He was drowning in something cold and dark when the alarm clock rang at precisely 5:45 am.
He groaned as he got up, stumbling into the shower and flinching at the frost on the floor.
Naked, arms crossed and still half-asleep, he stood with his eyes closed in front of the curtains until the the shower became warm. He flinched once more when the jet of ice-cold water blasted at his chest.
He was in the middle of rinsing his hair when he heard his alarm go off again. He cursed to himself. The neighbor’s dog began barking through the thin walls, at which point he fought back the urge to curse louder and quickly washed out the rest of the soap. He reached for a towel and ran out to slam down on the poor clock. He muttered more profanities and sat down, wet drops dripping uncomfortably down his back. He sighed.
He stood back up and shook his hair like a wet dog, drying out any of the remaining moisture with the towel. He put on a pair of fresh briefs and socks, sitting back down on a drier part of the bed. He was about to turn off the clock alarm when he noticed something odd in the reflection on the small mirror in his room.
What he saw was definitely his own face and upper body, but there was a weird black object hovering above his right temple. He moved in closer, slowly.
He held his breath.
His reflection found a jet black Glock, hovering, pointed straight into his head, about an inch away.
He blinked rapidly, twice. He stared at it, then reached to grab it. It was real. The rubbered grip felt firm, his index finger at the trigger, ready.
He turned pale. He stood rather awkwardly, hand still on the gun, arm poised in an unnatural angle until the alarm clock went off again. He slammed at it again, missing once. 6:10. Quickly putting on the rest of his clothes, he scrambled out the apartment door.
He thought about last night as he turned on the car’s ignition and drove out of the driveway. The radio DJ went on about another bleary day ahead. Memories shot back and forth, searching for anything out of the norm. They halted abruptly and briefly when he saw it again in the rearview mirror. Cold sweat slid down the side of his face.
He got to his cubicle late. He found a granola bar from his desk drawer. He chewed uneasily at some sticky and soggy bit of the bar, and then rose to get some coffee, trying hard not to check his phone. He wasn’t ready yet to look at his reflection again on the glossy black iPhone screen.
His boss’s secretary came in as he was about to pour into the ceramic mug. She greeted him in a cheerful, high toned voice, “Good morning!” Her high heels clicked loudly in the otherwise silent office.
Without looking up, he called, “Ana?”
Her face turned to his. Big, rabbit eyes stared back. Innocent. “Hm? You look a little pale, what’s up?”
“No. I mean, nothing. Good morning.” She nodded, and turned away to find her desk. He did not notice the hot liquid spilling down the side of the mug, burning his fingers. There floated a large revolver, pointed an inch from her temple, swaying side to side alongside her wavy hair.
Work was barely a distraction. All around him shuffled about his coworkers, clicking and typing about, muffled small talk here and there. From the reflection of the tinted computer screen he noticed every person walk by his cubicle. He noticed every piece of firearm floating by. All were aimed just one inch away.
He started drawing them out onto a notepad during lunch. Every gun he saw was a handgun of some sort. He noticed a few others with the same Glock. A .50 caliber Smith & Wesson seemed to droop heavily in the air next to his manager’s glasses. He thought for a moment it could be social status, but then he saw an intern with one.
The sandwich bread was chewier than usual.
In the privacy of a stall in the men’s room, he tried to move the gun away from his head, but it didn’t budge. The only moving part seemed to be the trigger, which gave in slightly, almost eagerly, at his pull. He let go of his breath, a barely audible gasp echoing inside the tiled walls. A few people came in to relieve themselves. After waiting to hear the door close, he held the notepad tightly and walked back to his desk.
The afternoon was not any more productive than the morning. He tried to focus on conversations around him, somewhat hopeful. He had barely produced a couple lines when he felt the winter sun setting and streaming in through the building. It cast long shadows on the gray carpet. He saw there were no shadows from the gun.
He heard the office beginning to empty and Ana saying bye, wishing him a good weekend. The lights began flickering off, starting from the farther corners. In the dim space, his monitor screen blared off-white, as if tired and ready to retire for the upcoming night.
He paced next to the large glass window. Gray, concrete walls lined the bleary view outside. He could hear the whir of the heaters, pouting here and there as they readied to take a break.
Then he stopped, mid step, realizing where his hand was. It was as though there was some sort of magnet in his finger. Chills ran down his neck as his fingers began to dance inside the loop of the trigger. He swallowed.
His nail tapped the underside the metallic shaft, and suddenly it was as though the world had been put on mute. He heard every inaudible squelch his sweaty palm made against the smooth rubber. He felt the heart beating rapidly. Under the rhythm began a miniature dance between the gun and he.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, ending the thrill of it all. He picked it up, recognizing the familiar number. He took a deep breath.
His mother spoke as she always did, every day. She began nagging about how he needed to work harder, to try harder to get a girlfriend or maybe a wife. She began talking about her friend’s sons and daughters, about their glorious lives that he had heard her talking about for however many times before. She spoke of one day having grandchildren of her own. She was about to get to the part about the next promotion when he yelled at her to stop. Except, he didn’t stop at just that. He told her she was full of shit. He told her he was trying, that he deserved more respect. He told her he was tired.
Click. The phone screen told him the other side had hung up.
He threw his phone on the ground, then he threw his face into the clammy left hand. His face flushed red.
A few moments passed, and his fingers reached to find those gentle curves once again. They glided up and down, the stone cold barrel electrifying. They stopped, locking down into position. His face hardened. The monitor went into screensaver mode. Cars honked weakly in the city outside. Someone screamed about Friday.
The world silenced once again. His face contorted.
The phone buzzed. He opened his clenched eyes and stared. He reached down to grab it, his right index finger still pulling hard. He just barely lowered his hand and took the call. He heard a brief sigh, then —
a gun shot. It was deafening. A high pitched shriek rang between his ears.
He felt for his face. A tear slid down his right cheek when he found it, still in tact. He wiped it away, only to find it was growing into a steady stream.
His knees collapsed. He sobbed. The phone showed his mother’s photo, a hearty woman in front of the kitchen, taken right before the Thanksgiving feast. Hands shaking, he dialed. No answer. His sobs grew louder.
He looked up. The glossy window reflection showed no more gun. Instead, there sat a man whose face was half blown away, a single eye searching for the other. Screaming in bursts, he scrambled back to his feet, head clenched tightly. He pressed his face against the icy glass.
He saw people. People holding hands, people crossing streets, people laughing. He saw people sitting in the darker corners, people occupied by phones, people living in other worlds. People were talking, people were driving, people were eating and drinking. Alive — every single person he saw was alive.
On Monday, Ana walked in and screamed. The police report stated suicide, caused by a single bullet, straight in through the right temple. No gun was found on the site of death.
At the funeral, one elderly, plump lady cried her heart out. She gave a eulogy. Her voice choked at every other word, breathy and held back. She could make out just one sentence about how he had been there every day to pick up her call, how they had been the greatest of gifts and most precious of moments in her life.