Wilson kills himself quietly.
No one sees it coming, and afterward they console each other—“Never thought he was the type,” acquaintances murmur in the hallways, “My God! can you believe it?”
Those who can believe it don’t say anything, because if they suspected it maybe they could have stopped it, and not stopping it means they might be responsible. They want to sleep at night, the nurses in Oncology who noticed that their Head of Department came to work just a little tired sometimes, the doctors who asked him how he was and kept right on walking while he answered. People slip through the cracks, they tell themselves after they’ve turned out the lights. People kill themselves all the time. It wasn’t their job to make sure good old Dr. Wilson didn’t take a potent combination of tranquilizers and codeine. It wasn’t their job to see that he didn’t die.
They sleep at night, those people, and they dream. And they forget.
Someone replaces good old Dr. Wilson soon, because Oncology is too busy to go without a Head for long. A man brings a dented toolbox and painstakingly scrapes his name from the door. In the lounge outside some pretend the man isn’t there—others stare, and you can’t be sure what they’re thinking because you don’t know how they knew Wilson, or if they knew him at all.
You’re sure they didn’t know that he slept in soft T-shirts and threw his arm above his head when he snored, or that he had a dirty sense of humor that nearly rivaled yours, or that he was the only one who could make you feel guilty.
Or that he was your conscience, and now he’s gone—well, now he’s gone.
Chase and Foreman discuss it in hushed voices when they think you aren’t around, but you eavesdrop.
You wonder if Chase is remembering what Wilson said to him after he saved the girl who was allergic to light. You don’t know what Wilson said, obviously, but you are thinking of the way he’d drift off to sleep in your office, and the way he lent your vegetative-state guy his car, and the way he played paper football.
The police came when you called them, even though you mistrust detectives (hell, authority figures in general), and said that there were no signs of homicide. Dr. James Wilson, respected medical professional, picked up several prescriptions on Friday afternoon for patients who didn’t exist. He carried those bottles to his new apartment, where he locked the doors, ate a simple meal, brushed his teeth, and took the pills one by one until he passed out. They said it was painless.
“Like candy,” the sergeant on duty marveled. “That took guts. He just popped ‘em like Tic-Tacs.”
You don’t know why he did it, but you know how.
You are playing poker at the time, with some losers from your building who are more than happy to let you win their hard-earned cash. When you learn his time of death the next day, you realize that you’d held a full house.
You don’t go to see him until Saturday afternoon. You want to pester him into going to a stupid, grimy, cheap bar with you, because he doesn’t get out enough and someone has to be his bad influence and you are so damn good at it. You open the door with your spare key, because knocking is for wimps.
He looks alive on the couch, like you caught him in the middle of a nap, but you know better.
You pick up his hand and feel for a pulse, moving through a haze, your skin going numb, and he is lifeless. You peel back his left eyelid and he is still lifeless and there is a desert in your chest, hot and sandy and dry. Rigor mortis has already set in. Wilson is gone, and he has left you with his shell, the way a rattlesnake sheds its skin.
The desert spreads until dunes build in the back of your throat. You’re not sure you’ll ever drink again—the grit will absorb the liquid and suck it away, drain it down to nothing.
You realize that his hair is limp and his chest is flat and suddenly it hits you; Wilson will never draw another breath.
Wilson is dead.
You sit beside the body, put your head in your hands, and cry. A little. A lot.
Your shoulders shake, but there’s no one around to see, because you’ve closed the blinds.
When you stop crying, the desert is not appeased. You run a hand over your face, fish out your cell phone, and call for help—you don’t notice that your voice breaks, and when the operator asks if you’re okay, you hang up.
This happens once or twice a week. Wilson has killed himself quietly on a Sunday and a Monday and a Tuesday and just about every day by now, and it’s always the same. You are sweaty, tangled in your sheets. Your leg throbs. You have to drink a glass of water before you can speak, and your heart rate doesn’t return to normal for half an hour. You call Wilson and he answers groggily, but you say nothing, only wait to hear his voice and hang up.
Occasionally, you bring out a shirt that you’ve stolen from him, and look at it, or touch it to reassure yourself that he is still alive, still your personal Jewish mother hen, still your best friend, or pull it on and sleep without dreams.
If he notices that he is minus one of those soft T-shirts, he never mentions it, and if he identifies his midnight caller he is wise enough to leave well enough alone.