Saturday 24 June 2017

'When Susan Died the First Time' by Christopher Allen

When Susan died the first time, the guys at the office filled a black leather book with 50 pages of heartfelt condolences. Back and front. That’s what they said: ‘heartfelt, back and front.’ I couldn’t open the book. It’s in the bedroom closet behind a big green box of yellowed tax receipts. Who has the steel for heartfelt, back-and-front condolences? From guys who never gave me anything but email porn jokes and MILF videos. Who wants to be reminded that she couldn’t keep Susan alive?

When Susan died the second time, I’d quit the office with the guys but I was a guy myself. This time, mourning Susan as a man, I was ready to seek the familiar, warm hands of guys—of buddies. I would unzip my grief to their affection, however they wanted it, but no one came. In the break room, averted eyes scoured the light green cement walls as I sat there, open; their silence left me wasting and wondering why Susan had lived at all.

The seventh time Susan died, I was so small that no one noticed. Hordes of Susans milled around me, ignoring my suffering with their oval, alien eyes, with their bared legs and teeth, with their laughing and ambitions and Susans of their own. To them—if they noticed at all—I must have seemed a speck. To them, I was just the droppings of a Susan, and Susans tended to leave the tiniest.

I was living in a little town called Susan on the outskirts of Susan when Susan died the ninth time. I’d just landed a job working for a man named Susan in a company named Susan. My name was Susan and when Susans spoke to me, they spoke a language called Susan because Susan was the only language I’d learned, and every noun, verb and adverb was Susan.

The sixteenth time it died, I refused to say its name. I sent two black suits to the cleaner’s and meant to wear them for a year, but when I went to pick them up I was told a man named Susan had taken them. So I dusted off the black leather book from the first time it died and read all fifty pages, each heartfelt condolence, back and front. The missives were strained and awkward; they were violets-are-blue and adaged—but also affirming of my insistent loss. Not one of them, not even once, had mentioned its name.

Originally published in Indiana Review; finalist in the 2013 Indiana Review ½ K Competition.


  1. This is an amazing story and Christopher Allen has such an intriguing and abstract mind. He always shows how the world works, but in a different way than anyone else.


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