Daniel knew he would die today. Perhaps it was because his bedsheets were just a little too warm when he woke up, or perhaps it was because he’d left his phone on the bed table not the charger or he’d forgotten to call his mother. Whatever it was, when he woke up that morning in a bed just slightly too hot for spring, he knew that was the last time he’d wake up in it. Ignoring his alarm, Daniel laid back down and stared at the ceiling for a minute. There was a stain in the top left corner of the room which vaguely resembled either Elvis Presley or Walt Whitman. He couldn’t tell. Once the minute passed, Daniel said a silent goodbye to his bed and stood up, ready to start his last day.
As if making up for the warm bed, Daniel’s shower was the perfect temperature. However, the pressure was so low it was almost more of a drip than a shower. Nevertheless, Daniel stood under the stream of lukewarm water for what seemed like hours. His fingers began to prune and the shower turned from tepid to cool. However, Daniel didn’t step out. Was this how he died, he wondered? Drowning in shower water, or accidentally slipping? Despite his morbid musings, Daniel knew in his heart that now wasn’t the time. The universe had given him at least the next few hours to make the most of his life before he died. After turning off the shower water, Daniel fumbled for a towel and wrapped it around his waist.
Daniel’s morning routine was no different from how it usually went. He dressed in a work-issued polo shirt and pants, grabbed a stale pastry from the plastic box on the counter, and found his watch from under the couch. When the analog’s hour hand ticked to eight, Daniel grabbed his keys and headed for the office.
Something about Daniel’s car was off to him today. Maybe a bird had pooped on the passenger’s side, or a spider had infiltrated his ventilation system and spun a web up in the corner of his windshield. However, when he reached his Honda Civic, he saw neither bird poop nor spiderwebs. On his way to work, Daniel called his mom. She didn’t pick up, so Daniel left a message. “Hey mom. Just wanted to let you know that I transferred the money that you needed for the house fixture. Don’t worry about paying me back; consider it an early anniversary present with Dad. Have a good day. I love you. Bye.”
Daniel was a consultant at Wicker and Brehm’s Development. He’d only ever met Brehm; Wicker had yet to show her face at the downtown offices. He spent most of his day answering calls, scheduling meetings, and engaging in mundane small talk with coworkers. One asked him what he was doing this weekend. “I think I’ve got a funeral this weekend,” Daniel replied. The coworker offered their condolences, but Daniel shook his head and said it was alright. He didn’t know the deceased very well.
During lunch, Daniel spent some time sorting out affairs. He made funeral arrangements and called up several family members, some he hadn’t talked to in years. Many were confused about why they were hearing from Daniel, yet he assured them that he just wanted to make sure everything was in order. Daniel also checked to see if his will was updated, which outlined that everything he had would go to his sister and his parents. As he made the arrangements for his death, a nagging thought in the back of his mind surfaced. What if he didn’t die today? All his money, all his possessions were already in the process of being transferred to his sister. After lunch, he was set to turn in a letter of resignation. For now, Daniel ignored the thought and finished up his phone calls, then returned to work.
At the end of the day, Daniel entered the office of his boss and handed him the letter of resignation. Daniel’s boss looked down at the paper then up at Daniel, as if he’d never seen one before. It wasn’t a great letter; the formatting was hasty and the word “offer” had three “f”s instead of two. However, Daniel wasn’t worried about being hired again. “Why are you quitting?” Daniel’s boss asked.
“I’ve been offered a better job at a different company,” Daniel lied. Daniel’s boss frowned. His nameplate read “Charles Khatri”, but Daniel hadn’t ever referred to him either as “Mr. Khatri” or “Charles”. In his mind, he was simply Daniel’s boss.
“We’ll miss you here,” Charles lied. In truth, he hadn’t thought of Daniel since he hired him until Daniel walked in with the letter of resignation. Daniel nodded, and he knew Charles was lying. However, he didn’t say anything. There was no point in arguing on his last day. He walked out of the office and closed the door behind him, just as Charles tossed the letter onto a large pile of papers that needed to be reviewed.
Because Daniel would die on a Tuesday, he decided to go down to the Mexican restaurant three blocks from his workplace. Their tacos were free every Tuesday, as long as a customer also bought a drink or another meal with it. He passed several people on his journey, and he wondered if they knew when they would die. Would they be scared? Or would they accept it, with the same kind of apathy Daniel felt? His thoughts were cut short by his arrival to the Mexican restaurant. The host greeted him kindly and ushered him to one of the outside tables. Mosquitos plagued him as he ate, but Daniel couldn’t blame them. The restaurant’s beef tacos were excellent.
When Daniel arrived back at his car, he immediately knew he would die in it. Daniel stared at the silver handle for a moment, then slowly placed his palm over it. It was a good car; the Honda had served him for over five years. Although he almost never went to other places besides Wicker and Brehm’s Development or home, he felt it had served its purpose. He opened up the driver’s side door and crawled in.
The drive home was fairly smooth. A light sprinkle had begun as the sun lowered across the horizon, blues turning to pinks and oranges turning to inky blackness. Daniel turned on the radio to Today’s Top Hits, only to switch it the Classic Rock station halfway through his drive. Cars swiftly passed him on the thick stretch of road, which crossed all the way from his state to the next. An intersection sat ahead, with three lights spanned across the divided highway. As the light turned red, Daniel decelerated his car towards the stop line. This isn’t what killed Daniel. His brakes were in perfect working condition and the Honda Civic stopped just before the stop line. What didn’t stop was the eighteen-wheeler behind Daniel’s car. Intoxicated from cheap booze and cigarette smoke, the driver hadn’t noticed the light turn from green to red in time to stop the truck.
Ultimately, the collision was a terrible and wonderful sight. The semi first barreled into the back of Daniel’s Honda Civic, effectively crushing its trunk and the first two back seats. A great roar sounded from the collision of the two vehicles, which sobered the drunk driver into attempting to stop the vehicle before more damage could be done. Two smaller cars T-Boned it from the area of the intersection where the light was green yet were fine compared to the damage the semi-truck had wrecked on the Honda Civic. Because the eighteen-wheeler hadn’t stopped until well after the stop line, it skidded to a halt on the other side of the intersection with the mangled remains of the Honda Civic in tow. Cars came to a complete standstill as drivers anxiously waited, unsure of whether to be more upset about the crushed driver or their cold dinner.
The doctors declared that Daniel died almost instantly after the moment of the collision. At the very least, he had been unconscious when the great, powerful wheels of the much larger vehicle smothered the rest of his. This was the universe’s boon to Daniel, if it hadn’t already given him one with the knowledge of his death. In many ways, Daniel was extremely lucky. If his spirit had wanted vengeance, the police arrested the drunk driver for vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. If his spirit had wanted recompense for his family, his sister used his money to buy herself and her wife a new house in the countryside, where they both had always wanted to live. If his spirit had wanted a legacy, there was a giant, green sign near the intersection that read Please don’t drink and drive: in honor of Daniel Jones. However, Daniel’s spirit did not want any of this because it did not exist. What existed after his death were his mother’s tears, the drunk driver’s arrest, and the green, metal sign near the intersection. Although these would fade in time, and the story would slip from the news, it was just as inevitable as Daniel waking up that morning and knowing that he would die.
I had the first line of this story stuck in my head for ages. I feel like this is a common trope in some novels, but it isn’t talked about much because the idea is contradictory to human belief. Everyone would like to think that if we found out we were going to die today, we would do everything in our power to stop the inevitable outcome. However, I believe some people can just resign themselves to the fact, like Daniel did. Not exactly a tragic story, but definitely a tragedy.