On the day he was to hang himself, Millard Salter made his bed for the first time in fifty-seven years. He struggled briefly with the fitted sheet, but by bracing the mattress against his good knee, he managed to hook the elastic bindings over the corners. Then came the flat sheet, the pillow cases, the silk comforter that his second wife, a dialysis nurse, had received as a gift from an elderly Taiwanese patient. Millard had called it a duvet, until Isabelle—rest her soul—pointedly explained the difference. (Words had mattered to Isabelle: Pictures are hung, he could hear her chiding. People are hanged.) Finally, he drew the spread over the comforter, letting the fringe hang loose at the foot like a skirt hem, and propped the breakfast pillows and the flanged shams against the headboard. When he’d finished, shortly after six o’clock, the queen size bed looked togged up for a fashionable hotel. Only a mint on the pillow was lacking. I suppose they’ll cut me down and lay me out on the covers, Millard reflected. And if they assume that I tidied my bedding so fastidiously every morning, is that such a crime?
Soon the birthday wishes would be arriving—from his children, or at least the three who were likely to remember, because with Lysander, you could never tell, and from his baby sister in Tucson (his baby sister who was now sixty-eight!), and from Virginia Margold, a high school acquaintance who, post-divorce, had taken to phoning the surviving Hager Heights graduates of the class of 1957 to commemorate their special occasions. Virginia was certain to take poorly the news that solid Millard Salter—or “Salty,” as she’d previously known him—had shut his own book at seventy-five. That, fortunately, would not be his concern.
How strange it was, reflected Millard, as he tied his shoelaces, an elaborate procedure since his disc had slipped, that the act of dressing proved no different in its final rendering. Same Lancing tie. Same crew neck cardigan. Same black bag, a gift from his own father at his medical school graduation. Only choosing a belt required reflection. He retrieved his two best belts from the bathroom closet—the closet where Isabelle’s used cosmetics decomposed in a water-warped carton, waiting to be discarded—and looped the leather around his fists, tugging each to test its strength. He intended to use one for his slacks, the other for his neck; the last thing he desired was for them to find him dangling in the bathroom with his trousers bunched around his ankles. Besides, he’d read once that hanging triggered erections, and while the prospect of greeting his “rescue” party with an alert member struck him as amusing, sort of like a raised middle finger on steroids, he didn’t wish to leave the world with the impression that he’d been angry in life, or even disappointed, because he had not.
Reprinted Courtesy of Gallery Books.
To learn more about Jacob M. Appel and his book, go here.