Chapter 1 All The Way Down
“This could be a bad idea.”
It wasn’t what I expected to be thinking as I peered over the edge of the roof of my office building. Yet here I am, looking down at the small crowd that has gathered, trembling in fear. I thought it would be easier.
I can hear sirens in the distance getting closer. Police? Ambulance? Both? I’m trying to guess but I have no idea. There are some kids yelling “jump”, cheerleaders of my demise. I wonder how they’ll react when I do jump. Will they cheer? Will they get excited by the blood that may splatter on to them? Will there even be blood splatter?
I look around. It’s actually a really lovely day. Barely a cloud in the sky. I could just walk down the stairs and go for a walk somewhere. It would disappoint my cheerleaders, no doubt. I dare say it would even disappoint the old ladies who have stopped their weekly shop to watch me. If I just walk off they’ll have nothing to talk about. I’ll be hated more for being alive and wasting their time than I would be if I jumped and got some blood on their beige coats.
Am I even high up enough to die if I jump? There are four floors in this building, so it’s a decent drop…but would a jump just result in me being paralysed? I’m not sure. If that happened, how would I feel? You read about people that have tried to take their own lives, failed and then felt like they have been given another chance at life. A free roll of the dice. But if I jumped and ended up destroying my body but still being stuck here, what then? That’d be absolutely shit.
“You jumping or not mate? Lunch is nearly over!”
I look down to see who it is shouting and, unbelievably, it’s my boss, Neil. I can’t decide whether he’s telling me to jump because his lunch is nearly over, or whether he wants me to do something because my lunch is nearly over. Either one is believable. Neil is one of those managers that make you wonder if they had ever actually dealt with any type of person before in their life. Zero empathy, zero personality. He’s not even organised. I’m still not sure what he did to get a management role. I’m not sure I want to know.
The crowd has built up some more. I never perform well in front of an audience. This is going disastrously. When I decided to end things today I knew that I should have done it another way. Toaster in the bath, or something. Private. Now I’m a show. A pretty bloody depressing and boring show, but a show nonetheless. A police car has turned up with two officers. One has entered the building, so I expect company soon.
What a fuck up. I’m looking over the edge again but this has gone on for too long. I need to either jump now or say sod it and try again next week. Maybe at a different time.
“Hello, my name is Charlie, I’ve just come up to have a chat. What’s your name mate?”
Oh, for fucks sake. Police are here and of all the police to come up it’s Charlie, the same Charlie that lives on my street. I turn around and he straight away recognises me. He shakes his head a bit, smirks and starts pointing towards me almost laughing – like you would if you bumped in to an old mate at a pub.
“Fuck me, mate…what are you doing up here?”
It’s a different approach to what I expected and from being PC Sensitivity he’s now PC One-Of-The-Lads.
“Well, to be honest,” I start, “I was planning on, you know, jumping off this building.” He looked at me with a smile and started to walk over.
“You’ve fucked it up a bit, matey.” He looked over the edge. “Taken too long. If you wanted to do it you’d have done it straight off before the crowd at least. No standing about.”
And then he jumped off.
No warning, no signal that it was going to happen…one minute he was there, the next he wasn’t. There was a sickening thud as his body hit the ground. A mixture of screams, gasps and the sound of people throwing up overtake the sound of the streets. And then silence.
I look over the edge and look at where Charlie landed. There’s no blood, just a crumpled body. The kids that were yelling at me to jump are sobbing. Some people are looking up at me. I step back and head to the stairs.
Typical, I thought. I can’t even attempt suicide without someone doing it better than me.
Chapter 2 Make Tiny Changes
With the shock of Charlie’s unexpected jump still alive in everybody’s system I was able to sneak off without much notice. It struck me that in this moment Charlie was no longer alone. People were mourning him already, all stood around him. Some had no idea who he was, but they felt that sorrow and a care that Charlie must have felt was missing.
A few years prior to this day, Charlie had been involved in an accident during a police chase. He was driving the car that followed an uninsured driver. Nothing too out of the ordinary, I remember reading about the chase in the paper and they talked abut how it was a common issue in the area. But every chase has a risk and, unfortunately for Charlie, he found that out first hand.
Driving at a speed of about 50mph, they came to some traffic lights and a crossing. The black Honda Civic they were chasing went through a red light. Lights and sirens on, Charlie followed in his squad car when a fifteen year old teenage girl jumped in front of them. Her body went flying in to the air and was sent forward where she bounced off a street sign on to the ground. The Civic was gone. More importantly, the young girl was gone. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
There was nothing anybody could have done. Witnesses explained that the girl saw the Civic roar past and, without explanation, she just ran in to the road in front of the police car. The police chiefs were in the media offering support to both the girls family and the police involved. Therapy sessions. There was talk of money going to the family but I am certain that was only a rumour. An Internet campaign ran that helped raise money for the funeral, but after that there was nothing in the press. The fifteen year old girl had come and gone in the blink of an eye, a tragic story to sell just a couple of days worth of newspapers before disappearing in to the abyss.
There was nothing in the press about the police officers in the car except for a paragraph in the initial story. They both took the therapy but the one, PC James Fuller, resigned only a few weeks later due to the stress (he now works as security at the local supermarket), and Charlie dropped the therapy after a month. He said he was fine to go on as normal, and people believed him. He’d been around a while, he’d seen some horrible things…foolishly, they let him carry on. He just didn’t drive.
