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Death Drive

Story by Pat Jameson (Read author interview) December 19, 2022

Art by SmokeLong Quarterly

I had a boy who would get me beer. He was good at his job. Each morning I opened the fridge and found it full of shiny, glistening bottles. Then I would drink the beer. Then I would go for a walk. But I never made it very far. I was old. My engines were shutting down.

I liked to sit on the front porch and watch the planes sidestep the clouds overhead. I would sit there and think, being old is terrible. I should have died at a more manageable age. Before all this pain and misery, the incontinence. I had once been a brilliant professor and now I was falling apart. I had piles and gnarled toenails and hazy memories of the bad things I’d done in my past life. Everybody else seemed to remember my sins better than me. My ex-wives. Our kids. The hordes of nameless grandchildren. They knew the legend of what I’d done—who I’d been—a legend that now escaped me.

I married two of my students, had affairs with ten or so more. I always liked young people. They were so open about their problems, so eager to share. It was great for my career. My books and papers on the human race. Still, there were issues. Several of my students tried to murder me. Another confessed his issues in the margins of the exam sections. He used the bubble sheets to write things like DEATH NOW or I KILL MYSELF. During office hours, I asked if he was suicidal and he laughed and left me there, baffled. Now, he’s the CEO of a multi-million dollar company. They make something to do with fitness electronics. A device that measures your heart to tell if you truly love someone. I don’t know.

***

The boy who brought me my beer was named Yoshi. We connected on the internet. He said he would like to make money. I said I could do that. I had lots of money and only one desire—a fridge full of beer. I didn’t know anything about Yoshi besides he was at least 21 years of age and dependable. One evening, Yoshi found me on the front steps surrounded by a graveyard of empty beer bottles. I was thinking about my youth: how I had once fallen and cut my hand, unearthing a world of spiderwebs beneath the skin. When they stitched me back up, I was almost sad. I felt like I’d discovered something wonderful only for it to be snatched away.

“Would you like more beer?” Yoshi asked.

“Not now,” I said. “I want to go to the beach.”

We set off for the beach, Yoshi pulling me in the wagon he used to deliver my groceries. I felt like an ancient dog on his last ride to the vet—the matted fur, ruined joints, my once regal nose frosted with white trim. It wasn’t a bad comparison. With each bump and jolt, I sensed everything wrong with my body. My teeth seemed ready to fall out of my head.

It was almost sunset and the beach was crowded. Legions of tourists sipped smoothies, taking pictures of themselves in front of palm trees and garbage cans. Nearby, the local gutter punks leered, their stick-thin, un-neutered dogs pulling at tattered leashes. A collection of these unwashed miscreants sat cross-legged on the sand, plucking cheap guitars and singing of death and man’s folly.

“It wasn’t like this when I was younger.” I gestured toward the assembly. “The cops would whack someone over the head with a billy club if they acted like that.”

“It must have been tough back then,” Yoshi said. “With the dinosaurs eating everyone and everything.”

I grumbled. He was a little shit. Yes. But he was the only one I could count on. I handed him a twenty and told him to buy more beer. Yoshi snatched the bill and scampered off, dutiful as always. I sat there in the wagon, waiting. Above, the sun swelled and receded. My liver-spotted skin cracked and burned. The day ended and a purple night fell across the land.

***

I wrote three books as an academic—each well-regarded—but the most famous focused on what Freud called the Death Drive. It postulated that all our life, all our decisions, are made in opposition to the things that are best for us. Your own mind, consciously or not, is trying to kill you. I wrote that book on this very beach, drinking malt liquor from a warm paper bag. I wanted to understand what made people tick and, for a few precious months, I thought I knew. Now that I am getting closer to death—real, lasting death—I have no intention of understanding anything.

After an hour, I realized Yoshi wasn’t coming back. I despaired at my trust in him, resolving to beat him with my cane once I returned home. As the moon rose, the crowds departed and the vagrants came together to form a drum circle. A fire was lit, tall and burning bright, and they began to dance around it, whooping in time to the music. It was nonsensical, formless and without reason, but there was something alluring to the sound, something primitive. It called out to me.

I crawled from the wagon toward the ring of noise. With each movement, I felt pieces break off within my body, tear loose, fall behind. Still, I kept going, feeling as if I was shedding layers upon layers, eons of memories, pain and regret, until I was young again, sliding clean and brainless from my mother’s womb. When I was nearly there, a woman skipped up to me, grinning. In the firelight, I saw her face, how twisted and vulgar, how attractive it was. She offered her hand and we started to dance, our feet skipping across the moonlight and sand. I closed my eyes, thinking—perhaps there is something left for me in this world after all.

About the Author

Pat Jameson is a writer from Roanoke, VA. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in BULL, X-R-A-Y, and Final Girl Bulletin Board. Find him on Twitter @jameson_pat.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2022 of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Eight — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction 2022
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