Excerpt: Nocturne by Saul Tanpepper
The Man had already cheated Death once this morning, so when he turned away from the radiant face of his
wife and stepped off the porch and into the busy-bright flow of the September
day, the crisp, loud clack of the
hard rubber soles of his shoes on the sidewalk sounded to him like an
affirmation of life and living and all things that are vibrant. The breathless
air was crisp and clear. He held his gaze determinedly forward, in front of
himself. A sort of a smile touched the corners of his face. Today will be
different, he assured himself, even though he knew it wouldn’t be. Before he
had even reached the front sidewalk, his footsteps sounded to him like the
ceaseless ticking of a clock.
cheated Death like a man cheats at poker, by knowing he will someday be caught;
a man who plays at the game long enough and cheats often enough knows it is
inevitable. Maybe not this hand or the next, but eventually. Sooner. Later. The
game must end: win, lose or draw; whether by fair intention or by foul.
didn’t fear the end of the game—not really—only the waiting, and the form it
so rarely get to choose.
he’d even woken up at all that morning, that he’d become aware that the night
had ended and he himself was still alive and in apparent excellent health, had
been a cause for some personal distress. But then again, just the idea of dying
in his bed so ignominiously splayed was enough to propel him out of it, away
from his still-beautiful wife and her tranquil face, away from her gently
rising and falling breast. He slipped from beneath the suffocating blankets and
out into the brittleness of a morning so frigid that it foretold what was sure
to be a bitterly cold winter.
temperature hadn’t fallen quite enough overnight to trigger the heater at six
o’clock, but it was nonetheless cold enough. The thought crossed his mind that
maybe he’d go ahead and bump the thermostat up anyway, but when he remembered
that he hadn’t been down in the cellar to clean the filter since last fall,
images of the accumulated dust flowing into the vents and carrying diseased
mold spores made him stop. Besides, attempting to navigate the rickety cellar
stairs in such a state—the inebriation of sleep still upon him, his muscles
stiff and tremulous—would be foolhardy. Is that how he imagined his death?
Lying on the clay earth at the bottom of a set of narrow wooden steps?
clean the filter tonight, after a full meal, if he was in such a capable state
and so inclined. He made a mental note to stop and pick up a face mask at the
After the birth of his son, a man becomes so obsessed with Death, that
he imagines it at every turn, around every corner, and at every
junction. Every morning he wakes up suprised to find himself still
The disappointment is almost more than he can bear.