The Shamus Dialogues

The Shamus Dialogues

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A strange thing happened to me.  I resolved to end my life by hanging myself from the rafters in my apartment.  I will not go into the details of my despair.  Suffice to say, that I came to the conclusion that my existence was meaningless and that I was better off dead than alive.  Having resolved to put an end to what I considered to be a miserable life, I prepared the stage for the final act of my existence.  I crafted the noose and tied it to the rafter in my living room.  I situated a chair beneath the rope and stood on it to place my head in the loop.  Having done so, I kicked the chair out from under my feet and I felt gravity overcome my body.  The pressure was intense, but not what I thought it would be.  My neck didn’t break, unfortunately, so I dangled above the floor of my apartment, slowly suffocating to death.  The lack of oxygen was frightening.  I twitched and thought for a moment that perhaps I had made an error.  But I could not move to get myself free.  I could feel my consciousness slipping away.  Suddenly, a point of light appeared a few feet in front of me.  It grew in size and encompassed nearly my entire living room.  I thought for sure that this was my last moment on earth; I was about to die.  Then something curious happened:  I wasn’t dead, and from the light a figure emerged.  Was this an angel, I wondered?  Could this be the angel of death come to collect my soul?  But, how could that be, because I was not dead?  The figure became clearer to me, and soon I had a full view of the creature that stepped out of the light, which disappeared the moment the creature touched the floor of my apartment.

Never before had I seen such a creature.  It stood like a man, and wore the oddest clothing:  a black shirt with red polka dots, black and red-striped pants; and on its head was a black hat with a red flower in its band.  This would have been curious enough, and the shock of seeing this being standing before my eyes was startling, but more startling was the creature’s face, for it was not the face of a man, but that of a cat, and an odd cat indeed.  Out of its mouth stuck a cigar, on which it puffed and blew the smoke in my face.  I would have coughed if my airway wasn’t closed off by the noose.  Then the creature did something that I could not believe; it spoke.

What are you doing monkey?  It said in a deep and accented voice, as it blew more smoke in my eyes.  I could not answer, of course, but struggled to indicate that noose around my neck.

Can’t speak, eh?  Well of course not, you’ve got this rope tied around your neck.  The creature snapped its fingers and the rope broke.  I came crashing to the floor, but the noose was still tight around my neck.  Wait a minute.  The creature said as it removed the rope from my throat.  I gasped for air and coughed violently.  Is this what you primates do for fun?  Perhaps you should take up chess.  It’s less taxing on the windpipes.

I gasped for a few more moments as the creature sat on my couch, chomping on its cigar.  It stared at me while I writhed on the floor trying to get my breath.  Finally I had the strength to sit up and really take a look at the intruder.

Y…you’re real?

The creature looked puzzled.  Of course I’m real.  Are you real?

What are you?  I asked finally catching my breath as I sat stroking my throat.

Didn’t anyone ever teach you any manners?  I’m not a WHAT.  I’m a WHO.  The creature puffed on its cigar.

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.  I stood up and backed away from the creature.

Don’t worry old chum, I won’t bite.

Who are you?  I asked as I sat in a chair across the room from the couch.

Well that’s better.  I have many names, but most people just call me Shamus.


No.  Not Sh…Shamus.  Just Shamus.  Someone should really teach you some social skills.  Speaking of which, do you have anything to drink around here, I’m parched?

Oh.  Yes.  I have some water.

Water?  What am I a baby?  Scotch.  You wouldn’t happen to have any Scotch lying around this hovel monkey-boy, would you?  I haven’t had Scotch in years and I have a craving.

Scotch?  Yes, I think I might have some.

Good.  Pour us some Scotch and we’ll have us a chat.  I stumbled over to the cabinet above my kitchen sink where I kept my liquor.   I rummaged around for a bottle of Scotch.  My mind was racing.  Was I hallucinating?  Perhaps I really was dead.  I poured two glasses of Scotch, drank both and then poured two more glasses and returned to the living room.  I handed one of the glasses to Shamus, who looked at me intently.  Don’t worry my boy.  You aren’t dead.  Not yet anyway.

