Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deadly Sins

The day after his thirty-ninth birthday, Louis decided to give up vice, cold turkey. How long could a man go on tempting fate? His youth had ended; mortality loomed. His bad habits were many, his indulgences excessive: a pack of cigarettes a day, an eighth of marijuana a week. Liquor was his particular weakness. It made him boisterous and funny, popular with his coworkers and women he met in bars, which resulted in frequent promiscuous sexual encounters, despite the potbelly he wore as a result of his love for fried food, sweets, and that most lethal combination of the two, doughnuts.

He would die, soon, and with agony, at this rate. It snuck up on you and—bam!—you were forty. But he wasn’t forty yet. If he could wipe the slate clean, perhaps he could elude the specter of death for a while longer.

Cigarettes were out completely, as was the weed, and the occasional hit of X or bag of mushrooms. Hard liquor was out, and he would limit himself to a single glass of wine or beer a day. Fornication was out. He would not sleep with any woman until he had dated her exclusively for at least a month, and then he would wear a condom every time. He would become a health nut, and join a gym.

For two solid weeks, he remained faithful to his new regime. Mornings, he experienced a clear-headed lack of regret he had not known since before college. Seven pounds dropped from his waist and breathing came easier. With the time and energy he used to spend in bars pursuing women, he cleaned and painted the house, repaired windows and refinished woodwork, even changed the oil and sparkplugs on the car. He felt great; he would live forever.

On the fifteenth day, Jim from accounting persuaded him to take a single hit off a joint. Louis thought, one toke won’t hurt. Just on the weekends. The next weekend he smoked two joints, one each day, and went to Dunkin’ Donuts after the second time.

After a month, his exercise schedule became sporadic. He still worked out, sometimes. Sometimes he had a second drink with the guys from the office. At the same time, he discovered a bakery that specialized in vegan cakes, and enrolled in a healthy vegetarian cooking class at the recreation center. There, he met Joann, a willowy blonde who whispered to him that she still, sometimes, ate red meat. With great restraint, he managed to wait ten entire days before seducing her.

Waiting was a good idea, he thought. Things with Joann heated up. He abandoned his resolutions, sort of. He ate whatever junk food he wanted, and smoked and drank whatever anyone offered him, but only when she wasn’t around. After they got married and had a baby, he didn’t indulge around his daughter, either. Louis became a secret vector of vice. He sinned only on the occasional Sunday afternoon, or when Joann took the baby to her mother’s. He made the most of the occasions, and threw the evidence in other people’s trash.

Louis lived thirty more years. At sixty-nine, he was diagnosed with cancer, terminal. Hereditary. Genetic, the doctor said. “There’s nothing you could have done differently,” the doctor assured as Louis numbered his weak resolve and his many transgressions. “It was in your DNA.”

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