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Missing Woman Leaves 10 Suicide Notes.
I found it in an email digest from Bernews. The Royal Gazette led with the same story.
In connection with Aetna Simmons of Suffering Lane, St. George's, who was reported missing by her landlady last week Monday, a BPS spokesperson said, "Police can confirm that a stack of ten documents was found in Ms. Simmons' home. The content of these documents brings us to the unfortunate conclusion that Ms. Simmons chose to end her life."
One suicide note is an unfortunate conclusion. Ten is no conclusion but the opposite. 10 Suicide Notes? That's a provocation. As far as I know, you can only die once.
What kind of gross excess is this: ten different suicide notes or ten replicas of the same? Vulgar excess or feverish excess? Is there a difference between vulgar and feverish? Say it's ten of the same. Like birth announcements. Invitations to a soiree. A newsletter for friends and family. Some people do that in lieu of Christmas cards.
"The Bermuda Police Service extends our gratitude to those who may have considered assisting in the island-wide search, which will be postponed until further notice."
Say the documents are all different. Ten unique suicide notes. Why not nine, like the Muses? What's so great about ten? An even number, five plus five. Stroke and circle. Ten fingers, ten commandments, ten Egyptian plagues.
Why bother with one, let alone ten? So you take leave of the living under a cloud of misunderstanding. What do you care, now that you're dead? And the article said stack. Meaning paper documents, not on a computer. Why go to that kind of trouble? Before killing yourself, you'd have to go to the post office, stand in line, Good afternoon, I need some thirty-five-cent stamps. Oh, but this one's going overseas ... I thought about this a lot. Driving to work. Parking in my exclusive spot. Being gentle with the door on my MG, green and seductive as jealousy and springtime. My job was to feed unwanted documents to an industrial shredder, so it's not like I had a lot to think about.
Ten suicide notes.
What does that even look like? Glass panes in a skyscraper? Pieces of ruined church lying down on each other as they crumble? Dear Friends ... But you may not have friends if you're writing this kind of note. Dear Unfeeling World, Up yours. Signed sincerely ...
Aetna Simmons left ten unique suicide notes at Suffering Lane. Altogether they form a corpus. But in the most telling hypothesis, they're also a sequence in which each successive document replaces the one before. A series of drafts.
You know. A document wherein an author is doomed to discover that an unintelligible, even ugly reality has gobbled his or her intentions. This condition, symptomized by wailing and gnashing of teeth, is what writers call a draft. Remedies include the delete key, wastepaper basket, and starting over.
How do I know all this? I know the ten final dispatches of Aetna Simmons are all different from each other because I arranged to read them. I ordered photocopies with descriptions of the original inks and papers. How'd I get this stuff? Easy. I can get anything I want.
Inspector Javon Bean is a faithful client of mine. Built like a quarterback, whines like a toddler. Even e-whines: he's not on the Simmons case, can't get the file, people might ask questions. I said, "You're writing a book. Unsolved Mysteries in the Bermuda Triangle." That took care of the questions. I said, "Next round's on the house." That took care of the whining.
Since it would be foolhardy to give my email address to clients, Javon locked us inside his spacious office. We sat at his pristine desk. I enjoyed, instead of windows, a large photograph of the inspector in dress uniform looking like he was one-up on things. Pictures of his children acquiring Sports Day ribbons lined up beside their father's image like ellipses.
He gave me an envelope. I gave him an envelope. He peeked into his envelope.
"On the house," he said, just to see if I'd developed amnesia overnight. I sat there and let that jackass look at me.
He actually squirmed. "Well, like the paper says, we sort of shelved the case."
"Not because you found her. Because you didn't find her."
"It's been ten days. And we haven't announced this, but you know the landlady? Jeesums, bye, she calls it in like, 'I think my tenant might've disappeared.' Might. Like it's just a few cents' difference between being there and not there. She up and died this morning. A stroke. Myrtle Trimm, eighty-one. Cleaning woman found her in her recliner." Javon's got a bad case of the umums. Sheumum, she up and died. It's an endemic condition.
I asked, "What's she got to say? The cleaning lady."
"Two dead clients back to back? Ya girl must've started thinking they don't call this place The Devil's Isles for nothing. Next flight out, she was down the front of the line. With three of her mates." Javon got a knee-whacking chortle out of this.
"Any other leads?"
Aceboy looked at me like I'd asked a stupid question. I reminded him of the expense involved in producing certain pharmaceuticals. On the house.
"Mrs. Trimm didn't get her rent," he said. "Normally the tenant did everything like clockwork. Only time the landlady even saw her was rent days. But this month? Nothing. She wasn't there when Mrs. Trimm went to her apartment. Went down a couple times a day, three days in a row. Then she called us. Guess she needed money."
