Life After Brooklyn
Leroy Martin had just crossed the last ‘To Do’ off his list when his heart exploded. He had gone grocery shopping that morning, paid the bills, called the repairman about the tapping noise coming from the furnace, exchanged the coffee grinder that didn’t make fine enough grounds and picked up his houndstooth knit cap from the same dry cleaner he’d patronized for 25 years.
He was wearing that selfsame knit cap and his rabbit fur-lined gloves when he put his hand on the doorknob to leave his brownstone apartment for a walk around Fort Greene park, and the thin but critical rivulet of blood that had been sustaining Leroy’s 69-year-old life stopped, no longer able to wend its way through the massive clog in his aorta.
Leroy's heart beat twice, air pressure surged, and it literally exploded, with a pop in his chest audible from the hall. His gloved fingers slipped off the doorknob, clutching for his chest, as the door swung shut. He lay supine on his chenille braided rug, where I observed him expire alone, as he had lived lo these many years.
For the first few minutes, Leroy did his best to cry, but only emitted a faint, inarticulate gurgle. As the oxygen supply to his brain dissipated, he began to flicker and passed.
Leroy's last coherent thought was a recognition that he should have seen the mountain beyond the molehill, should have realized he was living like a shut-in, should have befriended his neighbors, volunteered at the library, conciliated with his son and perhaps adopted a rescue dog. It all rushed into his penultimate instant, a full-blood chute of regret.
A few days later, Leroy came into my office. His fate hung on him like a leaden bathrobe as he approached my desk. “Where am I?” he asked.
“The Waiting Center,” I told him. “Department of The Undiscovered, Special Bureau for the Unmissed.”
He looked at me dumbfounded. “Nobody’s looking for you, Leroy,” I explained. “You’re here until somebody finds you... or your corpse decomposes.”
“Is this a dream? Who are you? Where am I?” Leroy demanded, rubbing his sallow forehead.
“Look, Leroy Martins. Here’s your file,” I said, handing him a manilla envelope from the stack on my desk. He began to read and it all unfurled before him. The 35 years as an insurance adjuster at MetLife, the progressive estrangement from his colleagues, forced retirement at 59, resentment directed at neighbors for perceived slights, wife Margaret's cancer and death, and falling out with son over handling of her care, until the present day, when he was left with no one but his precious routine and To Do lists. He looked more anemic with each page.
“Leroy, take a seat,” I said, offering him my chair. “You’re beginning to look like a ghost.”
He sat, and let the file’s contents carelessly slip off his lap. The story of his life fell in disarray on the linoleum floor and he began to shake and whimper “why, why, why” while smacking his skull gently.
“Nevermind all that,” I said to Leroy, intercepting his bony old fist, “I’m sure your stay won’t be long here. A neighbor will call, or maybe your son will miss you or the ConEd man will come next month to turn off the gas and trip over your corpse.”
“My son?” He looked up at me, eyes wide with hope, “how… do you… know my son?”
“It’s all right here in your file, Leroy,” I swept the air, doing my best Ralph Edwards from This Is Your Life. “Don’t worry too much about it. You’ll be very comfortable while you’re here at the Center.”