I sat in the chair and drank the Scotch.  How did he know what I was thinking?  I looked over at Shamus, who gleefully drank every last drop of his drink.  He even licked the inside of the glass.  What are you doing here?  I asked.

Shamus ran his finger around the inside of the glass then sucked on it for a second.  Ah, good Scotch.  That hit the spot.  What was that?  I wasn’t paying attention.

I asked you what you’re doing here?

I’m drinking Scotch.

I know.  But did you come here for some reason?

I came for the Scotch.


No, I’m just kidding.  I’m here for you, of course.

I started to shake.  What do you mean?

Quit your worrying baboon.  I’m not here to kill you.  If I wanted you dead, I wouldn’t have bothered to cut you down from your silly little contraption there.  He stared at me with concern.  You know, there are easier ways to kill yourself.  You could’ve just jumped off the roof of this building.  Splat!  It would be over in a few seconds.  But no, you chose to dangle from the rafters, like sort of Christmas ornament.

Did you come here to mock me or to save my life?  I sank in my chair.

Sit up, don’t slouch.  Didn’t your parents ever teach you to have pride in yourself?  Shamus scowled, kicked back and puffed on his cigar.  Of course I’m here to save your life.


Why?  Hmmm.  Shamus sat up straight and looked confused.  Good question.  He took off his hat and on his head was a notebook, which he removed and then replaced his hat.  He thumbed through the book, mumbling to himself.  I heard him say some names I didn’t recognize, and then I heard him say my name.  There you are.  Blah blah blah.  Oh right.  I saved your life because you’ve got something to do before you die.

What?  I sat forward in my chair.

Hmmm.  It doesn’t say.  That’s not my department.  Shamus threw the notebook over his shoulder on to the ground.  I went over to where he threw it, but it was nowhere to be found.  When you’re done snooping around over there, care to sit down so we can get on with our business?

I returned to the chair.  What business?

Full of questions aren’t you.  Look monkey…

Why do you keep calling me that?   I interrupted.

Well that’s what you are, you and your species.  You’re just a bunch of superstitious and scared monkeys.


Well isn’t that what all your scientists keep telling you?  You’re monkeys; and pretty ugly ones too.  Shamus blew smoke in my face.

Kaff.  Stop doing that.

And why, pray tell, should I do that?

It’s rude.


I got out of my chair and stood behind it.  Get on with it Shamus.  Why are you here?

Well, aren’t we a little testy today?  Haven’t you ever heard of patience?  It’s a virtue I’m told.

Yes.  Yes.  Stop this game.

Oh, but I like games.  And you’re too easily frustrated.

I walked away from the chair and towards the door to my apartment.  Get out!  I demanded.

No!  Shamus kicked back and blew smoke above his head.

Shamus.  This is my home.  Get out!

Make me.  Shamus’ impudence was infuriating, so I rushed over to him and grabbed him by his arm and yanked the giant cat off the couch.  He resisted and we tumbled to the floor.  We wrestled for a few seconds.  He ended up sitting on my chest and blew smoke in my face.  This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  I like you chum.

Get off me.  I struggled to say.  It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.

Shamus got off me and jumped back onto the couch.  You really ought to lighten up my boy.  Life’s too short for your level of hostility.  Hasn’t anyone told you to deal with life as it is?  I’m here.  That’s a fact.  You’re here.  That’s a fact.  Those are two facts that you can’t deny.  So why fight it?

I stood up and brushed myself off, then sat back down in the chair.

Oh stop sulking.

I’m not sulking.

Shamus leaned towards me.  Come on put a smile on that face, turn that frown upside down.  His mouth twisted into a bizarre grin.  It was so ridiculous that I couldn’t help myself.  I broke a smile and even laughed.  There you go monkey-boy.  That’s what I like to see.  He leaned back and puffed his cigar.

We sat there for a few minutes in silence.  Then I remembered that I hadn’t gotten an answer out of him.  Wait a minute.   I said.  You keep playing me for a fool Shamus.

