Story: When Conversations Take a Turn

By: Michael C. Keith

“If I had the choice between staring at a ceiling for eternity or the breathless nothingness of death, which would I choose? Is that what you’re asking me?”

“Exactly,” answered Beth. “It’s a simple enough question, Clay. Would you rather continue to live no matter how barren your existence, or would you prefer total oblivion?”

“Christ, where do you come up with these things? Do you lie awake at night thinking what kind of crazy shit can I ask people?”

“Actually, I don’t. Things just pop into my head, but they usually have a source, a point of origin. For instance, last year when I was in the hospital for sepsis and thought the end was near, I was gazing up at the ceiling––you know, one of those suspended jobs . . . a dropped ceiling, I think they call them. It had all these tiny perforations in the white squares that were hanging from metal straps.”

“And that’s when you thought about the question you just asked me?” inquired Clay, drawing on a joint and passing it over.

“Thanks. Yeah, I thought I’d rather spend forever looking at anything at all and remain alive. At least I would still be around . . . you know, present. Not gone forever.”

“You’re talking about gawking up at a frigging hospital ceiling for eternity just so you can keep on breathing?”

“Right. You got it. If you had to make up your mind right now whether to do that or become extinct, what would you choose?”

“Jesus, that’s a really heavy ask. I might opt for life if it were a popcorn ceiling.”

“Popcorn? What’s that?”

“You know, those ceilings with little lumps that look like cottage cheese. Hey, I’m getting hungry . . . you?”

“Huh? Yeah, what do you have?” replied Beth.


Michael C. Keith teaches college and conjures tales.

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