The following is a work of fiction.
Frankie used to refer to the Shady Acres as The Short Timers club. Each person there was not far from a game-ending heart attack or stroke. Frankie had developed an uncanny ability to foresee who was on the verge. Or maybe it was just common sense that told him. The uncanny part was the timing. He once predicted that a severely overweight seventy-eight-year-old named Dan Sackamano was not far from a dirt nap. The following week, when I came to visit, the paramedics were rushing Dan Sackamano down the hall, right by Frankie’s apartment. Frankie stood in the doorway, watching, and when he saw me approach, he just raised his eyebrows at me, as if to say, “See? What’d I tell you?”
Turned out, one of the female attendants had gone to check on Dan when he hadn’t shown up for two meals in a row. “It’s a bad sign when a fat man misses a meal.” Frankie said. “Dan Sackamano probably never missed a meal in his life. Now, he’ll be missing meals forever.”
Frankie was like that when it came to death, but I don’t think he meant disrespect; I just think that, once you’ve seen the things that Frankie’s seen–when you’ve seen your closest buddies gunned down and lose body parts, it’s hard not to view death with a measure of irreverence.
“There’s no point in being delicate about the situation, son.” he said to me that day they’d rolled away Sackamano. “Death is part of being human, and we’re all human. Death is on the horizon for us all. Some of us are closer to the horizon than others.”
“I’m surprised you don’t think you’re immortal, after living through what you lived through, Frankie.” I said.
“No, you stop thinking you’re immortal the first time you see another man get cut down right beside you. Nobody gets away cheap, not a one of us. But I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, pointing a crooked finger toward me. “You won’t see me going out on a stretcher like you seen Sackamano there.”
“Is that so?” I said.
“You know what happens as soon as you die, son?”
“You gonna give me a philosophy course now, Frankie?”
“Not talking philosophy; I mean your body. You know what happens with your body?” he said.
“I don’t know. It gets cold, right?” I said.
“Yeah, but the cold don’t matter; I’m talking before that. First thing that happens when you’re dead is all your muscles go slack, and you shit your pants.” he said in a serious tone.
I stifled a chuckle. This was the great thing about Frankie. He made me comfortable to talk about uncomfortable things. “Who cares about that, Frankie? You’ll be dead!”
“Oh, you don’t get it son. It’s the ladies.” he said. “You know, the caretakers?”
“The ladies on staff?” I said.
“That’s right. First thing that young lady noticed when she went to check on Sackamano was his whole apartment smelled like shit. I’m not going out like that.”
“How are you going out, then?”
“I’m going to get away. Head outside and wait for the sweet Lord to take me.” he said with a glow.
“What if you don’t see it coming, Frankie? Dan Sackamano went during a nap.”
“I’ll see it comin’, son.” he said. “All my life, I’ve always known I would die alone. So that’s what I’m gonna do. When I see it comin’, I’m going to take a walk, find a spot by my lonesome, and croak like a man. Let some stranger can find me with shit in my pants; that I can live with. Or die with. Whatever.” He cracked a one-sided smile.
I’d heard the die alone idea before. My dad used to say the same thing. It never made sense to me. “I don’t know, Frankie. Don’t we all die alone?”
He wrinkled his forehead, as if considering the idea for the first time, then nodded softly