Skimming the case file, he added, "Tenant lived alone, no noise, no pets, no visitors. No car, no bike. TCD says she didn't have no license. Checked Immigration. No record of a work permit or Bermuda passport. US Immigration: nobody named Aetna Simmons been through their system. Canada the same. No UK passport was issued to Aetna Simmons, and no Bermuda passport with that name has been through London. No record in the schools. Nothing at the hospital. On her lease she wrote consultant as her profession, but no employer came forward. Saltus thought he had some evidence she'd had dealings with Clocktower, some insurance company. They never heard of her either, she didn't have no life insurance. No will, no debts."
"No body," I noted.
"Nothing for the coroner, nothing for the sketch artist."
"Nothing. Like she was already a ghost."
"First responding constable, that's what he thought too. Old lady, home by herself all the time, no husband. And no wonder, man. Cha. Saltus said she talked more to herself than to him. Only time she talked to him was to snap his head off. A police inspector's trying to ask her questions and she's snapping his head off. Minus a couple marbles, know what I'm saying? Maybe Aetna Simmons was her imaginary friend.
"But according to the file," Javon continued, "her apartment had a tenant at some point. It was clean, didn't look like nobody gone off in a hurry. Toothbrush in the bathroom. Clothes and stuff in the closet. Personal articles suggest a woman, not too fat, medium height. No fancy dresses, no business suits. Says here casual wear. Ordinary, you know? Just an ordinary lady."
Ten suicide notes and the man thinks she's ordinary.
"Look, is that it?" said Javon.
"Coming up on lunch, bye."
"Where'd they find the suicide notes?"
"I guess in the apartment." Lazy bum.
"Where in the apartment?" Should've said it to his face: ya just micin, fackin bum.
"Saltus signed out the photos. Gotta go from his report. Found what appeared to be stack of suicide notes on desk in alcove in cottage adjacent to main house. Pink with white shutters. Furnished by landlady. No photographs or knickknacks belonging to tenant —"
"A cottage, not an apartment."
No, there's a difference. In a cottage, she was isolated. In a Bermuda cottage of limestone and concrete with hurricane-safe windows, she could've screamed in the middle of the night, every night as long as she held onto life, and no one would've known.
"What else was on the desk?"
Nothing. Almost just as I'd imagined. Ten suicide notes on an antique escritoire, alone in the soft light of a French library lamp leaning over them like a conscientious mortician. I imagined the notes in the center of the desk. But when I asked Javon, he said, "On the edge, left-hand side."
On the edge. Where you'd leave your check for the waiter to collect. Where you'd leave something you meant to grab on your way out, something not to be forgotten.
And I wonder if her hook went into me at that moment.
"No computer," said Javon. "Beside the desk, we got an all-in-one printer-scanner-fax. In a drawer under the desk, we got a couple credit card receipts. Groceries, that's it. Means she had a bank account. Saltus checked that, not a lot in it. Guess she wasn't a customer of yours."
This was meant as a jibe and a feeble attempt to make me show my hand. It didn't work.
"A printer. No computer. That doesn't strike you as a little odd?"
I don't know why I bothered. To all things subtler than air strikes, it's safe to assume Javon impervious. Lunch excepted.
"Saltus thinks she walked into the sea. Reefs or a mangrove got her. That's why nobody found her on the beach," he said.
"What'd she look like?"
"Dark. According to her dead landlady."
"That's it? Dark?"
"It's what he wrote, it's what we got."
"What's that supposed to mean, dark? She was black? Portuguese goth?"
"I'm telling you that's all we got. Look, Saltus wrote that the landlady seemed uncomfortable. What he meant was the woman was half-crazy, and no one else spoke up. Now tell me something," said Javon sotto voce. "Why are you so interested? For real."
All I had to do was look. He bowed out. He knew what could happen if I got to talking with certain colleagues of his.
The suicide note happens on the threshold of the only empty moment. Yet it comes into its own to a clamor of lawyers, underwriters, creditors, and priests. Its composition proceeds in the most absolute of conscious solitudes, where emptiness eats into words as meaning trickles out. But the creation comes of age only when survivors begin to trawl for signs. This is the paradox of the suicide note, born to public duties out of sentiments too private to be understood.
I value privacy. So I appreciate that Aetna Simmons' final words were really none of my business. Aetna Simmons wasn't a client; Javon's an imbecile. Till I clicked that Bernews headline, I'd never heard of Aetna Simmons. Yet I bullied my way into a police station for a peek at her terminal scrawls.
Many an hour had I whiled away in my apartment, my cliffside balcony perched on Bermuda's southern curve, watching the ocean change color as it caressed living corals: deep turquoise to midnight blue, silver as the sun moved over to the west, fire-colors of an evening. Here in the squawking company of unseen kiskadees, I considered the envelope from Javon.
Ten grayscale photocopies. I reread them till the sky was dark. I painted their imagery in hues of my imagination, took their words into my mouth. I understood why the police gave up.
Ten suicide notes. My scribbles were vague at best. What the cops had was no better. They didn't know what they were looking for. She told them ten times over, there was nothing worth looking for.
