It’s (not) a Wonderful Life…
There are so many lights around town right now. Welcoming lights, guiding the tired back to their warm homes. The decorative lights in the streets and around the shops, telling everyone that it’s the most wonderful time of year again. And the light that’s in my hand. Bright, yellow-orange and warm. I watch the flames flickering in the breeze as they devour the scraps of paper in my hand, curling at the edges, blackening then breaking off, floating away to be lost amongst flakes of snow.
The last of the letter vanishes, and I wave it goodbye. The words have vanished, pretty words, but only words. Words weren’t enough, in the end, even though they were all I had to offer. The final unread words from an unsent letter are lost forever now. Except in my head, I can still remember them. I carried it with me long enough, reread it so often that the words are burned into my mind. And in a moment, even that won’t matter.
The wall is a little slippery, climbing up onto the edge isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Typical. I can’t even get these final moments right. Gripping the support girder tightly, I peer out over the edge to the darkness below, and begin to laugh. I laugh, because I realise I’m gripping tightly, to stop myself from falling. How ridiculous, to fight the thing I’m here to embrace.
I’ve burnt one letter, but haven’t left any others. No explanations, no melodrama, no “goodbye cruel world” nonsense. It is late and the road is deserted. Tomorrow is Christmas. Nobody around to stop me, and god forbid I should screw this up, no-one to patch me up. The alternative is slow, but just as final. I screw my eyes up. A tiny voice in me screams defiance, wants to hold on, reaches out and hopes for what I’ve lost, but I ignore the delusion. This next step will be a relief compared to the constant pain…
The voice startles me, disrupts my movement and I slip. In a panic I grab supports again. Dammit! I want to do this!
“Are you OK there son, you looked like you were about to throw yourself off.” The stranger wanders over to where I am, and peers over the edge. “It’s a long way down, you could get killed. Drown in the river, die of hypothermia, or miss the river completely and get killed by the impact on the sides.”
I look away from him and keep hold of the sides. “Please, could you just go? I don’t want help, I don’t need someone to try to stop me, I’ve made my mind up. Just… just turn around, forget you saw me, and enjoy Christmas.”
I heard the sound of a match being struck, and could smell a faint whiff of cigar smoke. “Don’t worry about it son, I’m not here to stop you, you’re doing a fine job of it yourself.” Curiosity gets the better of me, and I turn to see him, leaning against the wall, casually smoking. A tall man, middle-aged with greying hair, but still plenty of it. He catches me looking at him and smiles, his grey eyes giving me a knowing link. “Cigar?” He offers one from a small steel box he pulls from his pocket. “No thank you” I replied. “I don’t smoke.”
“Scared it might kill you?” Then a laugh at this little joke. A laugh at my expense. “What the hell do you want?”
His smile fades away, and he looks around, as if about to let me in on the secret to end all secrets. “Tell you the truth, I’m here to make sure you kill yourself. Properly.” My eyes widen a little. Even I can appreciate morbid humour, especially at this time. I can’t help myself, and I begin to laugh. “Ha, that’s – ha ha – that’s a good one. Reverse psychology, right?” The stranger isn’t laughing. Or smiling.
“No, no psychology. You want to kill yourself? Fine, do it. But a word of advice. You might survive. You might just wind up crippled. Living, in a damaged body, a reminder of yet another failure in your life. Your miserable life that you couldn’t even end. Let me guess – you lost your job, lost your self-respect, lost your will to live. No, wait… it’s a woman, you strike me as the type. The one who loses their mind over some pretty face. Yes, I am right. Oh how very noble and romantic of you, to end it all for love, or the lack of it anyway.”
My cheeks are burning. I can’t tell if it is shame at my reasons, at being found out, shame at being so obvious, or anger at this arrogant prick. And after the burning, comes the sting of tears. My confidence is shot to pieces for now. I climb back down, and collapse against the wall. “Leave me alone, please. I just want it to end.”
He crouches down beside me, so we are both hunched up against the bridge wall. A short pat on my shoulder, then he speaks. “Of course you do. That’s why I’m here. To help. Are you serious about wanting to end it all? Truly serious? Like I said, there is so much that could go wrong. But I could offer you a way out. What if I could offer you something that was almost certain death?”
“Almost certain? Is that any better than the bridge?” The smile returns to his face.
“Nothing is certain in this life son, not even death. Jumping from that bridge, sure, nine times out of ten someone dies. But do you want to be that one? Whereas what I can offer you…” Another pause, and a glance around. “Nobody I’ve offered it to has ever survived. Now, I’m not saying it’s 100% effective, you may well survive. And if you do, you may well have a new perspective on life. In that case, you are free to go live your life. Or stay, and try again. Either way, your life as you know it ends. And whether that is oblivion, or something altogether more satisfying than what you have now, would you take that offer?”
“Are you serious?”
“Deadly serious.” He reached into his breast pocket, and pulled out a business card, holding it before me between two fingers. Plain white, no name, just an address. “Come see me, tomorrow.”
“But it’s Christmas!”
“And you planned on being dead, so I don’t imagine you have any other plans, or that anyone will wonder where you are. Besides, I’m always open. Come see me tomorrow. I can make use of you. But only if you are serious about wanting to end it all, because if you see me again there is no going back.” He stood up, and offered me his hand, to help me struggle to my feet. “Mark my words, if you don’t die, you’ll gain perspective. You may even want to stay. But you can never go back to this life. You come see me tomorrow, and even if you survive, you’ll be dead so far as the rest of the world is concerned. So, last chance, sleep on it. You can give yourself one more day, because you’ll be a long time dead.” Turning, he slowly walked away, his shoes crunching in the snow as he sauntered away, along the dark road towards the town. I looked down at the business card, turning it over in my hands.
As he was about to disappear from view, I called after him. “Hey, what do I call you?” He paused, and I could just make out that he had turned. The voice drifted towards me. “You can call me Clarence…” As he continued on his way, the wind carried another sound to me. That same laugh again.
I thrust the card into my pocket, and set out towards the town again myself. Merry Christmas after all, I guess. I’ll see you tomorrow Clarence.