The Two-for-Sixty Plan

03/01/23

Sixty, is it? Blake Craig stretches, the fresh sheets she’d put on yesterday now the field of last night’s lovemaking, the faint musk, the dried fluids, stiff patches dappling the middle of the bed. Blake smiles. What’s he thinking, lovemaking? A randy romp, like they were twenty again. He ran a hand across her side of the bed. His wife, Margaret, is already up, he can smell the dark roast brewing. Bright morning light leaks around the rectangles of pulled shades in the bedroom windows. He loves summer mornings, always has. And after an evening like last night, all the better. But now, sixty. A smirk, more a frown, tugs his face. He has reached that age: the mandatory Two-for-Sixty Plan.

Blake gets up, pulls on jeans. He can’t decide on which shirt to wear. After all these years, the raggedy Umbilicus Coagulum t-shirt? Picked up the metal riot relic at a concert forty-plus years ago. Hell of a show, hearing muddied for days afterward. A pricey cotton pullover, its price in the logo, that Margaret bought for him last year? A simple short-sleeved plaid? In truth, he can’t pick. He doesn’t want to pick. Blake would like to stop time, set the clock back forever to the moment when their hearts drummed against each other last night, the last of his fifty-ninth year.

In the kitchen, Margaret hugs him, a lusty squeeze, as he drains a glass of orange juice, kisses him good morning, offers waffles and sausage links to Birthday Man. No, thanks, he hugs her back, he wants his hike, tells her he’ll be on the Atwater Park trails, and, don’t worry, he has his phone.

These days, the trails aren’t the dirt paths he remembers from his youth, pounded into the earth, through the park’s conifer forest. Now, no matter the terrain, the trails are elevated boardwalks with tempered glass barriers running along either side. But Blake still smells the green of the woods. He breathes deep. He loves it. He loves life.

Blake thumps along the boardwalk, thinking of life, his life. Yes, he is thankful for his years. The particulars?

Margaret, of course. They’ve been married forty years. College sweethearts.

Their children. Astrid and Erik. Each so different. Both happy in the lives they’ve chosen, their partners. Could a parent ask for more? Adult children akin to close friends.

The ability to travel, thanks to a superlative career in the Department of Population Health. A wince pricks his gratitude, two for sixty, he blows it away with a breath of the deep green. He enjoys meeting new people at international conferences, hearing their ideas. The population health staff at facilities around the country.

Eating while on the road? Get out of here. His per diem doesn’t cover the entire cost, but that’s never bothered him. No. He eats at the best restaurants with the helpful direction of the Hand2Mouth app. The Hand2Mouthers put other restaurant ranking groups to shame.

He’s a bit of a sports nerd. That’s true. Margaret occasionally watches a game with him. At home. Not the best option to go in public. The crowding situation. No.

He reads poetry exclusively. The American Ancients blow him away. Ginsberg, Snyder, Harrison. Fiction can’t compete. Nonfiction is horror fiction. Yes. Poetry. Give him a collection of Gary Snyder’s work. That would make his reading life happy for the rest of his days. But, today.

Blake is sixty. Now it’s here for him. He can’t deny it.

The hike has solidified a decision he made yesterday. He’ll tell Margaret at dinner.

He knows. He is the scientist-bureaucrat who designed the Two-for-Sixty Plan, a government directive administered by DPH: When a citizen turns sixty, two pills—the first makes them not care, the second stops their heart.

Blake knows. Margaret will understand.

Tonight, Chicken Vesuvio, a favorite. They sit back, sipping Chardonnay. He’s wiped his plate clean with a slice of bread, dreamy now. “I’m not doing it, Mag. Two-for-Sixty. No.”

She stares, she’s been drinking the wine, not eating. “I thought you’d fight it. I cooked them in, babe.” Margaret takes his hand. “You ate it.”

Blake is calm. The dark is settling in.

~ fin ~

JEsterholm_Oct2021_a

Jeff Esterholm’s work has previously appeared in Shotgun Honey, and Akashic Books’s Mondays Are Murder, Beat to a Pulp, Close to the Bone, Crime Factory, Mysterical-E, Mystery Tribune, Pulp Modern Flash, Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, Tough, and Yellow Mama, as well as in Midwestern Gothic, Cheap Pop, Regarding Arts & Letters, Wisconsin People & Ideas, and Flash Fiction Italia. He received the Larry and Eleanor Sternig Award for Short Fiction from the Council for Wisconsin Writers in 2013. He, his wife, and their goldendoodle hellraiser live in Wisconsin at the head of the Great Lakes.