great deal and kept everything flouncy, conversation-wise, but on the third day God started talking about how his was the life eternal, and Satan could get in on that, if he wanted.


God made trips into the clouds to prove his point, making the sky flash with the mysteries of faith and how broken hearts can somehow love as no other kind of heart can, but mostly he irritated Satan, who subsequently spent most of the rest of the trip reading in the cabin below.


They both had to sleep there, so it was awkward when God retired at night, wishing he had someone to talk to about the wonders of falling stars. He poked his head in on Satan a couple times during the day when it’d been hours since a fish was on the line, trying not to let his anger cascade over.


“At least put a light on and don’t read in the dark if you insist on staying down here,” God said. “It’s bad for your eyes.”


“I think I’m good,” Satan replied, turning the page like he wasn’t even really listening.