The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Liam Connolly

Once your death is established, it becomes impossible to live a satisfying life.
                                                                                                      —Don DeLillo, White Noise


      “I am going to die in two months,” Henry said.
      “What’s that, honey?”
      Lois turned off the kitchen faucet and set the plates from dinner on the drying rack.
      “It’s so close,” Henry continued, “so near.”
      “Oh … right.”
      Lois dried her hands.
      “Have you been doing the coping exercises your therapist gave you?”
      “I’ve been doing them for a year,” Henry whined.
      “Well keep it up, honey. They seem to help, don’t they?”
      “What’s the point?”
      “So you can accept what you know is coming,” Lois said. “And so you can focus your attention on preparing as effectively as possible.”
      “Preparing,” Henry scoffed. “Right.”
      “Excuse me? Maybe it doesn’t do you any good, but there are other people here.”
      “Where are the kids?”
      “In the family room watching TV.”
      “I thought we said no –”
      “Don’t change the subject, Henry. You’ve only got two months…”
      “Don’t remind me.”
      “…and we’ve still got a lot to figure out. Such as: who is going to take care of us when you’re gone?”
      “I told you I don’t want you to be alone.”
      “Yes, I know.”
      Lois filled up a glass of water and took a long gulp.
      “I’ve found someone,” Lois said softly.
      “What? Who?”
      “He’s coming over tomorrow night to meet everyone.”
      “Well I won’t be here.”
      “To meet everyone, Henry. You said you would be mature about this.” She finished her glass. “You wanted this.”
      “I know, I know.” Henry held back a further comment.
      “Do you want me to wait?” Lois asked.
      “No. I want it to be a smooth transition. It’s just … who is he? What’s his story?”
      “His name is James Boylan. He works at Margie’s office. One of the other secretaries works for him.”
      “And he is very successful and never married and won’t die for another forty years. Forty two years, three months and seven … no, eight days, to be exact.”
      “Oh, so now you want to be with someone who will be around for a while? You didn’t seem to care when you married me.”
      “Because I didn’t care then, Henry. I cared about love.”
      “So now you don’t love me? Now you don’t care about our love?”
      “That’s not what I said.”
      “So since this guy is going to live so much longer than me, now you love him?”
      “No, Henry, I don’t love him. When we married, I cared about love. But now there are two kids that need to be supported. My priorities are different now.”
      “Well … you don’t even know if you’ll make it forty more years. You don’t even know when you’ll die!”
      “That’s the price you paid for not marrying a rich girl, Henry. Just ‘cause my family couldn’t afford to get some machine to tell me the exact moment I’m gonna die doesn’t
      “It doesn’t mean what, Lois? What does that mean?”
      Lois filled up her glass again.
      “He’s coming over tomorrow night after dinner,” she said calmly. “Seven o’clock.”


      Henry barely touched his plate at dinner the next night. His mind felt more cluttered than the attic that he still needed to clean out, filled with old pictures and mementos and junk he didn’t even know why the fuck he kept holding on to for so long.
      After dinner he helped Lois bring the dishes into the kitchen. He scraped the food off his plate into the garbage, and then said to his wife in a firm voice:
      “Lois, I want you to get tested. I want to find out when you’ll die.”
      “No, Henry.”
      “Why not? I’ll pay for it.”
      “You’ll pay for it? When has money ever been an issue of discussion in this marriage?”
      “That’s not what I meant, babe. It’s just really important to me. After what happened with my father—”
      “Don’t bring that up again, Henry. You know I don’t want to get tested.”
      “But why not?”
      “Because I don’t want to know! My parents didn’t know they were gonna smash into a big brick wall, but they did. My uncle didn’t know his whole body would be riddled with cancer. My—”
      The doorbell rang.

