Everything That Matters in Life and Death

Christopher Allen

Why would anyone really experiencing a matter of life or death call the 911 center — where we save the world one call at a time — and say “We’re experiencing a matter of life or death”? These people scream something like “Oh fuck! My baby!” and “Blood! Blood! Everywhere!” Not “We’re experiencing a matter of ya-dee-ya”. The caller didn’t even request assistance or give me an address. It popped up on the screen; that’s how they found this matter of life or death, which by the time they got there was only the latter.

If the caller had screamed for dear life or screamed in the throes of death — if she’d screamed — I’d be able to file this one away, but her calm alto dogs me, like a serial killer after she’s taken selfies with the splattered walls and placed the polished cleaver back into the knife drawer.

My dreams are all matters of life or death now, which, according to the company psychologist, are unresolved matters of life or death: when life becomes more dying than living, whether the release of dying is worth all this trouble. That kind of stuff. The company psychologist has a reputation for being a whiny existentialist. How, I ask him, can the dreams of a 911 operator be about anything but death? I don’t call death; death calls me. Every night now.

I’m manning an old-fashioned operator’s board. It’s lit up like Christmas in Alabama. I can’t reach the cables. My hands are tiny and blue. I’m a mouse. A blue one. One by one, the lights fade, the board ices over. A woman whispers, “We’re experiencing a matter of life or death.”

Someone’s dying and dying and dying. I’m needed. Four hundred tiny mouse claws crawl over my body. The mice scream-squeak “We are experiencing a matter of life or death!” I can’t move, but my mind wheezes for help as the air thins and the mice fall dead, their hands limp but claws protracted, keening like mourning mothers.

I have the honor of giving the eulogy for each mouse who sacrificed its life in last night’s dream. Colonies have died trying to wake me, to save the world one call at a time. My task tonight is to try to express, in hundreds of individually intimate ways, why life matters.

I cower, overshadowed by a statue of a blue mouse in some Old World square. The mouse is portly, made of hard plastic. His nose is cast to twitch, sniffing for the food he can’t possibly have: he’s bolted to the ground. He’s not a warrior or a king; he’s a gaudy eyesore still-life, a monument to the ridiculous absurdity of life. My life. And because no one is paying attention to anything I say or do, I climb onto his fat blue hard-plastic back and proclaim this big blue mouse to be everything that matters in life. And death.

CHRISTOPHER ALLEN is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire). His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclectica Magazine’s 20th-Anniversary Best of Speculative Anthology, Night Train, Indiana Review and others. Allen is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and lives in Germany.