Being of sound mind, I never believe ads. And although I never read the fine print, I always tick off ‘agreed’. As a result, I am now confined to a basement room watching foreign feet pass by the window.
Recently, having reached the age when I couldn’t count on many more decades of life, I was desperate to enjoy a few more kicks at the can. Meager as my finances were, I was determined to see the capitals of Europe and one night, spurred on by a large rum and coke, I decided to search, if necessary ‘til dawn, for a real deal. And then like a mirage on the desert, it appeared.
“See Rome and die,” the ad beckoned backed by a stunning photo of the eternal city and an unbelievable low price. I had to put my glasses on and off a few times, to be sure I wasn’t mistaken but no, there it was. The price, which was half the normal fare, included a stay at a hotel and city tours.
I had always promised myself to see Red Square before I died—and in the winter at that—but the Russian leader had dampened my spirits. But Rome: the eternal city, the home of Romulus et al. Yes, yes, I would do it.
Mesmerized by the video I pictured myself escorted around town on the tour bus, imbibing in a glass of wine at a small café, laughing and skipping along ancient winding alleys with the group.
Nervously checking my credit limit, I was delighted to discover that assuming I could live off what was in my larder for a few weeks and kept my credit card in my pocket, I could just make it.
Yes, yes. All inclusive: flight to Rome, small friendly tour, central hotel and all meals. Wow, wonderful. ‘Only three spaces left’ blasted across the screen and seven minutes to commit.
Carpe diem. All systems go. With shaking fingers I filled in the form. I quickly scrolled to the end of the fine print and clicked off ‘agreed.’
One minute flashed on the screen. I would just make it. Adrenaline pumped through my veins like good wine down my gullet. And success, I did it. I printed out the receipt and collapsed back. Hats off to me. For once I took a chance, bit the bullet, seized the moment. It was all I could do to stop myself from bursting out into the street and crowing.
The next morning, when I bragged to my sister about my upcoming holiday, she made a prune mouth and said there had to be a catch. Rome was probably so crowded with gangs of mafia they had to entice people to go there.
Two weeks into the tour, some of the happiest hours of my life under my belt, I was gloating about how wrong my sister had been. There had been no catch. Later that afternoon, the tour guide took me aside, and whispered in my ear. Being a bit hard of hearing—and no chance of affording hearing aids this year—when I asked him to speak louder he said.
“You didn’t fill in part two of the fine print so we need to discuss it now. Tomorrow is the last day.”
“But I ticked ‘agreed’ and paid.”
“There was a glitch; it should never have let you come without filling out the last page. Heads will roll.”
“Not mine,” I laughed, my mood being considerably lightened by two weeks in the eternal city.
“Not unless you choose that. Unusual but it’s your choice.”
“Choice of what?”
“How you want to die.”
“Oh,” I chuckled, “You mean I can choose as my last night: indulgence in chocolate or wine my way out. Not like that pope who died with a surfeit of lampreys. Of course he really did die.” I added enjoying the attention of the guide—a rather good-looking guy who to date had focused on younger patrons.
“As you are?”
“Going to die, but you have a choice how. We can’t do the lions in the Coliseum as the humane society has banned that. Otherwise it’s all systems go.”
“But not really dying.”
“Oh yes. The ad was clear for the amount you paid it was see Rome and die. Otherwise it would have cost twice the fare.”
My adrenaline pumped, my heart started to swell like a helium balloon and my brain raced around looking for some way out.
“But that was just an ad,” I sputtered.
“All legal,” my guide smiled. “Your choice.”
“I need to go to my embassy, ” I spurted. “To address a last-minute issue.”
“Of course,” the guide said patting my hand encouragingly.
Five hours later I was holed up in the Embassy. The travel company had someone stationed out front. “Just to be sure you don’t skip town,” the guide said.
“We won’t kick you out,” a staff member said, “On taking the deal, you chose suicide but it’s illegal in our country so you are stuck here unless something can be worked out.”
“At least you’re in Rome,” my sister e-mailed. “It’s an adventure.”
What kind of an adventure is it watching feet shuffle down the road from a basement window? And even the prospect of a million dollar story with the National Enquirer for my survivors is little comfort.
Melodie Corrigall is an eclectic Canadian writer whose work has appeared in Litro UK, FreeFall, Halfway Down the Stairs, Six Minute Magazine, Mouse Tales, Subtle Fiction, Emerald Bolts, Earthen Journal, Switchback, and The Write Place at the Write Time (www.melodiecorrigall.com).