BY A.C. KOCH
For a bunch of shitty reasons too complicated to discuss at the moment, Joe Ladey put a fully loaded .22 pistol in his mouth and fired. It didn’t kill him, which wasn’t really a surprise: .22s weren’t much good for killing anything bigger than a cockroach.What was a surprise was how goddamn loud the shot was. Jesus. He sat there blinking and tasting a big numb lump of tongue in his mouth. Hot blood soaked his shirt and dripped down his back. A powerful ringing. The feeling of hitting your head so hard you see stars and feel tingles and the world disappears. Head-shot and surprised, Joe Ladey just sat there. Blood speckled his whiskers. Out the window was a mess of green where an oak tree stood letting its leaves gleam in the last light of evening. A pickup went by fast on the county road kicking up dust. A cricket hummed.
The ringing in his ears – or rather, in his ear, since there seemed to be only one of them left – took on a surging quality like waves lapping at his head. He swayed a little. A powerful ringing. It was the phone. It was the goddamn phone ringing. He looked at it. A beige rotary on the endtable. Who could be calling for a dead man? Since when did phones ring in the rooms of dead men lying emptied of their brains? Probably whoever was calling – ex-wife, ex-boss, ex-daughter, phone solicitor – somehow knew that Joe Ladey had screwed up trying to empty out his fool brains. Couldn’t even do that right.
And then he thought maybe he really was dead, and this room was heaven, and everything was exactly the same except that in heaven you sometimes get phone calls. And just to be sure, he reached out and picked up the receiver.