Orla’s Ethics professor starved himself to death; her brother cycled off a cliff. The cantor climbed the church’s steeple and stepped into the air. All in the wake of Orla’s death. Her father hung himself in the forest outside Kitzbühel; her sister cut her own throat. A neighbour was next, then a cousin then a colleague then the baker from whom Orla had bought an almond croissant every day for fifteen years.
The town council watched, sure that they were witnessing a suicide pact, unsure of how to stop it. When the mayor self-immolated, the council appointed an investigating constable, Idstein, and told him to find out What and Why, at the double, and put his findings in a report.
The Very Reverend Monsignor O’Brien, having buried eighteen of Kitzbühel’s suicides, stepped in front of the regional train to Innsbruck.
Kitzbühel; bedecked with wreaths and sprays of lilies.
Orla, for the record, had drunk Obstler until her liver hung over her belt and people thought she had a puppy under her shirt. She didn’t care for life, she liked to say. Orla Steinbach drank herself to death.
A month passed; with each new day a suicide.
Idstein was no nearer to determining What and Why. When asked by the town council about his progress, he suggested they exhume Orla’s body and extract her brain. They should send the brain to Innsbruck for tests. In Innsbruck they would know What and Why. Or perhaps Vienna. In Vienna they would know for sure.
And so Orla’s body was exhumed and her brain extracted. The responsible surgeon said it quite smelled of almonds.
The brain was placed in a large glass jar and filled with alcohol. It was packaged for transit and brought to the postmaster by members of the town council, of which there remained three. The postmaster licked then applied the requisite value of stamps to the package, and assured the council that it would be sent that afternoon, that it would arrive in Innsbruck the following morning. Content with proceedings, the town council members withdrew to Uli’s Gasthaus and ordered Spätzle with fried onions and glass after glass of Landwein.
The package was lost in transit.
The postmaster drowned himself in the pond at Gieringer Weiher. His wife climbed over the tiger enclosure at Kitzbühel’s Zoologischer Garten. Their son thrust wet hands into the unlocked armature of an electricity pylon.
In Idstein’s report, which was unfinished, he claimed the suicides would end. All those who had committed suicide had done so in different manners. There would only be as many suicides as there were ways to commit suicide. Then Idstein disemboweled himself on the steps of the Bäckerei. The remaining burghers of Kitzbühel packed their belongings, intent on leaving. But none of them succeeded, and the suicides continued.
This story originally appeared in The Indiana Review.