You don't know what it took to find an order in these things. Javon said they had no order. But that just meant the cops couldn't find it. I spread out the suicidal encores of Aetna Simmons on my desk, on the bed, on the floor, on the sand down on the beach. I moved them around like pieces of a jigsaw. I read them upside down. I read them right side up. I typed them on my computer and moved blocks of text around. I stuck them all to a big piece of cardboard and drew arrows between words with a red pencil. Almost knew them by heart by the time I felt sure enough to number them. I believe what I call AS1 is the earliest of the Ten.
Conspicuous imagery, rhythmically harried. A poisoned raconteur turns into a monster. She's pursued, something has her scent; the price of escape may be her life. Fatal twist? Her pursuer is her doppelgänger: I have lived like a shadow. Classic horror tale on a three-by-five index card. And that's not the half of it.
The position of the notes. Off-center, left-hand edge. She wanted to make sure someone would see. I can't be certain which one formed the summit of the stack, but AS1 is a good candidate. You can't help but want to turn the page, and you are key. For Aetna Simmons, the audience was more important than the fact of her authorship. If the reverse were true, she'd have put the notes in the center of her desk, in front of the author's chair: I was here, I did this.
I destroy things for a living. Things like promises and secrets. Put them in the shredder, they come out in shreds. You want to think shreds are like old skin cells dropping from sunburned cheeks, but a shredded document is an amputated lip and a gouged eye. Documents bear witness with their bodies.
Humans bear witness with their memories, but memories self-shred. Without witnesses, you have no proof that you were ever anything. Minu ga hana. Not seeing is a flower. Reality can't compete with imagination.
The death of a document is never easy, never peaceful or silent, and never a sure thing. It takes a company like mine, serious equipment; you turn it into powder and then you burn the powder, but even then.
There might be a copy. Maybe someone took a scrap of damning evidence, turned it over, scribbled a note on the back. And the evidence survives. It sets sail on a new life beyond your reach. Your secret passes on, a ghost that keeps on coming back.
So why write anything at all? Because writing is a different kind of thinking from just thinking. Words appear under my hand. I see them and they see me. And I have to look. Excavating, I am the digger and the ground. And whatever's hiding underneath.
History knows uncounted private papers that lived second lives as "literature." Diary of Anne Frank. Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy (eight volumes). The Heiligenstadt Testament of Ludwig van Beethoven, quite apropos. These authors wrote for readerships of one or less. It takes a meddler like me to realize one man's to-do list is another's Book of Disquiet. Normally for such a discovery to occur, the author has to die first. In this, Aetna Simmons was obliging.
A series of drafts. Each meant to replace the one before as the comprehensive portrait of Aetna's final moments. At the same time, all ten narrate a longer story.
It begins with a cry for help (AS1) full of self-loathing and guilt, a plea in hope of being rescued from herself. Later she decides (AS2) that the escape she has in mind is death. But at this point, she doesn't quite believe it. She plays with the idea. Embittered (AS3), she starts getting serious. She drafts a credible suicide note that I can envision on monogrammed stationery or inside a card embossed with a hibiscus. She types it on a scrap of copy paper. And there's a chance that it's unfinished: maybe she's not ready after all. What she writes next is indirect (AS4); but if you get the reference, you know she's thinking hard about specifics: what will death feel like?
Now, is this the crux of the portfolio? Or are this page and the next irrelevant (AS4, AS5), mixed in with her papers when somebody Javon-like dropped a bunch of files? Maybe we'll never know. But I think Aetna's bitterness turned acrid, her thoughts obsessive. Serious ideations (AS6): detailed, organized, feasible. Enter rage and violence (AS7), and at last her intention is unmistakable (AS8). She tidies her affairs (AS9), scribbles the denouement all in a rush (AS10) like she's run out of time. Or she can't bear to give herself the time to change her mind.
One problem. The Ten are rife with contradictions. It's not a matter of imprecision. Her words, styles, even inks were scrupulously deployed. The problem is the fact that there are ten.
You wonder how she died, for example. AS1 suggests poison. Suicidological studies indicate poison as a favored method among authors of suicide notes. But you could also argue, based on AS6, that the author of AS1 displays a preference for a gunshot to the head.
And anyway, Aetna Simmons is nothing less than a suicidologist's worst nightmare. Their statistics show that seventy to eighty-five percent of suicides don't bother leaving notes at all, and of those who do, the intent is to issue instructions and explain themselves. But in her verbose obscurity, Aetna defies them all. She's a textbook exemplar of Pestian's intrapsychological theory of suicidal feelings, Joiner's opposing theory that such feelings stem from thwarted interpersonal relationships, and nuanced theories that agree and disagree with both. She suits almost all of Durkheim's and Améry's classifications. Anomic, egoistic, fatalistic suicide. Dozing and balanced and short-circuit suicide. Revenge-suicide. Blackmail-suicide with a pinch of self-murder-by-ordeal.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Drafts of a Suicide Note"
Copyright © 2019 Mandy-Suzanne Wong.
Excerpted by permission of Regal House Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I wonder what to call you.,
Missing Woman Leaves 10 Suicide Notes.,
Dear Nabi, dearest, dearest Nabi,,
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:,