Short Story: A Most Eccentric Affair
Late in the afternoon we received an invitation to Mr. Greenwood’s home for a party he was throwing.
The usual guests were there, Mrs. Stephenson and her son, James the doorman, and Steve Wilcox the building manager were all in attendance. As well as a few other guests and family I was little acquainted with.
It came about rather oddly, some would later go on to say, even hastily, that Arthur Greenwood had decided to throw this party. But, this was to be no ordinary party. It was Mr. Greenwood’s suicide party. The biggest event of the year as it turned out, at least for this small cadre of guests, and Mrs. Greenwood had spared no expense in putting it together.
It soon however became obvious to us as the night progressed that Mr. Greenwood had had a change of heart, infuriating guests and family alike, as we all had expected to be witness to this amazing event. His wife being the most livid of all.
However, he still continued to talk about it. Late into the night. And he kept saying the same things over and over again.
Finally, someone shouted,
“You’re a coward, Greenwood. You don’t have the balls.”
“I don’t have the balls? No, you don’t have the balls.”
“You talk but you’ll never do it.”
“Oh, so you think I won’t do it?”
“No, you’ll never do it.”
This scene took place in the living room, by the fireplace.
Mr. Greenwood’s wife, whose name I can’t recall, rushed out into the middle of the room and cleared her throat to get everyones attention. She was wearing a blue dress that was cut quite short with a low neckline for someone her age.
Everyone’s conversations stopped. Only the smooth jazz continued.
“Everyone, thank you for being here for Arthur tonight. I assure you I am not going to give a long speech.”
Sniggering flared up from the crowd.
“Actions speak louder than words, after all.”
There was some loud murmuring.
“Arthur has decided to leave this life. But he’s stubborn, as you know. The nitwit. We talked about it together. For a long time. Guns are noisy and the children are sleeping upstairs. We don’t want to traumatize them. Slitting the wrists can be slow and messy, and Arthur doesn’t want to make you see all of that blood. Also the carpet is new. Triple weave. Norwegian fabric. Touch it. Don’t be shy. You can see the quality. As for pills we couldn’t find the stock of sleeping pills and tranquilizers we’ve been collecting for months. I have always been a little absentminded.”
Mr. Greenwood’s voice was slow and thick, as he began to chuckle to himself.
“Actually, most of you already know. Arthur has decided to hang himself.”
The room erupted with applause.
“Arthur, please, I think it’s time now.”
Steve Wilcox came forward and gave Mrs. Greenwood a white nylon rope about the thickness of his thumb.
Mrs. Greenwood then threw the rope around the oak beam that separated the living room ceiling into two halves. She succeeded on the first try.
Steve Wilcox made the slipknot. Which only took him two seconds. He seemed like a real professional.
Mrs. Stephenson couldn’t keep herself from getting involved; and slid a chair underneath it. Mr. Greenwood watched all this with a detached look. He then threw back his drink and tried to get up, but collapsed almost immediately. Steve and James then took him by the shoulders and helped him walk to the middle of the room.
“Do you want to say a few words?”
“Go ahead. In a few minutes it will be too late.” Mrs. Greenwood said. These spirited remarks of his courageous wife were received with loud laughter by the crowd.
Mr. Greenwood shook his head no.
“I don’t want to anymore.”
“What do you mean you don’t want to?”
“I don’t want to kill myself.”
The beat of John Coltrane’s Blue Train, suddenly seemed to slow to a crawl.
“You don’t want to anymore? You can’t do that to us. Our friends came here for this. It’s cost us a fortune. Everyone’s been here for hours.”
“Come on, Greenwood.” Steve Wilcox was taking charge.
“You’re a pain in the ass. Pussy. Grow some balls. You wrinkly dick. I knew this would happen. You’re not a real man.”
Mr. Greenwood looked furious.
“How dare you.”
Mrs. Greenwood was also getting angry.
“You are ruining the party and disrespecting us.”
“I don’t want to.”
“What will the children think?”
“I don’t care about the children.”
“Really, Greenwood, be reasonable. Is this a suicide party or not?” Asked James, who also started to look somewhat bitter, as if he were being cheated out of something.
A sticky hostility was beginning to rise in the crowd. Everyone, of course, had better things to do and we had expected to see Mr. Greenwood end his life in a spectacular fashion, today, the fourteenth of August, at eight o’clock in the afternoon.
“I really don’t want to.”
“We’ll help you.”
Steve Wilcox then seized him from behind. At the same time, James grabbed his ankles, Mrs. Stephenson put him in a headlock, Mrs. Stephenson’s son lifted him up. I myself squeezed him firmly around the legs while Mrs. Greenwood scissored his waist.
Mr. Greenwood let out a primal yell.
“Be quiet. Think of the children.”
Mrs. Greenwood then put the rope around his neck.
Steve Wilcox stuffed a dozen paper napkins decorated with fireworks and American flags into his mouth. Some were used and stained with mustard. Or with cocktail sauce.
Mr. Greenwood tried to struggle, whining, but we were able to hoist him onto the chair. “Piece of shit.”
Then a chorus of men and women started chanting the countdown.
Five. Four. Three. Two...
“Piece of shit.”
I don’t know who kicked the chair. But Mr. Greenwood began to swing to the rhythms of Thelonius Monk.
His legs kicked in empty space and then nothing. He had decisively killed himself. Bulging eyes. Tongue dangling. Mottled. Immense. Spat-out napkins. We were forced to applaud to mask the obscene sound of his intestinal gurgling. Then he went slack.
I never would have guessed however, exactly how long a hanging lasts. It was a good three or four minutes. But it somehow seemed longer and to be honest I felt the whole show was lacking a bit. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful affair, one I rather enjoyed.
Mrs. Greenwood thanked us again for coming. Her eyes were wet. There was still some food leftover.
“Who wants some? Please. Take everything.”
“Do you want us to take him down?” Steve Wilcox asked, always willing to lend a hand.
“No. Leave him there. He’s not bothering anybody. And the children have to see him tomorrow. It’s important for them. To grieve. The psychologist made sure I understood.”
“Of course. Good night.”
“Did you see the way he jerked?” I reminisced to my wife once we were back in our own apartment.
“And that tongue. My God, his tongue. I would never have thought our tongues were so big. Humans are really something aren’t they?”
“Did you see how he looked at us?”
“Stop being so sentimental. Yes. Purple. He looked purple.”