      James Boylan wore a crisp, dry-cleaned suit shaded a grey similar to fireplace ash. His face appeared artificial, as if made of plastic, which, along with his expensive German-made car, still couldn’t hide the fact that he’d never been married because he’d never been able to pleasure a woman his entire life. So, Henry pondered, what did Lois see in this prick?
      The children were showing James their school projects.
      “That’s very nice, Emily. Especially for a five year old.”
      “Five and a half,” Emily replied.
      “What about mine, Mr. Boylan?”
      “I think it’s marvelous, Heather.”
      “More wine?” Lois asked, picking up the empty tray. Henry nodded.
      “Oh no, thank you,” James said. “I’ve got to drive home.”
      “You’re going home, Mr. Boylan?” the girls bemoaned.
      “Well, not yet. I still haven’t seen your playroom!”
      “Not tonight, girls,” Henry said, as Lois emptied the wine bottle into his glass. “You need to get to bed soon.”
      “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—”
      “It’s alright, James,” said Lois. “Girls, go make sure your playroom is tidy before you give Mr. Boylan the tour.”
      “Yay!” the girls screamed, running out of the family room.
      “I’ll take these into the kitchen and let you two get acquainted,” said Lois.
      Henry heard the guillotine blade lift slowly as his wife left the room. He took a long gulp of wine.
      “So what do you do, Henry?”
      “What do you do, James?”
      “I oversee the marketing division at Brandt Leland. It’s the best I’ve been able to do with an art degree. I still paint in my spare time now and then, but my artistic ambitions are basically de … I mean gone. Sorry. I golf some on the weekends, but I’m average at best. Do you like to play golf, Henry?”
      “Not much of a sports person.”
      “Ah, I understand. I like to watch college sports now and again. You know, root for the old team. Where did you go to school, Henry?”
      “Out of state. On a scholarship.”
      “Oh, good for you! What did you study?”
      “Political science. Could’ve gone to law school, but I got my MBA instead.”
      “Very impressive. I thought about going to grad school myself, but I didn’t think I had the chops to make it.”
      Lois came back in the room.
      “James, the girls are ready to show you their playroom.”
      James stood up and followed his soon-to-be spouse down the hall. Henry finished his wine in a quick swig.


      Henry continued driving past the highway on-ramp and sped through a reddening traffic light. His foot pressed harder as his hands gripped the wheel with just as much vigor.
      James had been coming by the house every few nights for over a month now, weaseling his way into Henry’s family and usurping Henry’s position. Meanwhile, Henry was forced to tell the girls that Mr. Boylan was soon to be their new Daddy, and that their old Daddy was going away to be with Grandpa, and Nana and Pop Pop. The girls cried and said they would miss Daddy; but they thought Mr. Boylan was very nice, and they liked him a lot: he told funny stories and made Mommy smile.
      Every time after James left, Lois reminded Henry that he was the one who asked her to find someone before he died. She asked him to try and warm up to James; Henry wanted to, for her, because he knew she struggled with the situation, too, but he just couldn’t do it: he thought James was a loquacious, self-centered boar.
      Henry skidded around a corner and shot down a side street. He’d just come from his therapist, who’d done nothing to alleviate Henry’s problems except recommending that Henry pray to God.
      “Would it hurt you to pray in the morning?” his therapist had asked. “Would it do you any physical harm?”
      “Then why not give it a shot?”
      Henry lied and said he would start praying, though he felt that only fanatics and drunks needed a higher power. Besides, how could an almighty God allow him to die before he reached fifty? Why did God even allow death to enter the world?
      Though if God didn’t exist, then whom could Henry blame beside himself? Well, he could blame that fucking machine that told him when he was going to die. His father had been excited about the machine from the moment he heard about it: he signed up the family as soon as he could, during the summer before Henry started college. But the day they were supposed to go get tested, the machine had malfunctioned, delaying their tests by a month; during that interval, his father died in a crash while driving home from work. Would the machine have foreseen that? What if his father hadn’t driven that day? Would he’ve died another way? Was it possible to escape death?
      Henry wanted a cigarette. Why had he quit smoking? So he could breathe easier the last few years of his life? The air didn’t seem filling to him now. Nothing did, so close to the end.
      He drove faster, adrenaline surging through him—it felt good. Why not chase this feeling? Why not treat the road as his personal Autobahn? Why not make up for all the conservative things he’d done by just going wild? None of it would kill him. Could it? Why not put a gun to his face, just to test the machine? Could it be wrong? It was supposed to be accurate, but was it always accurate? Though if it was wrong, and he could possibly live longer, why risk it?
      But why not fill his carnal needs? What could happen? He couldn’t get an STD in so short of a time. And even if Lois found out, so what?
      He couldn’t do that to Lois. And really it wasn’t about carnal need: he’d just been feeling very alone recently. Lois was still there for him, and still supportive, but she seemed more focused on getting to know James. Henry tried to understand, telling himself that she was doing what was best for her and the kids—but why couldn’t she do all that after he died? Why did he have to be a witness to it?
      If he couldn’t get what he needed from his wife, what was he supposed to do?


