IT'S A FREE BOOK DOUBLE FEATURE, DEAR READERS!
What if the life you can't wait to end isn't the life you've been waiting to begin?
That's the crux of the matter for Charlie Chessman, a prominent criminal defense attorney so badly burned flying his single-engine plane he decides assisted suicide is his only option.
Partly inspired by the life and teachings of Dax Cowart, Death Magnanimous is Charlie's story, of how life goes on even after, as one of my ARC readers said, "everything you’ve known is flipped upside down."
In these excerpts from Death Magnanimous, Charlie frets about falling in love with one of his nurses at the Jacobsen Burn Center, and returns to his childhood home after intensive rehab.
We meet Charlie's devoted sister Renee and estranged wife Keri, and get a glimpse of Charlie's edgy sense of humor, like the nickname he's given one of his injured hands, not his left hand, but his "what's left" hand.
CONDESCENDING. PATRONIZING. STAGED. FAKE. Pain level at least a six if not a full seven and five eighths now. Charlie lay upright, bed head fully elevated, fuming. “Why do you do it? Why all the games? To keep me pliable?”
“We don’t have time for games, Mr. Chessman,” Dr. Jacobsen replied.
“Then let me have a mirror,” Charlie said. “Let me experience an opinion I don’t have to question.”
“We have a procedure for mirrors,” Dr. Jacobsen said. “It starts with reconstruction.”
“Before and after.”
“After and before. You see the new you first. You can remove your prostheses and see the old you anytime after, but we advise doing it with your surgeon the first time.”
“I asked you to reassign her. My nurse," Charlie said.
“I remember,” Dr. Jacobsen said. “I told you why I couldn’t.”
“There it is. Always. What you want,” Charlie said. “What you can and cannot do. I have to live with this. You don’t. You go home at the end of the day. I can never go home again.”
Dr. Jacobsen came closer, lowered her voice. “You needed pain relief, we provided it. You want to die: you need enough life to make that decision, on your own, with no obstacles. You need people around you who understand—”
“I didn’t need this!” Charlie said, flailing both arms and what was left of both hands. “I don’t need—I didn’t need—”
“We’ll be prepping you for ward transfer. I think your—”
“I didn’t need to fall in love,” Charlie blurted.
Every movement, every breath, every thought screeched to a halt. Charlie looked at his covered hands.
“Mary?” Dr. Jacobsen said.
“Yes,” Charlie said.
Jacobsen stared at him, her demeanor quietly sinking. “All right,” she said.
“It wasn’t her. It had nothing to do with her.”
“I understand,” Jacobsen said.
“Yes.” She went to the door. “I do.” Charlie caught a glimpse of the world beyond as Dr. Jacobsen walked out.
'KNOCK KNOCK." A DIFFERENT voice accompanied two knocks on the opening door. “Oh,” Keri said. “Am I interrupting?”
“No,” Renee said.
Charlie stared at his wife.
“What happened?” Keri asked. “I heard you tried to throw yourself out a window or something.”
“That window, to be precise,” Charlie said, pointing with his what’s left hand.
“How did you manage that?” Keri asked.
“Rolled off the bed—see the bruise,” Charlie said, pointing to his forehead, where no bruise might ever be visible again. Keri leaned in for a look.
“Helluva shiner,” Keri said. “Want me to kiss it?”
“Really?” Renee said.
“Come to think of it, your whole face is looking a little shiny,” Keri said. “Glossy, even.”
“Unbelievable,” Renee said.
But Charlie was smiling.
“How did these fine medical professionals stop this giant leap for mankind?” Keri said.
“I don’t really know,” Charlie said. “I was pretty drugged up.”
“Thought it wouldn’t hurt as much that way, huh?” Keri said.
“No,” his sister said. “He wasn’t thinking. He couldn’t think. I can’t believe you’d take this so lightly.”
“I’m not taking it lightly,” Keri said. “I understand my husband.”
“Ex husband,” Renee said. “Or soon to be. Right?”
“All right. I give,” Keri said.
“And why again?” Renee asked.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Why are you two getting divorced?”
“I knew I should have called first,” Keri said.
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Give it a rest, Renee,” Charlie said.
“Why are you guys divorcing? We’re here, and I’d like at least some inkling. My brother didn’t give you every thing you wanted? He didn’t shower you with money? He was abusive? That’s it, right? My sweet baby brother was an abusive prick.”
Keri leaned into Charlie and gently turned his face, with its missing ears, nose, few identifiable features except that beautiful brown eye. Her face against his, they looked at his sister together.
“People change,” Keri said. “I can’t exactly explain it, but my loving husband has changed.” She wiggled her eyebrows like Groucho Marx.
“You’re impossible,” Renee said. “Both of you.”
“Two women fighting over me,” Charlie said.
“Well, you’re worth it,” Keri said. “I should know—I’ve seen your financials.”
A smile peeked through Renee’s resistant face. “Most people would kill to have that kind of silly relationship,” she said.
“That’s the problem,” Charlie said.
“What, darling?” Keri gave him a faux-shocked look.
“We’re always ready to kill each other,” Charlie said.
“Which is my god-given right as the angry, estranged spouse,” Keri said. “I’m surprised you’d try to deprive me of it.” She kissed the top of his head.
“I don’t get it,” Renee said. “I really don’t get it.”
“I’ve always had a thing for bald men,” Keri said. She looked at Charlie. “In all seriousness. I’ve almost died I don’t know how many times since this god-awful thing happened.”
“I’M OFF TO WORK,” RENEE told her brother, as he stood straighter than ever in the dining room, barely touching his walker.
“How’s it going?” Charlie asked.
“Great! I love it. Now when you steal me away, you’ll have to match my actual, real, tangible, working girl’s salary. And benefits.”
“I told Anthony to get ready.”
“Liar.” Renee leaned over and kissed his cheek.
What was left of his cheek. Only my sister would kiss this cheek, he thought. He didn’t have his face on in the house as often, and he didn’t have it on now.
He’d made kind of a game passing the hallway mirror in this naked condition, making faces at what he still considered the horror peering back at him.
Sometimes, as the weight of the thing resettled, he would stand at the mirror and feel like crying.
But he didn’t cry, he hadn’t cried in so long, he wasn’t even sure where the tears would come from.
So he moved onto eating, watching television, lying on his bed contemplating the scheme of things until he fell asleep, sometimes under the influence of painkillers that constipated him even through the stool softeners.