The Perfect Marriage

The Perfect Marriage

Adam Mitzner

Owen had always assumed that the first funeral he would attend would be his own. Such a morbid thought would have been foreign to most teenagers, who invariably believed they were immortal. Owen’s classmates were forever testing the thesis—driving while drunk, taking drugs of dubious origin, and vaping anything. They always lived to tell the tale, proving they’d been right all along: they could never die.

For Owen, however, there was no tempting fate in this way. Before he was old enough to grasp the indestructibility that other teenagers believed to be their birthright, Death had entered his inner circle. Once admitted, Death remained front and center in Owen’s thoughts. So much so that Owen eventually thought of Death as a friend—a confidant. Someone who listened to him when no else did.

Everyone else in his life was always talking—about how it was all going to be okay, how brave or strong he was, or what a fighter he was. Even at thirteen, Owen knew it was a pack of lies. No one could predict whether he would live or die. He wasn’t strong or brave or a fighter. In fact, some days he felt so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed. He lived in a state of constant terror. More often than not, rather than fighting it, he succumbed to that dread.

Every time he did, Owen realized the one central fact of his existence: everyone was always lying to him.

Everyone except Death.

Death spoke the truth, whether Owen wanted to hear it or not. Death had no interest in Owen’s feelings, in keeping his spirits high, or in stopping his mother’s tears. Death didn’t give two shits if he was having a good day, if it was his birthday or Christmas, or if he was up to handling bad news.

Death’s only allegiance was to the truth.

What Death told Owen was simple: It had not chosen him because he was special or he could handle it or it would build his character. Death acted without any justification whatsoever, making selections at random.

In short, Death was unfair, and Death owned it.

And then, with no more warning than it had given when it entered his life, Death departed when the doctors told Owen that his cancer was in remission.

“You get to start your life all over again now,” his mother said.

“Think about how lucky that is, O,” his father said. “Most people would give anything for a second chance, and you have one, buddy.”

In the years that followed, Owen was surprised at how much he missed Death’s company. He was more than happy to forgo the chemo sickness, of course, and God knew he enjoyed having his hair back. But still he longed for that sense that, amid all the lies he encountered on a daily basis, someone close by was willing to speak the truth.

Of course, Owen knew that Death would return. It came for everyone, after all. It was only a matter of when.

And then, in the winter of Owen’s eighteenth year, Death came back into his life. Much to his surprise, however, Death bypassed him, coming for someone else. And Death’s modus operandi this time was not cancer, but homicide.



James Sommers considered looking at his wife in her wedding dress irrefutable proof that there was no relationship between virtue and happiness. It had been a year and four days since they’d married, and the simple sight of Jessica still made him smile like an idiot at his good fortune.

“Too much?”

James knew his wife was asking whether rewearing her wedding dress was overkill for their anniversary party. She had posed the question before—several times, in fact. He had always answered honestly, telling Jessica that she looked perfect.

This time, however, he decided to flirt.

“I do prefer you naked.”

She smiled at his joke. “There’ll be time for that later. But seriously, do I look okay in this?”

“Perfect,” he said.

Jessica rolled her eyes. “I don’t even know why I ask.”

James did not consider himself a particularly introspective man. He certainly wasn’t a religious one, having no faith in a higher power. Still, he had always tried to do the right thing. He’d be the first to admit that he wasn’t perfect in that regard, but all things considered, he thought he’d more or less walked the line. It was not an easy thing to do in his profession, where most art dealers believed that if you weren’t cheating someone—the buyers, the sellers, the artists, the IRS—you weren’t trying hard enough.

Much to James’s surprise, keeping to the straight and narrow had led him to unhappiness, and only after detouring had he found the contentment he’d previously thought unattainable.

He owed all his happiness to Jessica, but at times he felt like a thief. As if he had stolen the happiness meant for someone else, and at any moment he might be apprehended and forced to give it back. That was why, like any good criminal, he took care to keep his haul out of public view.

It was for that reason that James had initially expressed concern when Jessica proposed this party. Gathering everyone they knew for the purpose of celebrating their first anniversary seemed like tempting fate.

“You know my view,” James said. “You can have either a big wedding or a happy marriage, but not both.”

The line had become a recurring joke between them. At first to justify James’s resistance to a big wedding, then to explain to friends and family why they’d elected to elope.

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