On October 23rd he realized he had crossed a line. In fact, he had been crossing lines since the day, forty-seven years earlier when he had emerged naked, filthy and blue from his mother's womb, but it all seemed to reach a critical mass on that Tuesday. He understood then that it was too late. Too late to become a lawyer, too late to run a five-minute mile, to late to get a Ph.D., too late to sing in an opera, and too late to sleep with Kathy Johnson or Carla Potoski. Mostly, he regretted it was too late to start over with the kids, too late to make it right, too late to make Duncan right.
He celebrated the crossing by checking into a Budget Inn, watching adult pay-per-view where a cool, black stud was boffing a blonde babe that, he thought, looked an awful lot like Kathy Johnson, and chasing thirty-five percocet with a fifth of Black Velvet whiskey. When he came to, he had been dead for two days, his body already swept out of room fourteen, the beds changed, and the stench of his vomit and shit masterfully eliminated by two Mexican women with a high tolerance for the sickening.
In spite of all that, he came to. At first, he seemed stuck there, destined to spend eternity watching guests eat, piss, fuck, masturbate, read and gaze, hypnotized, at the TV. The TV, he discovered, never turns off in a motel.
He missed his own miserable funeral. Best, he thought, not sure of why.
Eternity in that budget purgatory, it turned out, lasted just over eleven months. The truth is, he didn't know there was an option, and his circumstances barely registered. Here is how the interview might have gone:
Question - "So, did you expect to die here?"
Response - Blank, unearthly stare.
Question - "How have you coped with death?"
Response - Blank stare.
Question - "Are you glad to be getting out of this motel after these eleven months?"
Response - "Motel room?"
On September fifth, the June Taylor Dancers performed a kaleidoscope choreography to Happy Birthday on a thirty-five year old broadcast of the Dean Martin Show, and he heard it through the growing fog of death. It was Duncan's birthday. He was still Duncan's father.
Fragments of his old world, of existence, flashed like disconnected bits of a collage, and he laughed. He looked around through immaterial eyes, saw where he was and what he had become, and he laughed. That was the beginning of the now famous Room 14 Haunting. In reality, the ghostly chortle lasted no more than twenty-six seconds, but the legend would increase the Budget Inn's reputation and sales for years to come, allowing the widowed owner, Mavis Levy, to pay off her husband's debts, sell the run-down place, and spend her final years retired in Fort Lauderdale.
He thought of his former home and, instantaneously, he was there.
For a moment he was home from work, walking again into the chaos of passions and frustrations that ruled this house -- Duncan shouting obscenties at the top of his lungs, Marissa giving back as good as she got with added venom, and little Megan mute, frightened, her mind desperately trying to think of ways to make it all better. He'd join in, siding with no one, the tempest of anger and hurt building to the moment when he'd want to strike out, to hit the bastards with his man's fists.
Then it was silent, the memory suddenly snuffed out like a match in water. It was empty. He searched the house, the bedroom, the kitchen. "Marissa," he imagined himself calling out. No furniture, no Marissa, no Megan, no Duncan. "Marissa?"
In death, he knew they had gone. "I'll wait," he thought, and he did.