UNITED STATES—They had it all wrong. They had it backwards. Suicide is considered a weakness, and even a cowardly act. Balderdash, if I may step in. The fact is: a healthy person may entertain the idea of self-slaughter: a world without me at least once a day. It is humble preparation us for what things may be. Sooner or later.

In the case of Mary Reno, people would say, What a shame. She gave up! Poor thing. When in fact by dint of stubbornness she had weathered out an extended gift-year phase of grace which stretched elastically from that point in time when by all rights her demise should have already occurred. One gift-year turned into several out here in the puzzlement of streets. There were always new issues to absorb one out here. Sometimes getting a drink of water could be an undertaking.

It was a stay of execution, infinitely extended over the modest hopes and expectations of Mary Reno. She felt the sidewalk hot underfoot. She realized her shoes were missing. Where did her frayed open-toed sneakers go? Each step now brought a sting of concentrated heat. Mary heard a radio or it could have been someone pontificating on a phone. Mary found herself in the center of a puzzlement of streets that were eerily familiar to her an a vague sort of way. The tawny blocks stretched out, with nondescript doors and sun-bleached signs for businesses long since folded. There, at the foot of a scraggly tamarisk, between a watch battery and a broken pair of sunglasses, was a pair of canvas shoes. They had perhaps been olive when brand-new, but now they were a dishwater gray. Who cared about the color? These rubber soled shoes were just what Mary needed. They protect her feet.

Mary did care about colors and certain clothing labels stirred a dormant envy in her. She began to suspect that she had been a different person once, not the grimed hag she caught in shocking sidelong glances in store windows. These petty annoyances and old predilections were clues. They had to be shelved for now. Mary raised her eyes to the sky and saw a full moon. Night had come suddenly. In the blink of an eye, it was night. Mary twirled around to release the confusion from her skinny body. The heat felt suddenly cold.

This street she turned onto was familiar as a name on the tip of a tongue. The paramedics were huddled around a man on the sidewalk. She saw motionless limbs and a gaping mouth. The sun began its descent from its height in the smoky sky. With all the particles churning in the sky, the disc of the sun was a dead ringer for a full moon.

The man who trembled when the medics stuck tubes in his arms. He was raised up on a stretcher, and brought around to the open hatch of the medic’s van. Dark hair ringed his compact forehead. His eyes did not open. She did not feel sorry enough for him to shed a tear. Yet he triggered a feeling for her dog that died. There was still a hole where heart ought to be, a hole for Dio.

The medics were taking their time. The driver did a bit of paperwork before starting the engine. The back doors were shut and the medics left without so much as a single siren blare. Other sounds closed in and blotted the memory of the emergency.

Mary could not hide from herself that the man being driven slowly to the morgue was somebody who knew her. It was the man who said he had seen her dance.

The disc of the sun was a dead ringer for a full moon. Then as it began its descent from the height of the sky. It emerged from behind the shreds of particle-filled cloud. Then daylight cast its even lantern over the city.

To be continued…Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction. His acclaimed collection, The Havana Brotherhood, featuring, “Angels” and “International Bridge,” is available to readers everywhere now https://amzn.to/29ak9Nr.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)