That’s because you are a fool.   He said casually as he looked up at the ceiling.

I’m not a fool.

Really.  Explain to me why you’d want to kill yourself.

You don’t understand my life.

There’s nothing like a good cliché to avoid the obvious.

It’s not a cliché.

Of course it is.  Malingerers all over the world resort to that exhausted line of balderdash to justify their malingering.  Boo hoo, life’s so difficult, I want to die.  Look around chum, you aren’t the only one suffering, and you certainly aren’t the one suffering the most.

That’s not fair.  I’ve had a rough life.

I’m sure.  Do you live in a war zone?


Do you live in a third world country with no running water, no food and no hope?


Are you a leper?


Then stop your whining and bellyaching.  You’re alive, so live.  Shamus lay on the couch and closed his eyes.  A single stream of smoke wafted into the air above him.  He looked serene and peaceful.

Is this why you’re here, to tell me I should love life?

Shamus rolled over to face the back of the couch.


What?  Came his muffled reply.

Is that why you’re here?

Shamus rolled back to face me.  I never said anything about loving life.  I simply said you ought to live the life you have and stop wallowing in self-pity.  Now he sat up and twirled his cigar around his lips.  There are people in the world who would love to have your life, to be here, in this apartment, in this city.  But they aren’t here.  You are.  They are in places that make this apartment seem like the Taj Mahal.  They live in conditions that make yours seem like the lap of luxury.  There’s nothing in your suffering that even compares to theirs.  And you know what they don’t do?  They don’t kill themselves.  Only self-indulgent, bourgeois twits, like you, kill themselves.

I started to cry.  I don’t know why.

I’ve met you a thousand times monkey.  Oh sure, you’ve had different faces, and lived in different places, at different times, but it’s always the same.  You experience some hardship, maybe something painful, maybe someone in your life betrays you or does you harm in some way.  It hits you like a bullet to the heart.  It kills you, but you don’t die.  You’re a walking corpse, a zombie.  You do whatever you can to make your body match your soul.  Drugs.  Alcohol.  Ring a bell?  You let yourself be defeated.

I didn’t choose this life.

Who does?  Do you think a little boy in the Sudan chooses to starve?  Do you think a young woman in Belize chooses to be a multiple rape victim and sex slave?  Do you think people choose the shit that happens to them?  Shit happens.  What makes the difference is not which shit happens, but how you handle your shit.  Will you let it overwhelm you and bury you?

You make it sound easy.

Nothing could be easier.  Nothing could be more straightforward.  He stood up and removed his cigar.  He started walking around the room in circles.  No one knows the kind of life they’ll have until they have it.  No one knows what’s around the corner until they take the turn, but when they do, when they come face to face with whatever it is that’s around that corner, the thing that separates the men from the boys is how they face it:  on their own two feet, or on their knees.  He stopped circling and moved in close, leaning in and pressing his nose against mine.  Only one person in the world can make you kneel.

I turned my face away from his.  I didn’t want to look into his eyes.  They were filled with thousands of years of suffering.

Why are you looking away chum?  Did you see something you didn’t like?  Shamus stood up and puffed his cigar.  I always wonder about people like you monkey.  I wonder how you can live with yourselves.  How do you do it?  Oh wait.  You don’t.  You climb a chair and put your head in a noose.  I can’t think of a better definition of a fool.

I cried.  My heart was rending.  What could I say?  He was right, but I didn’t want him to be right.  I wanted to shout in his face and tell him he was wrong.

Shamus put his hand on my shoulder.  My boy, there’s no shame in crying.  There’s no shame in being wrong.  Shame is only for those who give up, who surrender to the shit.

I broke down; I couldn’t bear it anymore.  I sobbed for what seemed like hours.  When I wiped the tears away, I looked up to thank Shamus, but he was nowhere to be found.  I thought, perhaps, I had dreamed him.  But, then I saw a cigar, half smoked, sitting in an ashtray.  I said a quiet thank you and went to bed.