The hole sitting inside George’s chest never faltered over the first few weeks. It just grew bigger and bigger until he felt like it had always been a part of him. The bunkhouse was quiet, the only sounds were that of Carlson’s snores and grunts as someone shifted in his sleep. Dark thoughts sifted in his head. Thoughts of the rope lying in the barn and how well it’d fit around his neck. Memories that still shook him awake racked through him, leaving him almost crying out in torment. The weight of the Luger in his hands and the crimson coating Lennie’s corpse as he fell – George couldn’t suppress the sob that sprang from his lips and he clamped his mouth shut, curling himself into a ball. For weeks, he’d been telling himself the rope was a bad idea but now, perhaps, it wasn’t the worst idea after all.
George knew that with any luck, the barn would be empty. The sun was hot and yellow and made his head pound, making him desperate for a drink. The men around him were swiping pearly sweat off their brows before reaching for another load of barley. George’s back ached as he reached for another one. However sunny and the bright the day was, the dark and welcoming thoughts of death shadowed over him, looming over him.
The chance to do it was getting smaller and smaller. He’d have to do it soon. George warily cast a look at Slim. He wasn’t looking his way, in fact he had his back turned.
“I need to go see the boss now,” George blurted out. “Could you do this on your own?”
His partner blinked sweat out of his eyes, dazed for a moment. Then, he nodded, surprised. “Uh, sure. Is it a meeting or something?”
“Yeah,” George lied before briskly walking down the sun-kissed fields and out of sight of the remaining workers before anyone could notice.
Surveying the workers around him, Slim noticed that George was nowhere to be seen. His brows furrowed. “Hey Fred,” Slim shouted over to George’s partner, now alone. “Where’s George?”
Fred looked up from hauling a barley bag onto the truck and gave him wide eyes. “He went for a meeting with the boss,” he said stupidly.
Slim knitted his eyebrows again. “The boss doesn’t give meet-” Then it struck him. How terrible George had looked lately, and how he’d isolated himself from everyone. Like he was trying to hide away and now have anyone miss him. “How long has he been gone?”
Slim turned back to Carlson. “Carlson! Take over for me, will you?” He didn’t give the man any time to answer and didn’t care to know what his response was going to be. George couldn’t be dead, not now. Right?
There it was. The rope. It hung from the rafter which he’d been able to reach with a well slung noose at the end. The stool was below it and that was what George was staring at. Step onto it and put the rope over his neck. It couldn’t be that difficult. He took a slow breath. George was going to see Lennie soon. The hate inside grinned with foul, sharp teeth and he felt his stomach tighten. The rope held his life now. He stepped onto the stool and held the rope over his head. He closed his eyes, welcoming the black behind his eyelids.
The rope was snatched from his hands so fast he could feel his skin rip. The stool toppled over and his eyes flew open to see the barn rafters fly through his vision. He landed on the wooden floor, strewn with hay and sat swiftly to see what had happened.
Slim stood over him, the noose dangling in his hands. He threw the rope from him. “You don’t need that,” he said sullenly. “Come with me.”
“I- how did you know?” George blurted, anger swelling. No one should have known.
“I put the pieces together. I know the boss doesn’t give out meetings.” He yanked George up from the ground.
George glared at him, the anger boiling so much inside of him that he felt sick. “You’re not doing me any favours by letting me live.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But I’m not having you die on my hands. Lennie wouldn’t-”
His hands curled into fists, his fingernails cutting into his flesh. His voice rose to a shout so loud, it was all that encompassed him. “To Hell what Lennie thinks! You don’t know him! You’ve only known him for two weeks!”
The hole’s wicked smile grew wider. It loved his anger, his plea for death.
“George, I-” Slim started.
“I don’t care,” George snapped, his voice guttural. “I don’t fucking care.” He pushed past the older man and stormed out of the barn into the dusty courtyard.
It was night when Slim approached him again. The drunk yells of the men in the bunkhouse drifted through the crack in the door as it opened. The night grew silent again as it closed. George turned his head and glowered from his seat on the porch. “Why are you here?” His words were laced with venom.
“George, I want to help you.”
“Bull,” George spat. “You wouldn’t know how. You never killed your friend. Most people don’t.”
Slim didn’t speak and moved to sit beside George. George moved away from him, the distance between them chilly. The older man let out a long release of breath. “Everyone has their hardships. Many people have wanted to die, like you do George. Some are still here. Others not. You can’t change what you did, no matter how much you want to.”
George scoffed. “I don’t need to hear your speeches.”
“George, listen to me... I bet that most people that are now dead just wanted a listening ear. I may not know what killing someone you’re close to is like, but I can be your listening ear. I want to help you best I can. OK?”
He crossed his arms. “How?”
“Just talk. I’ll find a way. We’ll find a way.” Slim smiled at him.
He sighed. “It’s good to know someone wants to help.” The hole inside his chest closed just a little, the sting of its bite lessening just a little. George smiled back. It was going to be hard. Maybe, maybe he’d be fine.