About the width of a credit card. Or the heel of a stylish shoe. Hardly any distance at all, really, if you thought about it in those terms.
That was how far the man’s toes now dangled above the plank floor. Together, the tequila and the pounding behind his eyes cast a fog over his senses, so much so that he’d barely registered the noose snugging round his throat, the tipping of the chair. When his weight suddenly cinched the knotted bed sheet into a lethal necklace, though, the haziness washed away like a butcher throwing a bucket of water to rinse the slaughterhouse floor. A survival instinct kicked in, bringing with it a clarity that was beautiful in its simplicity. Suddenly, the clutter and noise that marred his day-to-day existence no longer mattered. Not the self-loathing, not the whispers and innuendo, not the soul-crippling depression. Nothing else was of significance now except the one thing. Reclaiming the floor.
The man reflexively pointed his toes like a ballerina, stretching until he thought his tendons would pop. He swatted his feet at at the floor, searching but coming up dry. Three measly inches, so near and yet so far. Quite literally the distance between life and death. May as well be a mile was his last thought before the panic set in.
When the air hunger began in earnest, he clawed at the noose as he began running in place, his legs air-bicycling in a mimicry that would have been comical under less tragic circumstances. His body swayed through a short arc while he fought, fought FOUGHT to reach behind his head. He grabbed two desperate handfuls of the taut bed sheet and pulled hard, feeling a moment’s sweet relief when his windpipe unlocked and he could take in one whooping breath then another. But the angle was awkward, and as the fire in his back-bent shoulders crept into his arms, his mass slowly sagged. He tried to scream for help, but the sound came out a gurgled yurk, the last sound he would ever make and then he was flopping and twisting once again like a fish on a pier.
His broken brain — for years both his blessing and his curse — began to sputter and cough as if it was a diesel engine running low on fuel. The creaking protests of the beam from which he hung slowed in measure with his exertions, then ceased altogether when he eventually went limp. The bed sheet’s bulky knot pushed his head down, giving the illusion that the man stared in fascination at the earthly bonds he’d broken, though in truth those eyes beheld nothing at all. His last action was an indignity, true, but a fitting one as he felt warmth spread down his inner thigh after his bladder let go, the universe’s coup de grace.
Starved neurons gave up their ghosts, releasing memories with their lysis. Images flitted across his mind’s scrim like scenery out the window of a moving car, a rough cut movie that he watched in pure serenity, taking stock without passing judgment. Recollections of days spent splashing in the river with his cousins, nights spent staring into campfires or taking refuge in the arms of whores. The pain of a sixth grade beating by his father’s hand. The joy of being picked up on a long hitch hike to Del Rio. The humiliation of a sodomizing he’d received in county lock up. A sense of pride that he answered to no one and shame at the hurt he’d caused.
And as his spark winked out, the last feeling he’d ever know was relief.