Sunday, February 26, 2012

Short Story: "George's Ashes"

Another oldie-but-goodie from my repertoire of short fiction pieces. Having recently rewritten it, I was tempted to make it less of a dark tale than it was originally intended to be. But that would defeat the whole point of the story, and rob it of much of its bleak irony. Love it or hate it -- it is what it is. Hope you'll enjoy it!

I'm sitting here debating whether or not George is worth a decent eulogy, or if I should simply stand up at his funeral and blurt out, "You all knew him. You know what he was like!"

That particular option may not be ideal, but then neither was giving me -- George's worst enemy in life -- the dreaded responsibility of delivering his eulogy. But, seeing as how no one in his family, except George himself, realized the extent of my hatred for him, I may have seemed to be the logical choice. After all, apart from his family, I was George's closest friend.

Back in high school, before George had made anything of himself, he and I got along fairly well. We played on the same sports teams together. We were both on the high school drama team. We may have even double-dated a few times -- me with Lynda, George with his flavor-of-the-week.

But then graduation came, and college followed; and even though we attended the same college, we were studying very different subjects, so we saw very little of each other.

Of course, after college, the rest is history. I went to work for an insurance company -- not selling it, just doing the paperwork for the people who do. George got funding -- from his family's seemingly endless supply of capital -- to start his own restaurant, which did well enough for him to be able to open another one, and another, and so on. While his success was great, his business ethics were easily compromised, and he made few friends along the way.

Over the past fifty years, George has continued to get richer and richer, and more and more of full of the wonder he always found in himself. Meanwhile, I have toiled away at one respectable but not-very-well-paying job after another, always hoping that the next one just might be "the one" where I'd find my niche.

After years of accumulating a wealth of jealousy and bitterness toward my friend, I decided about a year ago that I would finally have it out with George -- tell him honestly and directly that I thought he was the scum of the earth, and that he owed me so much for being his friend when he was a nobody and when he was a somebody. I didn't say it was a rational argument; but it was how I felt.

When I finally got up the courage and the opportunity to speak my mind to him, George's simple yet profound response surprised me. He said, "It makes sense that you should hate me. I don't blame you at all."

Even though I felt what he said was true and right, and I had no reason to be unnerved by his declaration, I felt a murderous rage boiling within me. It was a new feeling, a rather curious sensation. I rather liked it.

But I did not give in to my urge to kill George, even though I hated him. What would it have solved anyway? In the end, George still would have lived a more productive, more successful, and more fulfilled life than I could ever hope to. I would have merely put an exclamation point at the end of an already brilliantly exclamatory existence.

In fact, George himself was ultimately responsible for his demise. It has been reported in all the newspapers that George died of a sudden heart attack while feasting on caviar -- a supremely delightful way for a rich man to die, I suppose. This, however, is only the story the family has released to the press. The true cause of death has been made known to me, and it has fully satisfied any urge for revenge I might have exacted upon George myself.

George had, in fact, been eating caviar on the night of his death. He'd even stained his teeth black with the stuff, as was apparently his custom. But it was several hours later when the events leading to his death were set in motion.

Having finished supper and bade goodnight to his butler and maid -- George didn't truly need house servants, but thought it made him seem more important if he had them -- George retired to his recreation room to shoot a game of billiards and indulge in a libation or two. An hour or so into his playing, George lit up his fourth cigar of the evening and took a few puffs before returning to his game.

The next shot was a particularly difficult one, and he executed it masterfully, textbook-perfect. As is common among great egotists, George raised his head high and looked about the room for anyone who might have seen him ace the shot. Of course, being alone in this part of the house, there was no one who wished to congratulate him on his skill. Disheartened, George returned his focus to the billiards table.

Before shooting, George once again raised the cigar to his mouth, but it slipped from his grasp as he touched it to his lip, and the lit cigar slid flame-first down his throat. George dropped to his knees, struggling to scream, as the cigar -- somehow still lit -- lodged in his esophagus and cut off his air passage.

To make matters worse (or better, depending on one's perspective), an errant spark had dropped from the cigar just before he swallowed it, and George's designer suit had also caught fire.

The butler and maid, having retired to their separate quarters on the opposite side of the mansion, did not hear George's gurgled cries.

As much as I wish I could say that it had, death did not take long. If the choking had not been sufficient to kill him -- which it had -- the alchohol which George had spilled on his suit just minutes before, had been sufficient to transform the errant spark into vibrant flames. In mere minutes, George had been reduced to a blackened mass on his own recreation room floor, ironically looking not unlike an extinguished cigar stamped out underfoot.

I suppose it's wrong for me to feel cheery upon hearing of a fellow human being's death, especially that of a long-time friend. But I think an exception can and should be made in this case. All good things must come to an end. All good people too. Even George, though I'm not sure he was either a "good thing" or a "good person". Now the question begs -- what do I say in his memory? I can only state the obvious.

George was someone that I knew for a long time. He was very determined, very successful, and as a result, very rich. He loved life, but he loved himself even more. He made something out of himself, which is something I could never quite do. I called him my friend, but that was more out of habit than out of relationship. He wasn't really anybody's friend. What more can I say?

Perhaps I'll just read all this out loud.

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