Nerve Classics

True Stories: The Little Death

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Perhaps it’s the bourbon, but lately, we’ve been feeling nostalgic. With writing this good, can you blame us? “The Little Death” originally ran in 2008.

She still isn’t awake. For ten minutes now my attempts to wake Katie have progressed from a gentle nudge to a violent assault that would likely get me arrested in most states. She’s still breathing, so she isn’t dead. Thank God.

While her body lies prone in my bed, I frantically search the room for my phone, although I have no idea whom to call. Is it too soon for 911? How long can you wait before it’s considered gross negligence? If I call the paramedics, they’ll call the police, who will call Katie’s parents, who will undoubtedly get a lawyer. The remainder of my college fund will be used to cover the legal fees.

One minute you’re bringing a girl back to your apartment, undressing each other as you fumble with the lock, and the next minute you’ll never be a doctor.

“Katie. C’mon, wake up!”

I roll Katie over to check her pupils, for no other reason than I’ve seen this done a thousand times on television.

This causes the bed sheet to slip from her body, and I stop everything to take just a moment and stare at her breasts. They’re bigger or fuller somehow than what I can remember from last night, and either way they look great.

And I need more help than I realize.

“What you need is a Genocide.”

This is Wayne helping, but really he’s product testing. It’s the night before, and I’m at the Flamingo Shuffle, or, if you go by the dying pink-neon sign over the bar, THE FLAMING SHU. As Wayne pours grenadine into a shaker, he tells me how he’s changed the drink menu. Not necessarily the drinks themselves, but their names. He believes that giving regular drinks macabre-sounding names will improve liquor sales with us college students. As he adds white rum and triple sec, he explains how kids want to be on the ground floor of something fresh, something exciting. He says it’s even better if it has an edge.

“People define themselves by the choices they make. Every purchase, every action is their way of telling the world, ‘This is me, this is who I am.'” Wayne uses armchair psychology to make sense of life, but then again we all do. He’s just picking up where Irish Car Bombs left off.

Wayne pours everything over ice and hands me my drink. A Genocide is dark red and tastes a little like mouthwash. I’m on my third when Katie comes up to refill her drink.

She’s tall with the thin body and elongated limbs often associated with European models. Her brutally blonde hair hangs just below her cheek, framing the sad and severe look on her face. She wears a thin black sundress, and matching stilettos that are more dagger than shoe.

She walks towards my seat at the bar, her shoes stabbing the floor.

“Give me an African Famine,” she tells Wayne.

For the last eight nights I’ve sat here and watched Katie. As I’d sip drinks, Katie would pick up guys like socks on a cluttered floor. By last call she’d have her latest, and out they’d stumble, arm in arm into the night.

I watched all of this. Eight different nights. Eight different guys. I smile at her, “Hey. How’s it going?”

She stares just long enough to give me a once over, then returns to her drink.

I watched all of this. Eight different nights. Eight different guys.

An African Famine turns out to be a dirty martini garnished with four plump olives. Wayne is not without an appreciation for irony.

“Fine,” she says to the martini. “I’m going outside for a cigarette. You smoke?”


“You should.”

I find her outside sitting on a stool with her legs crossed, one shoe dangling from her foot, her lips tinting a cigarette. She looks at her fingernails, first with her fingers curled into her palm, then with them spread wide.

“So, who’s that guy you were talking to?” I ask.

“I’m not fucking him.”


“So, what about you?” she says.

“Well, I’m not fucking him either.”

Katie purses her lips and checks her watch. “We don’t have a lot of time,” she says.

Katie’s hand is down the front of my pants before I can unlock the deadbolt. Her other is woven into my hair, jerking my head, crashing her mouth into mine. It feels less like being kissed and more like having the back wall of my skull licked. I am being devoured, and it is unsettling. We find our way to the couch where Katie throws me onto the cushions. She stands over me, unzips her dress and steps out of it without a second thought.

“Take your clothes off,” she says as she steps out of her panties.

“You sure you want to do this?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

Katie lowers herself onto me. We start off simple, slow and rhythmic. She wraps her arms around me, pulling my face into her chest, and she smells like fabric softener, sweet and fake. And while the sex is good, I’m not fully enjoying it because I keep waiting for the reason. The mysterious thing she’s after, and why she has to keep looking. I’m waiting for her to pull out a dildo with an empty promise to be gentle. I’m waiting on an insistence that she call me “Severin” just as she comes. I’m waiting for ball gags. Rape fantasies.

But we just have sex. Afterwards I have a beer, and Katie has a cigarette and then some sleep. Actually, a lot of sleep.

Any emergency paramedic will tell you that with acute narcolepsy the brain produces an insufficient amount of hypocretin. This is the chemical that regulates sleep cycles. If you combine a lack of hypocretin with low body weight and excessive amounts of alcohol, a person can slip into a “sleep coma.” When this happens medication, usually a form of ephedrine, must be administered. At least that’s what the paramedics tell me. After Katie refuses to wake up. After I relent and call 911, explaining through panicked breaths the situation to the operator. After I hear the ambulance screaming towards my apartment. They come in with their blue jumpsuits and lifesaving tackle boxes, their stethoscopes slung around their necks. While one attends to Katie, the other sits me down and explains how I’m not going to prison.

“Narcoleptics of this severity usually need someone in the morning to give them their meds. At the very least they give the person they’re sleeping with a heads-up, a little warning of what the morning will bring. But not Katie.”

The adrenaline’s wearing off. Plus, I’m still reeling from the fact that I won’t spend the remainder of my youth in jail getting passed around like loose change. So it takes me a second.

“Wait, what do you mean ‘But not Katie’? You guys know her?”

The medic pats me on the shoulder. “Sorry buddy, but you’re the third guy this month. We’re not sure why she does it. It’s just her thing.”

That’s how he phrases it. Her thing — like kiteboarding or spoken-word poetry.

The other one says how they found the guy before me crying behind his loveseat, rocking back and forth, begging them not to tell his parents.

“Sorry buddy, but you’re the third guy this month.”

Then he laughs. He explains that because of some Americans With Disabilities precedent, while what she does isn’t morally sound, it’s also not illegal. Shrugging his shoulders, he says, “For some people an awkward morning is still better than a night alone.”

Now I know Katie’s magic trick. How each night she dies, only to be reborn. The paramedics pack their things and leave as Katie comes to. She silently gets out of bed and begins dressing. She pulls her dress over her head, patting it smooth around the hips. Standing first on one foot then the other, she puts on her shoes. All the while I’m staring bullets at her.

“What?” she finally asks.

“What do you mean what? What the fuck was all that?”

“Yeah, sorry. Guess I had more to drink than I realized.”

“That’s it?” I say, my voice rising. “You know, you could have said. . .”

But she interrupts me with a peck and heads for the door. She turns the knob, then looks at me one last time.

“Telling you would have changed everything.”