Quitting Life: Finish the Story Competition Entry
She picked up a resignation form today. She had been thinking about it for a while, handing in her notice, taking her last year. Every day is just the same, different faces, different flavours, but underneath, it was all the same. Was there any point in the endless forward march, the slow decline into ill health, unemployment and poverty? She didn’t have children, no friends who came to visit, and it was at least three years since her last match.
She sat on the corner of her single bed, in her single room, the thin long window illuminating the bare floor. She pushed a loose strand of mousy blonde hair behind her ear, and picking at her thumb, she wandered in thought.
She could travel, she could see the ocean, she could stand beneath trees, she could sit in silence. For one year. It was as good as it got, some people only got 6 months. But was she ready?
She couldn’t keep going, not like this. She had seen the lifers, the people who worked for 65 years and collapsed, decrepit, into the hands of hapless, half-hearted “help”. She had even been that half-hearted, hapless help, she had worked for minimum wage, clearing up bodily fluids, spoon feeding, doing what she could, but it destroyed you, seeing all your future had to offer.
A lot of people who worked there handed in their notice; you had to do it between 40 and 55 to get the year. Some people applied for special circumstances after 55, but generally they got less time.
She was 47. A lot could change in her life still. She could meet someone, she could have children, grandchildren, she could grow old. Couldn’t she…? Did she want to? She turned it over in her mind. She had accepted a lot in her life, but she just couldn’t face the rest of her life, playing out, day by slow dragging, hardworking, lonely, day. Night after empty, starless night. If she took her year, she could get away from the cities and their thick rank pollution. She could escape the crush of the masses, the regimented flow of preoccupied people. Her parents took her to a forest once, before the regulations changed, and closing her eyes, she could almost hear the hushed whisper of branches, almost feel the dappled sunlight on her upturned face. Almost. She opened her eyes, was there ever really any question? She had dreamed of it for as long as she could remember, and in that moment, she realised, she was always going to quit, it was never a question of did she want to, just when. Was she ready?
She flopped back onto her bed, bouncing back against the overly springy mattress. Relief coursed through her. She was going to quit, maybe not today, but she would do it. The digital display in the wall flashed, green numbers ticking over, 23:00. Instinctively, she felt around her bedside tablet, and pressing the button, retrieved her small blue pill. Blue before bed, white before work. It dissolved on her tongue, and she felt the thoughtless relaxation wash over her.
The next morning, she woke before her alarm had chance to rouse her. She stood at the window, watching the constant ebb and flow of people and traffic, the living city beneath her never slept. Her resolve had only hardened overnight, it felt right. She retrieved the form. She would quit. She would take the year. One good year, then call it quits.
She remembered clearly her fingers tensed against the cold slippery steel counter as she handed over the yellow form. The clerk mirrored her in appearance, blank features, dull hair with a hint of grey. She had wanted the woman to look at her, to start this new chapter of her life with the hope of something different. A small smile, maybe a word of encouragement. But the woman’s gaze had never left her screen, fast and efficient hands simultaneously adding her paper to a geometrically perfect stack while disgorging the yellow receipt into the tray.
The month since then had passed in a rhythm of pills, shuffling papers, and thin sleep. Only one event out of place. One day bought several new faces at the food dispensary, then as her tray clattered into the output area she saw a rounded shape adorning her salad. It was not her unit’s day to receive the weekly egg ration, and as she quickly flicked her eyes around the room, it seemed like she was the only one to have received the unusual gift.
That had been a month ago. Now she stood, belongings packed into a single brown faded suitcase. The grey metallic bulk of the train hummed in front of her, almost fully loaded now as the line of people shuffled into it. One of the last to enter and take her seat, the door closed after her with a grating hiss. With the metal capsule sealed, the hum rose, gathering itself into a higher note, then they were plunging down the blackened concrete walls of one of the city’s main arteries. Lessor vessels branched off occasionally, but they continued on their straight path. Hours later and the towering city apartment blocks began to give way to crouching four story structures and crumbling concrete factories. She knew where she was now, at the top of one of the cities sprawling limbs, carved through the low hills that surrounded the old city.
Another day of travel, steel tracks giving way to highways, then potholed roads. Finally she arrived, a small poor village beside a grey sea. An old forgotten place beyond the last concrete outstretched finger of the city. A mile from the village was an overgrown chain-link fence, marking the boundaries of inhabitable land. Past the fence was the beginnings of a thin twisted forest, the land said to be poisoned by pollution and the radiation of an old war. There was little beauty, but there was stillness. She took to walking along the fence often, listening to quiet broken only by the stones crunching under her shoes.
One day she saw it. A white round shape lying in the middle of a bare cracked earth clearing just past the fence. She easily climbed the low creaking fence and soon stood in the clearing. A second sight caught her eye, barely visible behind a tree, but never visible from the other side of the fence, a flickering yellow flame. A low whistle then, similar to a bird call but not quite the same.
She walked towards it.