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S sat rigid at the well-lit bar, surrounded by young men and women enjoying the placidity of each other’s company. All seemed subtly aware of her smoldering, deathly presence, allowing her an exclusion zone two-and-a-half meters in radius. But precautions be damned for the man with a penchant for pain. Radiation suit off, I approached her.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” she said, not breaking her rigidity.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

“I want to kill myself.”

I marveled a bit at her English, but worried that it was still within the realm of vocabulary understood by most people with a basic education.

“Okay, let’s not freak out here,” I said, knowing she wouldn’t understand the expression. “Why don’t we step outside?”

“Okay.”

We stepped outside, where it was dark, drizzling, and generally uninviting. But this was damage control, and there was no time for being picky about venue.

“Why do you want to kill yourself?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s too selfish of me.”

“Then what are we doing here?”

Silence.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

“I want to kill myself.”

The conversation was cyclical, arriving at this pass a number of times. What she meant to say was that she wanted to kill herself unless I would be with her, but she wouldn’t come out and say it because she knew I had a girlfriend. I also wouldn’t come out and say it because it would have been in breach of the patient-doctor relationship I was trying to pretend we had. Also because my relationship was a wholly separate disaster I didn’t wish to expose. A younger me would have been swayed at the first haphazard blurting of “kill myself,” leaping to action with overdramatized concern. I would have pulled her close and told her she had every reason to live, but now I did none of these things.

“You shouldn’t kill yourself,” I said plainly. “Do you have any idea how bored you’d be afterward?”

In the rain, her hair fell in front of her face in stringy, bleached-blonde clumps. She looked beautiful and traumatized as a city. Was there hope left for our dear Atomic Girl, or was she as good as detonated? I, for one, didn’t believe she had it in her to do what she said she was going to do. All the same, I still had a few remaining drops of compassion for this girl, and still held on to the notion that I could help her in some way.

After she had calmed down a bit and we’d both grown cold and wet, I ushered her back inside to the bar. We continued talking. By this point it was clear that she had an objective, and suicide wasn’t it. I was her objective, but only as a victim of circumstance. If it’d been a different guy, it would’ve been him. Our looping conversation did another few laps before she finally worked up the nerve to just blurt out the inevitable.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked again.

“Because I love you.”

Ohhh, you suck so bad, I thought as I felt the hot gazes of several bar patrons.

I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and produced the following masterpiece.

“Ever heard of projection?” I said. She blinked at me. “Here, it’s like this. There’s actual Greg here, about whom you know little to nothing. And then there’s Greg as you see him. See, and those creepy, dead eyes symbolize your creepy, dead eyes. And you see here, you’re projecting all your own ideals onto me, making me the object of your affection. But that’s not really me–that’s you.”

She blinked at me.

I tried several other drawings and metaphors, including one that I think involved penguins, but all to no avail. The idea was to preserve an atmosphere too comical to let her think the melodrama was a sale, still genuine enough to make her feel like she was being heard. Most important was to completely sidestep her obvious objective. But five hours in, our conversation was still looping and I was out of paper. It was 5 a.m. when she dropped the “kill myself” line again and my last bit of compassion evaporated.

I stood up. “Well that’s up to you, now, isn’t it. I might just suggest that you think long and hard before you do it. See ya around.”

“Okay. But I still might kill myself.”

Ugh. I stormed out of BL, thoroughly sick of this woman and her repetitive English.

Determined to make it home before the first sliver of sunlight, I made haste under the overpass and up the Kuninaga bridge. Just then, not five minutes from my departure, a text message arrived.

“Greg, thank you for staying to talk to me. Thanks to you, I won’t kill myself after all. I just want to be your friend. Hope to see you again soon.”

A chill went down my spine. I quickened my step and looked back over my shoulder exactly seven times before just barely beating the sunrise to my front door.

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