by Irving A. Greenfield
My friendship with Zack went back to our early teens and continued until he died. Our friendship began to change when a religious streak began to manifest itself in Zack, and with it came the desire to proselytize me to his way of thinking.
On one of the rare occasions that we met, we were sitting at table in bar on West 75th Street, a few hundred feet from Broadway. But this meeting was for drinks only, a couple of beers at the most for each of us.
There were three men and two women at the bar, all of them very much younger than Zack and I; and all of them solitary drinkers. We were the only ones seated at a small round table with part of its circumference touching the side wall.
A waitress with the ubiquitous ponytail came to our table, and we ordered beers. Disjointedly, we exchanged information about our respective families. When we had our beers, we clicked glasses and sipped our drinks. Then, Zack set his down, placed his folded arms on the table, and said, “You’re the only one I know who’ll understand what I’m going to say.”
I nodded, put my beer on the table, and said, “I’m listening” because it was an odd thing for him to have said given the difference that separated us.
“I have a wish,” he said. “I want to know that I’m dead when I die.”
“Dead is dead,” I answered in a whisper.
He shook his head.
“Zack,” I said gently, “being dead is a non-event for the person who’s dead.”
He took a sip of beer before he answered with, “Before the soul leaves the body it’s still a person.”
“And at that point, you want to know that you’re dead,” I said.
He nodded. “At that point I – ”
“You’re not a guest at your own death. The guests are the mourners, those who accompany your body to it grave. Just what the hell are you talking about?”
That was the extent of our conversation. We finished our beers, paid for them and left a tip for the waitress.
The local stores were Christmassy. We must have walked ten paces or so, when Zack faltered. He was dead before he dropped to the sidewalk. I used my cell to dial 911. By the time the EMS people arrived, I found myself becoming angry. There was no reason for me to go to the hospital; so I went back into the bar and ordered a Glenlivit neat and quickly downed it and ordered another one that I slowly sipped and told myself, “You’re not going to think about his cockamamie wish.” I knew he wanted to punish me for being what I am – a hard-assed atheist. Then, I looked in the mirror behind the bar and said aloud, “Not by a long shot Zack.” I finished my drink, paid for it and left. Outside the long shadows of darkness were already beginning to form.