He died at his work table and was discovered by his mother. He was forty, and she was seventy at the time. In his right hand was an exacto knife. The work table was covered with various bits of construction paper, little pots of paint, brushes, glue, and other ephemera. The table and floor was wet with blood.
When she saw her son, she was not particularly surprised, but she was deeply sad. He had been her quiet companion for many years now, since he came back home after college. They would drink coffee together in the morning. She talked about the neighbors, the limited politics of the homeowner's association, and the price of gasoline. He sat and stared out the window at the birds. At lunch she would make him a sandwich, or sometimes soup if it was cold that day, and he would eat it alone in his room. In the afternoon, he would emerge to play a game of chess with her, and he would drink hot green tea, and she chamomile. Sometimes for dinner she would order in food, but mostly she made more sandwiches or something fried (she owned a deep-fat fryer and she liked the gurgling sounds it made when she dropped food in). It was nearly the same every day.
Now she looked across the work table. In the middle sat a large diorama. It was a beach scene, evocative of the early twentieth century, all rendered in paper, including the water. Little men and women in wool bathing suits and swimming caps frolicked in the surf. Umbrellas and wicker lounge chains peppered the beach. A man was frozen being half buried in the sand by his kids. Several more small children were constructing a sandcastle, minuscule blue flags included. "How did he ever cut the paper so thinly, so exactly?" she wondered. She bent down and looked closer at the castle. There were windows and doors and portcullises. There was even a tiny horse and knight riding across a bridge over a moat. She looked closer at the horse and rider. There were reins defined, and the knight's face could be seen through the helmut. She gasped and stood up straight.
She looked back at her son, lying there, eyes open and looking at her, somehow, but lifeless. She touched his neck again, just to make sure there was no pulse. Then she stroked his long hair and beard. Why had he not called out to her when he cut himself? He knew he had anemia. How many hours had he lain here like this? She cursed the blood on the table for failing to coagulate.
She looked around the room. It was filled with piled up dioramas. Some he sold online, but most he had kept and hoarded here floor to ceiling. There were dinosaurs in a fight (with a pterodactyl in flight overhead no less), a dog show with pompous dogs and tweedy handlers caught mid-trot. There was one of basketball players in the last second of a game. There was a replication of Jimmy Stewart's apartment in Rear Window, complete with Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and binoculars. There was the self-coronation of Napoleon, rendered in full imperial glory. There was even a blown-up version of a hummingbird, cut in half to show the details of interior anatomy--all constructed in paper and glue and pins and strings.
Then she saw a smaller diorama in a corner of the room. There was a desk lamp pointed towards it. She turned it on. There were two people sitting at a table playing chess. She realized that it was a version of her and her son. Her paper avatar had her exact features. The intaglio pattern on the paper teacup matched her own teacup remarkable. The paper son however, had a blank face. There were no features, just a smooth round surface, dropping down to a pendant of long beard. He was looking out the window at the back of the diorama. Instead of birds though, there was another, tiny diorama made from the window. It was another pair of people playing chess. And behind them, instead of a window, was another even tinier diorama. She squinted further at it, but couldn't make out more detail if there was even more recursion.
She turned off the lamp, and carefully extracted the scene. She took it into the kitchen where she laid it on the table they ate and played chess at. She sat and stared at it wistfully for half an hour, before she called the coroner.