Unfinished (Chapter 1)

by Dash Owens

Maeve realized the uselessness of escaping debt — the expense of a self-indulgent education riddled with false starts— and, after lengthy imagined acceptance speeches and daydreams of novels, she uncovered the blunt, inevitable conclusion: Maeve needed to kill herself. What was her education? A series of discussions frustrated by every man’s indecent expectation for another moment to finish his point; peopled rooms full of thoughts paid for by the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, none of which could be discharged by any quantity or quality of thoughts; grandiose musings unsustainable when clothes must be bought and brunch must be had; pointless people playing a pointless game called “the academy.” 

Maeve made the decision quickly, though the thought did not feel unfamiliar, no different than an old sock repeatedly found and lost again in the same drawer. Her eyes shifted around her studio apartment: books stacked haphazardly around a secondhand Ikea couch and a vase of month-old decayed flowers perched on a small table in front of the window. Maeve remembered who she once thought she would be in this apartment with the books and the flowers in the window. 

Maeve closed the laptop screen where one of her credit card statements floated with a haunting, backlit glow. She stared for a while at the stove. She moved rapidly to flick the gas on and proceeded to take solid, determined steps to her closet, where she pulled out her favorite dress — navy speckled with white does — and changed. After slipping on an elegant pair of mahogany leather loafers, Maeve walked into the kitchen, sat on the floor, leaned her head against the oven, and closed her eyes. She smelled the sweet fumes and remembered as a child gleefully rolling down the window to sniff the air at gas stations. 

Maeve leapt up. She couldn’t recall what was true about bodies post-mortem, and she didn’t want to open her computer again. She rushed to the bathroom to squeeze and release everything from her body. She then smothered her arms, chest, legs, stomach with her favorite orange clove lotion, which made her think of Christmas. Maeve almost left the bathroom when she ran her tongue over her teeth. Detecting small bumps of plaque, she decided to not go through with self-murder feeling insecure about her breath. 

Perhaps it was Maeve’s urgency, but she gripped the toothpaste container as hard as a biker abruptly breaking. The toothpaste ejected from the tube, and it left a splat of white peppermint paste on Maeve’s left breast. Did Maeve scream? Probably, but the following events happened swiftly. With stunning automaticity, she scooped part of the toothpaste with her pinky onto her brush. Maeve started to brush her teeth, eyed the disastrous glob in the mirror, and, as she made tiny brisk circles at her gum line, she stormed out of the bathroom in a panic. Kill herself now with a toothpaste stain in such an unsatisfactory and embarrassing location? She imagined the condescending expressions of those looking down into her coffin, gesturing with half-smiles and barely swallowed snickers at her stained breast. As Maeve ran towards the stove, she lost her balance. She couldn’t see if she tripped — perhaps the gas had compromised her balance — but her head soundly thumped the corner of the counter less than a foot from the stove. The toothbrush lay on the ground nearby, and a small puddle of foamy white spittle leaked from her mouth. Whether it was the head trauma or the gas, Maeve, in the end, died. It was April 4, 2019. 

Maeve died, and she didn’t die. Her body died. Philosophers and theologians debate what exactly we mean when we say words like soul or spirit. There are scientists and atheist teenagers in dank rooms and bright lecture halls across the world who avidly argue against the existence of any of these words. Lucretians look at the sum of human parts and believe the equation is balanced — we are no more or less than our mortal fabric. 

In the epic poems of Homer and Virgil, the heroes visit the underworld. There, they encounter the shades of friends, family, lovers, heroes of the past. These shades maintain their personalities and their grudges — Ajax will not acknowledge Odysseus, Dido will reject Aeneas’ excuses. In a way, the shades are dead. They may seem alive, but to what end? They are the static of a lost signal; photographic negatives lying forgotten on a cluttered table. The shades inhabit a concealed netherworld of frozen moments, and on their occasional awakening they regurgitate their final words and thoughts in an unyielding, torturous loop. It’s a pitiful state of affairs. 

When Maeve appears again, she will not be paying Charon’s tax on the river Styx, nor will she be relaxing in Elysium. She is only a few blocks from where she died. In Brooklyn. 

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