A Short Story

*caution: graphic, and entirely fictional; all resemblance purely coincidental.  

Max Suleman was an average sort. A mild strength for numbers, a mild weakness in history and writing, a very average body that provided very average results on tennis courts and rugby fields. He was generally friendly, though thoroughly boring once you got to know him. His parents were just the same: run of the mill, salt of the earth Americans with decent careers and decent interests. As an only child of working parents, Max grew up under the wing of no less than two-dozen nannies, most of whom took care of him for a few months and then moved on to find greener pastures. If this had any psychological effect on Max, he wasn’t aware of it, nor was he ever annoyed or frustrated by the revolving door of caretakers. Sure, he liked some of them more than others, but when his favorite babysitter from the second half of his ninth year left without saying so much as ‘goodbye’, he remembered shrugging, and shrugging again, and since then, he must have shrugged no less than ten thousand times.

Max turned twenty-two only a few months ago. He went to a four-year community college and majored in Applied Data Analysis. He was proud of his studies but would readily admit that he felt very little passion at all for data analytics. Very little passion, he would say. “Almost none. None, really. I just don’t care what triggers the uptick in user engagement, even if it’s for something cool like a healthcare app or.. or whatever. Why should I care so much about what everyone else does? I don’t want anyone caring that much about what I do.”

Max needed a job. He had been a grocery bag stuffer and a house-painter in his off-hours during his years in college. He wasn’t desperate — his parents made sure that he left college with no debt, a fact that he tried very hard not to take for granted every time he saw them. But he could do the basic math, and the math said that he needed a job.

He applied for a few jobs. A few weeks went by and his bank account was still looking fine. “Good thing I painted those houses” he would mutter to himself while he read through job listings. He felt that he should probably make use of his degree. Even though he didn’t care much for data analytics, he saw the salaries and weighed some pros and cons and decided that he should probably make use of his degree. He got a job doing marketing at a local furniture store. Seriously, a furniture store. He couldn’t have cared less.

Three months later, Max had mastered the art of furniture store social media marketing. Strangely enough, he found that he was quite good at furniture marketing, and the store owners were quite pleased that his activities had helped to boost sales almost 25%. If Max enjoyed the praise, he didn’t let it show, but that wasn’t very hard for him because in all honesty, he couldn’t have cared less. “Great! So another business has made a bit more money because I’ve spent most of my time doing things to make sure they would make more money. Revolutionary, totally radical.” Once in a while, he would consider a hypothetical: If I were to be really happy and doing things that I cared about, what would I be doing? After a few seconds of consternation, he would arrive at the same result. “Nothing. I would be doing nothing, and that would make me happy because then I have nothing to do, and then I could do… nothing.”

One morning, on minute six of the twelve-minute drive to his office, he heard a story on the radio about some crazy gunman who walked into a church and killed some people. He never listened to the news – he didn’t care – he had been flipping through channels when it snuck into his ears. It planted a seed.

“Prison!” He exclaimed to his windshield. He looked left and right, making sure no-one heard his bizarre outburst. And then he kept thinking. “Prison! Ok, so there’s a social structure and ringleaders and some dangerous folks, but… there are different sorts of prisons, right? Low, medium, high security… and really, what do people do in prison all day? What can they do? I suppose they can read, or write things, or do exercises in their cell, but really they must do not-very-much. They might even do nothing. Nothing at all.” A seed had been planted.

Max read about being in prison after work for the next three weeks. He looked at the crimes that people committed and what sorts of prisons they got sent to. He even picked his top 5 favorite prisons, which was a very odd thing for him to do because he had never had favorite anythings before, or at least not since that babysitter left. He felt strangely energized by the strange plan that was forming in his head. He even drove three hundred miles one Saturday morning into the next state where a chrome-buckled cowboy at the State Fair would be able to sell him a gun.

It was the day of, and his plan was perfect. All he had to do was get arrested for something illegal enough to do a few years in the clink. Five, ten years… of sweet, sweet nothing. He woke up before his alarm went off, wide eyed and giddy, almost forgetting to bring ammunition on his way out the door. Fourteen minutes to the bank in town center, a few short strides with a duffel bag over his shoulder, and all of the pieces were in place. He stood in the center of the grand entrance and took a breath. Here goes.

He unzipped the duffel, grasped the gun, cocked it while still in the bag, and then hoisted it above his head like they do in the movies. For the first time in a dozen years, he yelled, screamed to the room, “THIS IS A ROBBERY! EVERYBODY DOWN”. He smiled to himself calmly, and, aiming blindly at the ceiling, pulled the trigger, one, two, three, four, five times.

And the great chandelier from the grand entrance came a-crashing down, right on top of the huddled mass before him. Hundreds of pounds, probably thousands, he thought to himself as he was tackled and shackled. “Some people just died”, he thought to himself while he was in the back of the police cruiser. “I just.. caused some people to die,” he said out loud while sitting in the police station, attracting angry glares from the officers around him. Still shocked, he looked at the nearest officer and said with more astonished bemusement than horror, “I didn’t mean for anybody to die. I didn’t need to kill anyone! I just wanted to go to prison for a while!”

It turned out that five people died under the weight of the great chandelier, and all five of those people were from the same family, which included three young children and their grandmother. Only the mother, who had asked her husband to take the kids with him to the bank that morning, survived, and it turned out that this poor mother, now childless, was a member of the state judiciary committee and was known for her dedication to family values and a fierce pragmatism focused on cost-effective capital punishment. Max was sentenced to death, and died one year and two months later, after spending one year and two months in prison doing — nothing.

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