The sun stabbed Missy in the eyes as she opened the garage door. Squinting, she flipped open the glove compartment and dug for her good sunglasses. They weren’t there. She heaved a sigh of exasperation as she remembered she had left them at Daniel’s. Digging deeper, she extracted a pair of scratched gas station sunglasses held together by tape. She slipped them over her eyes and the sun’s harsh rays were cut in half.
Pulling out of the garage, she narrowly missed the neighbor’s garbage can while lighting a cigarette and punching the garage door button. Getting the cigarette lit was no easy matter, but Missy was no quitter and managed it just in time to yank the car back toward the middle of the road and away from the opposite curb. The mother pushing the stroller that she had nearly hit shook her fist and yelled something Missy did not even register.
Making her way onto the main street, she dragged deep on her cigarette, wishing she’d thought to bring a flask. Fortunately, the building inhabited by the suicide hotline was west of the community she and Princess inhabited, and the sun stayed behind her.
Traffic crawled up the street. Drivers honked and yelled, and she could hear a dozen different radios tuned to the same Good Morning talk show. She pitched her cigarette and rolled up the window with a snarl, cutting off the cheerful banter. Switching the input on her radio, she tuned into a USB drive with some of her favorite music. A hellish crashing and screaming filled the car, the melody only just discernible, but she felt herself relax almost at once. She lit another cigarette but kept the windows rolled up. Who gave a shit about a little second hand smoke? That was for people who were concerned with living forever, and as far as she was concerned, she was ready to check out just about anytime.
The light turned green. Traffic crawled forward. According to the digital clock on the dashboard, she would be late in ten minutes. This no longer had any effect over her and she settled back in her seat, lighting another cigarette before noticing she was already smoking one. She put both in one hand and smoked them simultaneously as traffic began to move at a more steady rate.
They both burnt out just as she rolled into the parking lot of the suicide hotline. She parked mostly between the lines, denting only one bumper on her way in. Pitching the butts on the ground, she slammed the car door behind her and made her way toward the door of the building. Once inside, she reflected that it was far darker than usual, then realized she was still wearing her scuffed sunglasses. With a noise of impatience she crushed them in her hand and dropped them into a garbage can next to the elevator as its doors chimed open. As she rode up, she looked at herself in the hazy reflection of the elevator doors.
Princess giggled and waved at her.
Missy’s jaw tightened and she was about to speak when the door slid open. The hotline’s night shift stood before her, about to head home to their own lives. Their collective step toward the door of the elevator faltered as they saw the fury on Missy’s face. She rearranged her features into what she was fairly sure was a grin.
“Morning,” she said, and breezed past them. They moved aside, murmuring the rote replies reserved for barely-acquaintances passing each other in the halls. She spared them not a look, but strode down the hall to the office door, weaving only a little.
When she walked into the office, the others on her shift were all at their cubicles wearing headsets. She ignored the clock and sat down at her cubicle, donning her headset and answering the already ringing phone.
“Suicide hotline, what’s your problem?” she said, digging in her bag for her cigarettes.
Her cubicle neighbor spared her a curious glance before another call took his attention away from her. In Missy’s ear, a man began a long story about how his wife left him and took his dog and children. He’s standing on a bridge, he says, and he wants her to give him one good reason why he shouldn’t jump.
“Why would I do that?” Missy asked, finally locating her cigarettes and switching her search to her lighter.
“Well… this is the suicide hotline, isn’t it? Aren’t you supposed to–”
“Look, Mac,” Missy snapped, her fingers finally locating her lighter at the bottom of her bag. “Why the fuck did you call here? Do you want to kill yourself or be talked out of it? If you want to be talked out of it, you clearly don’t want to kill yourself, so why don’t you piss off and leave me alone. I’ve had a bad enough morning as it is.”
She disconnected the call without waiting to hear a reply, rolling her eyes and digging the lighter out. She lit a cigarette, ignoring the aghast looks being beamed her way by those within earshot as she answered another call. “Suicide hotline, what is it?”
“I have a terminal disease,” said a lifeless voice. “What’s the point of going on if I’m just going to die?”
Missy took a deep drag and held it in. “We’re all going to die, genius,” she said, and exhaled. “You’re just lucky enough to die earlier than most.”
“I guess so,” the voice said.
“Think of how many people want to die,” said Missy, and took another drag. “You get to die without having to kill yourself. The waiting is over. You know how you’re going to die. All you-”
“I’m so sorry,” a firm male voice broke in. “You have been speaking to someone who is NOT employed by the Suicide Hotline, and I sincerely regret any trauma she has caused you. Now, how can I help you?”
Before the voice was halfway done, Missy felt a hand close on her arm, propelling her upward from her seat. She was turned, catching sight of her cubicle neighbor who had taken over her call with Terminal Disease and stared into the furious eyes of office manager Carol Olson.
“I think the lady I was just talking to had it right,” Missy heard the voice say in her headset before Elson yanked it off her head and threw it on the desk.
“And I think,” Elson said, her teeth clenched, “that we have had enough of your style of ‘help’, Missy.” She released Missy’s arm, nearly throwing her. “I have called the police and if you don’t want to explain yourself to them, I suggest you leave now and never set foot on this property again.”
Missy’s jaw dropped. Just as quickly, she put her cigarette in it and regained her composure, blowing the smoke in Elson’s face. “You couldn’t pay me enough to work here, bitch,” she said and grabbed her bag from what had formerly been her desk. Behind her, she could hear many voices soothing distraught lives. “KILL YOURSELVES!” she shrieked, whirling around. “KILL YOURSELVES NOW AND GET IT OVER WITH!”
The employees winced as one, and she could near numerous reassurances and variations of “that wasn’t meant for you” being murmured soothingly into headsets. Elson’s eyes flashed and she made to grab Missy’s arm again. Missy evaded her this time and flicked the cigarette at Elson’s chest. The older woman flinched as it bounced off her and dropped to her feet.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” Missy snarled. “I’m leaving, just like you wanted, and you can pretend I never happened.”
She left the building without looking back and sat in her car for a moment staring at herself in the mirror.
“Smooth,” said Princess.
“Shut up,” Missy muttered, starting the car and reversing out of her spot. She joined the flood of traffic on the main arterial, driving opposite the sirens she could hear growing closer.