The following story was published in the Winter/Spring No. 5 issue of the Marlboro Review.
When Byron left her for anorexic waitress who worked in the Caffeine the
Connection he told Virginia she needed to get a hobby, so she began collecting
suicide notes. Not the actual notes, but reasonable facsimiles that she copied into a small
notebook. She copied down quotes from biographies, pulled phrases from television and
newspaper accounts, bought a tape of Jim Jones delivering his final suicide speech as his
followers drank Kool-aid and she even owned a T-shirt with Kurt Cobain's note silk-screened on
Virginia realized that even in death, Kurt had been derivative and failed to credit Neil Young who actually wrote the final line of his note. Creative types kill themselves when they cease to be creative. One psychiatrist hypothesized that homosexual men kill themselves with guns because they want to be attacked by a penis. Kurt used a big gun. Women rarely used guns, Virginia thought, perhaps because they had already been attacked by a penis, and no woman would leave all that blood on the carpet for strangers to clean up.
Virginia found it impossible to drink coffee. Byron had chosen the very open and public Caffeine Connection to break up. He dumped her as the anorexic waitress dumped espresso grounds. She could still smell the roasting beans. On her way home, alone, she purchased a small notebook to collect her thoughts. Byron said she lacked spontaneity. She researched everything. She made incessant lists. She wrote down the words Byron used to dump her and then she tore out the page and wrote a suicide note.
The note was spontaneous and to the point, still it needed something. The New York Times reported the story of a woman who lay down on the tracks of the commuter train that carried her husband, but Byron walked to work. Jumping from a building into his path would be spontaneous, but required too much planning, after all, she wouldn't want to fall on him. She could wire herself with explosives, tape a note to the window of the Caffeine Connection, and blow herself up in front of his waitress.
As Byron was steadily retrieved his possessions from the apartment, Virginia expanded her collection to include quotes and facts about suicide. Men with tattoos are more likely to use guns. Byron had a gun but no tattoo. Brown-eyed girls and boys like hanging and poison. Byron had brown eyes. Beautiful brown eyes like a girl's eyes, with long fluttering lashes. There were lies about suicide. Most suicides do not occur during a full moon or around holidays, most are during the new moon and in spring. There are exceptions, like the boy who hanged himself from the family Christmas tree with the note pinned to his shirt like a gift card.
Arthur Miller wrote that suicide kills two people, that's what it's for. Though Virginia didn't know when he wrote it, she assumed that he wrote it after Marilyn Monroe died. Freud believed that women who poison themselves want to get pregnant. After Marilyn died, the suicide rate jumped more than 10%. Suicide rates increase with famous victims as do car and plane crashes. Some people try to hide suicide by getting into an accident. That would be too easy and Byron wouldn't suffer enough. Perhaps she could go up in a plane of skydivers and jump without a parachute. Surely someone would get it on film for Byron to watch over and over.
Virginia cried incessantly. To the point of being trite. She was drowning in her tears. Menninger argued that drowning is an attempt to return to the womb. Virginia had no interest in returning to the womb, but perhaps she could return home until Byron had cleared out all of his stuff. On second thought, home was not a place she wanted to return either. Her mother would ask question after question. Virginia would cry more. Menninger was a quack. It is best to stay curled up in the apartment and gaze at the shrine of photographs of Byron and Virginia when they were a happy couple.
Virginia made notes in her suicide book. Thoughts and observations. She was brave and cavalier the day Byron came to find a box of papers he needed for his taxes. A vindictive woman would have burned his files. But Virginia still loved him and she couldn't bear to envision him sitting through an audit. He was too bad with math to survive any audit. She sat at the kitchen table, scribbling in her book and fighting back tears. Byron stuck his head around the corner, "I found them." Then he left and Virginia cried. She wrote in her book -- I am totally pathetic. Then she stopped her commentary. Suicide kills two people. Why not cut out the middleman?
Virginia picked up the black notebook and flipped through it. "Weird little book," she said. "Byron said I needed a hobby and I hate rollerblading." Ann felt the book could sell but it needed illustrations. A skull torn away by a bullet, a floater, and actual typed letter. Especially if...
Virginia had a horrific headache, due in large part to her recent withdrawal from caffeine. Regardless of the bad association, she was going to brew a large pot of coffee and drink it all. She put on her tape of Jim Jones. Something about his words urging the flock to drink the Kool- aid, made it easier for her to swallow the dark, acrid fluid. When the pot was empty, Virginia still had a headache and was unable to sleep. She drew a hot bath and sat in the tub. There was speculation that Diane Arbus photographed her own suicide, but there is no proof. Virginia didn't own a camera. The bath water was cold as the first light of dawn came into the bathroom window. Virginia climbed into her bed to sleep alone.
In the afternoon, Virginia crawled out of bed and went directly to the kitchen coffee maker. She had overindulged the previous evening and there were hardly enough grounds for the next pot. Virginia sprinkled what she had on the cold congealed grounds from the night before and hoped for the best. She surveyed the kitchen as the coffee dripped. The refrigerator held a head of brown, slimy lettuce and milk that was now cottage cheese. There were containers of yogurt that could officially be classified as antibiotics. Small white Chinese containers held the residue of the final meal she and Byron shared.
Virginia cleaned out the refrigerator and finally washed the dishes and put them away. She stripped the bed of the sheets that smelled like Byron and tossed them in the hamper. She threw away the plastic razors that he shaved with. She searched the closets for telltale items of clothing. In the back of the closet she found the small box with Byron's gun. She took it out and pointed it at the pictures in the shrine. Virginia laid the gun on the table as she drank coffee. She tore out a sheet of paper from her suicide notebook and began making a list. It was a much more simple list than the one she had been keeping. She wrote milk and cheese, chicken, lettuce and in the end she wrote coffee. She knew what coffee she wanted. Not Folgers nor Maxwell House, she wanted Peruvian Delight and there was only place to get it.
Virginia entered the Caffeine Connection with her hands stuffed deeply into her pockets. She came up behind the anorexic waitress who hadn't noticed her. "Two pounds of Peruvian Delight,' Virginia said to the waitress whose smile melted when she saw Virginia. Virginia tried to look pleasant. She didn't want to look like a psycho ex. "Grind it fine," she said, 'and watch your fingers, we wouldn't want you to get hurt." Virginia felt her fingers on the gun. The waitress began to fidget, which at this moment could not be attributed to her vocation. She spilled part of the fine grounds and had to get another scoop of beans as the other employee rang up Virginia's purchase. The waitress slid the two pound bags into a larger bag and handed it to her as Virginia pulled Byron's gun from her pocket and pointed it at the new girlfriend. "Jesus Christ," she screamed. Virginia held the gun for a few long seconds and then she laid it on the counter. "I thought Byron might need this," she said as she took her coffee grounds and turned toward the door.