Andrew W. Hill lives in Washington, D.C. You can find him at AndrewHillWriting.com.
Ronald took the landline off of the wall then paused for a moment. He hung it back up. The note still lay on the kitchen table behind him. Ronald walked over and picked it up. He unfolded it, thought better of it, folded it back up, and set it back down.
Ronald walked Beverly, their golden retriever, up and down the block a few times. When he returned home, the note stared back at him from the kitchen table. He glanced at the phone. He knew he should pick it up and call someone but he didn’t quite know who to call in a situation like this. So instead, he walked upstairs, past the tightly shut office door, and into his room. He meticulously shined all of his dress shoes. After all, they did need shining. Since he was already upstairs, Ronald ironed his work shirts and pants for each day of the week. He’d be glad that was finished come tomorrow morning. Gazing out the window, he noticed that the lawn definitely needed mowing, so Ronald walked down the hallway, glancing quickly at the closed office door, and hurried down the stairs. He went to the garage, gassed up the riding mower, and mowed both the back and front yard. He walked back into the kitchen through the garage door, sweaty and smelling like ‘fresh dirty earth’—that’s what Sheila always says he smells like after Ronald mows the lawn. He stole a glance at the note again, then walked upstairs and took a shower. After all, he was sweaty and dirty from the lawn mowing.
Ronald stepped out of the shower and stared back at his reflection in the mirror. His beard was a bit heavy, he noticed. Rather than having to wake up and shave tomorrow morning, it just made sense to do it now. So he shaved. He walked by their office on his way downstairs, and paused. He touched the door handle. He turned it a bit. He stopped mid-turn, let go, and it clicked back into place. He had just remembered that some leftover dishes were soaking in the sink. They had just, at that exact moment, Ronald decided, soaked for the perfect amount of time. He hurried downstairs into the kitchen, did not look at the note, and walked right up to the sink. He washed and dried the dishes, placing them meticulously in their proper places—utensils in the utensil drawer, plates in the cabinet next to the fridge, cups in the cabinet above the sink.
The sky was turning a deep crimson now. He just realized how hungry he was. Ronald turned on the oven, and sat at the table, waiting for it to preheat. He picked up the letter again. He unfolded it. He started to read the top.
He stopped there. Folded it back up. He had already read it once that morning anyway. Ronald thought about heading upstairs to the office and opening the door, but right at that moment the oven dinged. He stood up, slid open the freezer below the fridge, and grabbed a frozen pizza. Ronald took out a knife and freed the frozen pie from the plastic. After sliding in the pizza directly onto the oven rack and shutting the lid, he set the oven timer for 10 minutes. Technically the box said, “11 to 13 minutes,” but this oven always cooked faster, he knew.
Ronald realized, at that precise moment, that watering the first floor plants is a perfect ten-minute job, so it would be prudent to water them now. He finished in eight minutes, though, and sat back down at the table. He picked up the letter and unfolded it.
I’m sorry that you have to find out this way, but reading it, I hope, might soften the blow.
Ding. The pizza was finished. He folded the note back up and took the pizza out of the oven, setting it on a cookie sheet on the counter. Ronald knew that waiting a few minutes for the pizza to cool made for a better cutting process, so he waited. He glanced at the phone. He walked over to it and took it off the wall. He dialed ‘911,’ but hung up before anyone answered because right then, the pizza was perfect to cut.
Ronald grabbed the pizza cutter from the drawer next to the utensils. Sheila calls it their “everything else drawer.” He cut the pizza into eight perfect slices, took a plate out from the cabinet and set three on the plate, then placed the pizza on the table next to the folded note. Before sitting down, he filled up a glass of ice water. On his way towards the table, the phone started ringing. He set the glass down next to the pizza plate and the folded note then walked over to the wall and picked up the phone.
“Hello, Lane residence. Ronald speaking.”
“911 emergency response. We received a call from this number. Is everything okay?”
“Oh, hi. Sorry about that. See, I don’t know actually. I’m not sure if you’re the right people to call in this situation. My son might be more appropriate, I think.”
“Well, what’s the emergency, sir?”
“My wife, Sheila. She did something and I’m not sure what to do about it.”
“What did she do?”
“She left me a note, would you like me to read it out loud?” He walked over to the table, stretching the phone chord taut, and picked up the note, unfolding it.
“If you could just sum it up, sir, that would probably be best.”
“I’ll just read it out loud.” Ronald started reading the note. “’Dear Ronald,’ I’m Ronald, by the way. Did I say that?”
“Yes, sir, please continue.”
“’Dear Ronald, I’m sorry that you have to find out this way, but reading it, I hope, might soften the blow’ —She was always telling me to read more, actually, so it’s a bit funny when you think about it.”
“What else does the note say, Mr. Lane?”
“Right. ‘Dear Ronald, I’m sorry that you have to find out this way, but reading it, I hope, might soften the blow. I’m taking my own life this morning before you wake up. I’m going to overdose on pills in the office upstairs.’” Ronald paused for a moment. “You know what? I can just call my son. It doesn’t sound like an emergency when I read it out loud, actually.”
“Stay right where you are, Mr. Lane. We’ll send a car over now. Where are you located?”
“Oh, really? Well, okay. We’re over here at 35 Chestnut. The one with the red door. I also just mowed the lawn today, if that helps.” There was a brief pause on the other end.
“Yes, thank you. We’ll be right over.”
The dispatcher hung up before Ronald. When he heard a dial tone, Ronald placed the phone back on the receiver, then walked over to his pizza. Right as he was about to eat, he realized that he had forgotten a napkin. He always eats with a napkin.