Nelson Harris approached the door of the shopping mall and saw that an elderly woman was just about to exit the same door. Normally, any other day, he would pick up his pace and hold it open for her, but not today.
Nelson was near the end of a month-long experiment and he was determined to see it through to the end. He had just three more days to go and if he broke his commitment now, the previous twenty-eight days would have been wasted.
He reached the door just seconds ahead of her. Instead of holding it open for her, he hurried inside and brushed past her, not even waiting to see or hear her reaction to his blatant rudeness.
Turning at the sound of his name, he smiled when he saw Amy Buckley, his neighbor. She and his wife, Helen, were good friends.
“Nelson, what did you just do?” she asked. From her tone, Nelson could tell that she was upset with him for some reason. He studied her for a moment before answering. At forty-nine, Amy still had a great figure despite three kids.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I saw you rush in ahead of that poor woman just now. You nearly knocked her over! What’s the matter with you?”
“Listen. Let me buy you a cup of coffee, okay?” Nelson had a few errands to run and he wanted to be back in time for the afternoon game, but he could see that Amy was determined to get an answer. Within minutes, they were seated at a table at the food court.
“I’m conducting an experiment,” Nelson said in a whisper, as if he were about to reveal some sort of government secret and was afraid that he was being watched.
Amy sipped her coffee and waited for him to continue.
“Have you ever noticed how some people seem to get away with things and some don’t? Or how it seems that more good people than bad people die so young?”
“I don’t follow you,” she said, crossing her arms. “And why are you whispering?”
Nelson continued with his voice at a normal level. “I don’t want to die anytime soon. And after reflecting on my own life, adding up all the good versus bad things that I’ve ever done, I figure that there is a strong possibility that I’ll die before my time if I don’t do something about it.”
“Running down little old ladies?” Amy asked.
“Let me explain,” Nelson continued. “Listen, we both know a few dozen people in our circle of friends and work associates. Within that group, a number of them cheat on their taxes or scalp baseball tickets or even cheat on their spouses, right?”
Amy nodded at this.
“And have you also noticed, within that same circle of people, that a larger number of the truly honorable and decent people that you know have died at an earlier age than the ones that aren’t?”
This brought another nod from Amy. “So?”
“So, to beat the odds, I figured I’d try something. Every day this month, I’ve been doing one tiny little bad thing. Nothing drastic or illegal, mind you, but something that I normally wouldn’t do otherwise.”
“I admit the past couple of days I’ve been getting overenthusiastic. But, yeah.”
“And you figure that by doing this, you’ll extend your life by a couple of years?”
Nelson, glad that she understood, rested his chin in the palm of his hand and smiled at her. He even raised his eyebrows and nodded at her, he was so excited. This was the first time that he had told anyone what he was doing.
“That’s crazy! And even if you’re right, there’s no way to know if it’ll work.”
“But that’s the beauty of it. Don’t you see? It’s worth a month to at least try. What can I lose?”
“Some dignity and self-respect?” she asked as she pushed her coffee cup to one side.
“I already have those things, Amy,” he countered. “And what have I gained? I’ve been a good guy for all of my fifty-five years and what did it get me? An ulcer, a bad back and a drawer full of bills. Meanwhile, I know two guys from work who are poster children for evil. Hell, one of them is a good fifteen years older than me and he’s in perfect health. Perfect!” Nelson finished his coffee and slapped the empty cup on the table.
“That’s nuts!” Amy said. “You’re delusional. So you’re saying that for a month, you’ve been going out of your way to do bad things based on the theory that you’ll live longer?”
“I admit it is just a theory. But one worth trying.”
“Does Helen know about this?”
“Not really. I only do it when I’m alone. If she found out, I’d never hear the end of it. I’ve only got three days to go. Could you please not tell her?”
Amy suddenly stood up and adjusted her purse on her shoulder. She had heard enough.
“You’ve changed, Nelson.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he said, leaning back in his chair.
“Tell me something,” she asked. “Where did you come up with this theory, anyway?”
Amy’s mouth dropped open in shock. She couldn’t believe that her own husband had done this as well.
“He said he did the same thing about two months ago and he sees things now with a new perspective.”
“That bastard!” Amy muttered to herself.
Nelson couldn’t help but smile as he watched Amy stalk away toward the parking lot.
Giving Bernie up to Amy had given Nelson a bonus bad deed for the day and he was ahead of schedule now. But he would still complete the next three days anyway, just to be sure.
And besides, he was really starting to enjoy himself.
Frank Zubek is married and lives in Ohio. He has a handful of other short stories published online and is working on a novel.