      The doorbell jostled Henry out of his concentrated reading. He put a mark in his book and placed it on the table before answering the door.
      “Oh, hey James. C’mon in.”
      James sat down on the couch in the family room.
      “I hope I am not interrupting anything,” James said once Henry sat back down in his chair.
      “I was just reading.”
      “Well then I won’t disturb you. Are Lois and the kids here?”
      “They’re out. Won’t be back for an hour or so.”
      “Ah, I see.” James remained seated.
      “So how are you, Henry?”
      “As good as I can be, given that I’ll be dead in a week.”
      “Ah. Right. Sorry.”
      James shifted uncomfortably on the couch. Henry saw a few beads of sweat forming on his face. His awkwardness was almost pitiful. So how could Lois like him? And how could the girls adore him? Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy. He did the best he could.
      “How are you doing, James?” Henry finally asked, breaking the awkward silence.
      “Oh … quite good, thanks. A bit tired.”
      “Want some coffee? Or something else?”
      “No, thanks. I’m fine.”
      “I was about to have a scotch,” Henry said, and then followed by asking:
      “Why don’t you join me?”
      “Oh, well, I do have to drive home in a bit.”
      “C’mon, one drink. Lois and the girls aren’t even here yet.”
      “You like ice?”
      “Yes. Please.”
      “Me too,” Henry said.
      As he poured the drinks, Henry recalled seeing his father drinking scotch with his friends after a round of golf. They’d laugh boisterously, having the time of their lives. Henry always wished he could join them, and his father promised him a spot after his 21st birthday. But that wish was never fulfilled: instead, he got drunk with his mom the day he turned legal. A week later, he used the birthday money given to him by his uncle and found out when he would die. He did it both for his own curiosity, and as a tribute to his father. His mother had been adamantly against it, feeling that the machine was cursed; she blamed it for her husband’s early death. But Henry knew better. He wanted to know exactly how much time he had left, in order to plan out everything the best he could. He never wrote out that plan, though life hadn’t gone exactly as he had thought it would when he was twenty one and had the world ahead of him. Yet as he reflected on it now, he felt glad that he had decided to get tested; it was one of many decisions that he felt content about.
      Henry brought an iced glass of scotch over to James, and then took a long, filling sip of his own.

      By the time Lois and the girls got home, Henry and James were deep in conversation and halfway through the bottle.
      “Hey, look who’s here!” Henry exclaimed as his wife and children came into the family room.
      “James,” said Lois, “how long have you been here?”
      “Boy, I dunno: a couple of hours? Me and Henry here have been talking up a storm.”
      “You have?” Lois gave Henry a puzzled look. He smiled back at her.


      The girls had been taken to school, and Henry had said goodbye to his wife. They’d agreed that he needed to do be alone when it happened.
      Now he stood solitarily in a park near the house. He held a picture of his father, expecting to see him soon … if there really was an afterlife … and if he’d even make it.
      Had he done everything he needed to do? He’d tried to be a supportive husband, a loving father—all that shit that they’d write in his obituary and put on his tombstone. Forever remembered through a slab of marble, born, died, and alone. His wife would lay next to her husband tonight. Would they consummate the marriage? They were going to the courthouse this afternoon. Henry asked her not to wait: he didn’t want her to be alone, and he thought it would be best for her to get married as soon as the time printed on the death certificate he filed years ago had passed. Still, the thought of her in bed with another man disturbed Henry. Though why would it matter once he was gone? Was it really worth thinking about so close to the end?
      The sky was cloudy, casting confusion over his thoughts. He wished he could listen to music; that would be a good way to go out. Let It Be, or the Doors. No, too cliché. Maybe some great symphony—like the Ninth. He remembered walking through the Louvre one evening, buzzed from several glasses of Bordeaux, “Ode to Joy” blasting in his ears. He’d never gone back to Europe after his study abroad: he started working, met Lois, and by the time he hit thirty, they had settled down.
      However, he had accomplished a lot in his life. Two beautiful daughters, firstly. They would both go on to do so much with their lives, Henry knew. Lois wouldn’t forget him; nor his mother, old as she was. It had taken him years to tell her that he got tested: she’d been angry at first, but she eventually accepted it; Henry even thought that it relieved her to find out her son wouldn’t die young. She had always told Henry that he would do great things with his life, even when he doubted he’d amount to anything.
      He’d gone to see his mother last week. He told her that he felt like he needed to go out on some sort of high note.
      “Like what?” his mother asked. “Cure cancer?”
      “No. I dunno. I just…”
      “Sweety, you’ve done everything you were supposed to do. Don’t think about what you could’ve done. Think about what you did, and be glad.”
      She was right. Sure, there was a lot of the world that he hadn’t gotten to experience, but he was content with that. He had done exactly what he was supposed to do.
      He took a deep breath. He felt good. The Sun appeared from behind the clouds, warming his body, inside and out. He looked up, and the bright light burned deep into his eyes.

Liam Connolly was born in Toronto. He moved to Atlanta when he was three, lived there for twenty years, and graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. He now lives in Paris. His fiction has been published in Sacramento Poetry, Art and Music and The Taj Mahal Review, and his poetry has appeared in The Houston Literary Review. He enjoys literature, history, wine, and good conversation.

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