Sitting at the kitchen table, I opened and closed the shears in time with the ticking of the wall clock. Tick tock.
The shears’ blades glinted under the soft glow of the ion therapy lamp mounted to the ceiling, and the steely handles were cool between my thumb and forefinger. Unlike the new ones made of graphene, these shears were heavy, forged from steel that was mined during the era when smoke stacks pumped black clouds into the sky, in the days before the sun eclipsed.
I hadn’t been this down in years. I hadn’t shaved in days, and my reluctant beard was patchy and sparse. I was low. Really at the bottom. And the shears could end it all with one well-positioned jab to the jugular.
I raised the blades to my throat and pressed. I felt nothing, except the uncertainty that I may not be able to do it.
A siren cried into the night, rattling my determination. I didn’t need to glance out the window to know it was an ambulance going to collect yet another suicide. I covered my ears with my hands, shears hanging from the base of my thumb. My C-tag slipped down the chain around my neck and landed with a clunk onto the table. The siren’s red light splashed the walls of the kitchen, followed by a shadow.
I waited until the wail subsided, then I set the scissors down, removing my fingers from the handles with a gentle release. There were was too much death these days. I could not be among them, at least not tonight.
I touched my C-tag, rectangular, smooth and shiny. It had a small speaker at the top and a neon green panic button in the center. I’d chosen neon green because it reminded me of blades of spring grass — the way it used to look when I was little and the sun would still come out. Besides, red was too cliché. Only old people and kids had red panic buttons. I wondered what color my Ward had chosen. I had never asked her, and of course we’d never met. A Counselor was not supposed to meet their Ward; the pain was too sharp if they died.
I brushed my finger over the button, hesitated, then pressed it. There was a click, followed by a small beep.
“Jeff, is that you?” my Counselor said from the C-tag’s built-in speaker.
“Yes, it’s me. Thanks for picking up, Rity.”
“Sure. Are you okay?”
I could hear the concern in Rity’s voice. I didn’t answer. Of course I wasn’t okay. I wouldn’t have called her if I was.
She sighed. I imagined her running her fingers through her red hair, though I really had no idea what color it was at all. “Is your ion lamp set to high?”
“It is. It’s just not working any more.”
“You should check yourself into a sunlight center. Just for a couple days. The ion glow baths will cheer you up.”
“Honestly, Rity, I’m not sure I am motivated to do that.”
“Tell me where you are.”
I looked around my kitchen. Small, with checkered tiles and white walls, there was a box of herbs growing under a lamp on the countertop. I needed to water them. The wall clock with black hands mounted next to the stove was ticking, ticking, ticking.
“I’m at home.” I paused and looked out the window again. The street below, lined with cement block apartment buildings, was silent. There had been trees along the sidewalk once. Under the glow of street lamps, I could still see plots of dirt surrounded by low metal fences designed to keep dogs away, though the empty spaces were now littered with paper cups and crushed cans.
I turned my attention back to Rity. “Another siren just went by. I think another person lit themselves on fire.”
“That’s weak. You know it is. They have failed the test. One day, history will talk about this dark period. You want your great-grandchildren to celebrate your decision to stay alive, don’t you?”
I looked at the shears. I couldn’t contemplate great-grandchildren. I didn’t even have a girlfriend, let alone a partner. Maybe I was weak too. “I know why they light themselves on fire,” I said instead. “They just want to see light again. Natural light. And fire is the closest they can get to that feeling.”
From the C-tag’s speaker, I heard a man laugh. I thought I heard music too, but I couldn’t make out the melody. I suddenly felt bad that I’d interrupted her. She was probably out with friends, having fun, like a normal person should. “Rity, I should go.”
“No, I’m here.” She paused. “Listen, they said that we’ll get 24 hours of daylight at the end of the month. You heard that, right?”
“Seventeen more nights until daylight. Think you can stick it out until then? It will be worth it. Everyone will be out. A huge party. It’ll be epic.”
“And what about the next day? Will it be dark again? Because I need more than 24 hours. I need a week, a month, a year.”
My hand moved back to the shears.
“Jeff,” Rity said.
“This endless night will kill us all.” I slipped my fingers into the handles. I couldn’t take it anymore. This was a crazy way to live. “We need sunlight to survive. We are creatures of the sun, of warmth. We need its energy to recharge.”
“One day, I’ll press my C-Tag and you won’t answer.” I felt my eyes well up with tears. “And when you are gone, I’ll go through with it. Then when my Ward calls me, I won’t answer, so my Ward will kill herself too. And then her Ward will do the same. The domino effect will have begun. We’ll all be dead.”
I had a brief flash of Rity, my Ward and myself in the afterlife, skipping hand-in-hand through a field of daisies beneath a sunny sky with white, fluffy clouds. I pictured my Ward blonde, like a flower child from the twentieth century.
“Jeff, listen to me.”
My hand was opening and closing the shears to the time of the ticking wall clock again. “What?”
“I’m coming over now.”
I froze. She wasn’t supposed to do that. “Rity, no. You can’t.”
“I can, and I will.”
She hung up.