For his last meal, Danny chose pancakes with maple syrup. It was an easy choice, this final choice that was granted him – a small consolation prize for the loss of his life. He wanted to die with the smell of maple syrup in his nostrils, its stickiness on his fingers. It reminded him of her.
Back when Danny had first bought the copy shop he had cooked Layla pancakes every morning: their very own ritual. She always drowned hers in syrup. He had made fun of her at the time. But she was right, they were better that way. They had lived upstairs, above the shop. From the outside, the building was rundown – ‘Karl’s Kopy’ adorned the front in red paint, peeling at the edges. He didn’t know who Karl was; he had bought the place from a guy named Gary. But he never bothered to redo the sign. It had seemed like a good idea, the copy shop. Having his own business, living upstairs, raising a daughter – it could be a good life.
But fast forward five years and suddenly everyone had printers and digital cameras and smart phones, and Karl’s Kopy was a handful of elderly regulars away from being completely obsolete. Danny spent the days staring dejectedly out the dirty window, as people walked past, on their way to places that were not his. He spent the nights drinking scotch and watching late night infomercials after Layla was in bed. The living room was small but over-furnished – a mish-mash of furniture that he had picked up cheap. He didn’t like to throw anything out, once he had spent money on it. Minimalism seemed, to him, a privilege reserved for the wealthy. In the mornings he was too hungover to make pancakes. When Layla asked for them he would yell at her. He didn’t mean to do it, but he was unhappy and he took it out on her. He was behind in his rent. He blamed this on the changing times – the shop was failing – but even the money he did make was spent on booze. Sometimes Layla would find him on the floor, asleep, in a puddle of vomit. It scared her the first time; she had thought he was dead. But, like all things, she got used to it.
Danny loved Layla. Many nights, after downing more scotches than he could keep count of, he would think about the day she was born. His wife had been so brave. There was more blood than he had expected. He wished, looking back, that he had been better, more supportive, more prepared. But his mediocrity on that day foreshadowed the rest of Layla’s childhood. By the time the divorce was final he was almost a cliché: missing dance recitals, working late, watching TV when he should have been getting to know this tiny little person who slowly became a complete stranger to him. But he did love her – that was the one thing he was sure of. Even in his last moments he was sure of her.
People often asked him why he bought a copy shop. He didn’t really know. ‘It was for sale’ is what he usually said, when he was asked. He liked this answer; he thought it made him sound adventurous, spontaneous. He projected this image of himself because it was how he wanted to be. But this version of him was like the copies he made – it wasn’t the real thing. Actually, he had put a great deal of thought into the purchase. He had weighed up all the pros and cons and decided that it was a good investment. He had been wrong, so to save face he liked to pretend he had bought it on a whim. He made enough money to get by: Layla was fed and clothed, and the rent would eventually get paid. But, scotch aside, there were few luxuries. He was too proud to sell up. Or perhaps too much of a coward. His father had owned a bakery all his life, and used to tell him about the importance of persistence during tough times. Danny had retained the sentiment without any of the strategies.
The night that he killed Layla he hadn’t even had that much to drink. No more than usual. When he thinks back to that moment he still isn’t sure exactly what happened; the memory is too clouded with alcohol and regret. If he thinks about it for too long, the lump in his stomach becomes unbearable: sadness, self-hatred. The only thing he wants more than to see her again is to never again have to see himself. He isn’t really Danny anymore. He didn’t come through it whole. Nobody really can, not from something like that. He is a pale copy of his former self. An imprint.
He knows that there was blood. The police said that she died of blunt force trauma to the back of her head, from hitting the corner of the copy machine. He had only meant to push her away from him. He can’t remember why he had wanted to do that. The second it happened, all he wanted was to pull her towards him, to keep her close. To go back. But there is no going back. Not ever.
Danny knows that he deserves to die. He relishes it: the silence, the peace. The moment is tainted by the knowledge that his death will not bring her back. The one good part of him will not live on; he already ruined it. The only thing left of her is in his memories, which will die with him. He wishes that there was a way to capture them, to make a copy. There isn’t time.
He can still taste the nutty sweetness of the syrup on his tongue as the bag comes down over his face.