I got to know Charlie as a neighbour. When he wasn’t at work he kept himself to himself. He had an amazing knack of remembering birthdays and, every year without fail, he’d post a card for me on my birthday and every year it read, “Happy birthday mate, have a good one. Charlie.” If the weather was good, he’d be out cleaning his car – a white Ford Fiesta – until it was spotless. He’d spend hours on it.
I look at things like that now and wonder whether he washed his car so much not because it was a hobby, but because he had nothing else. Did he remember birthdays because he was lonely, and it at least gave him a sense of other people? Nobody will ever know.
Time moved on. Eventually, the police did find me and question me on what had happened. They recommended me some support groups and I said I’d go but I never did. Trying to explain that Charlie succeeded where I failed felt wrong, so I spent the majority of my interview apologising. I was sincere, and I meant it…you could tell that they were suffering…but I wasn’t feeling the overriding sense of getting another chance at life. All I could think was how brave Charlie had been to just go and do it, just like that. That takes guts. Takes more than what I had.
As the months went by and I sat at home watching daytime TV and Netflix documentary specials, I couldn’t shake the image of Charlie just having one look over the edge and jumping. Why couldn’t I do it? What held me back? Also, would Charlie have gone that day had I not decided to stand up there myself?
A letter dropped through my letter box. Who even sends mail these days? Not least to me? It was work. It’s been six months now since the day on the roof, and I’ve been signed off work ever since. Loved it, too. Now they’re inviting me to a meeting to discuss my health and any plans to return to work, with a lovely message on the letter that reads, “It should be noted that if no return is deemed possible we may have to consider your position within the company.” I throw the letter in the bin.
Fuck it. I quit. I was never really there, anyway.
Chapter 3 Paul And Alexander
“The way I see it, you’re either in the black or the blue.” This was one of Paul’s favourite analogies, if you even class it as an analogy, and he’d talk to me about it any time we had a drink. “If you’re in the black,” He’d say, “You’re absolutely fine. No issues for you. You’re happy, life is good, finances are good – I mean, they say money can’t buy happiness but when did you last see a happy poor guy? – and you’re swimming. If you’re in the blue, which is where you keep finding yourself, Scott, then you’re struggling. You’re not swimming, you’re drowning and the blue is the sea choking you. You need to get back to land, get in to the black and start to live on land with other people.”
“So what are you saying? I’m currently living in the sea?”
“You’re a fucking idiot.” Paul took a sip of his pint, “You’re in the blue. Everything around you is blue. You look at things and see the bad in it all, you actively look for the blue, look for the sadness in it all. You’d find something sad in a Jack Johnson song and that guy, that guy is pure black.”
It was a stupid argument, but despite that Paul probably made a better point than I’d ever want to admit. I’d known Paul for about eight years. He was a good guy, and one of the few I could trust. I could depend on him to tell me exactly what he thought and, sometimes, that’s what you need…even if you think the guy is talking complete shit. I’d look at Paul every so often and wonder where he would put himself; the black or the blue? He was 32, single, self employed and still living with his Dad. Nights out with him often turned to him trying to pull, only to come unstuck if someone said they’d go back with him and he declined because he didn’t fancy disturbing his 60 year old Dad.
Alexander, who sometimes came for drinks with us, was different to Paul. A quiet and small fair haired 28 year old who we met at work a few years back was a stark contrast to the rugby player physique of Paul. I liked Alexander because he’d regularly call Paul up on his bullshit and, the most important thing for me, you could actually go for a quiet pint with him. I had one night at the pub with him where we said literally about three things to each other and it was bliss. One of the best nights I ever had. He was sat across the way from Paul cupping his pint glass with both hands, looking down and nodding slowly with pursed lips. I could tell he had something on his mind but half the fun with Alexander was guessing whether he’d say something or whether you’d be guessing at what he was thinking for the rest of the night.
“Are you alright, mate?” He asked, looking at me. It was the last thing I expected. I’d wanted to hear Alexander’s take on the black and the blue, but instead he caught me off guard with a simple question.
“Yeah, of course.”
“But, honestly, are you? You know we’re here for you.”
Oh, God. The dreaded “we’re here for you” line. I mean, how do you respond to that without admitting that you’re not alright? If I push it off I’m being rude. If I ignore it altogether that’s even worse, and it further demonstrates how far from fucking alright I am. If I answer it honestly, I’m making myself too open. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t even really want understanding. I just want to come out, have a few pints and go home where I can then regret the decision to go out by looking at my online banking and pondering over whether a month of Super Noodles teas is viable and whether I’ll even have enough for that. I certainly don’t need Alexander’s sorry eyes looking at me and Paul leaning in with his arm round my back as if I’ve lost a close relative and need a hug. The fact that Alexander asked the question is even worse. He never does this. He just sits there and makes a sarcastic comment every so often, not this. He’s done me.
“You know what?” I look at them both and nod my head, “I will be.” And I take a swig of my IPA and listen to the silence that follows. They’re both still looking at me. It’s become a bit of a stand off as to who will talk next. In this situation, though, there’s only ever one winner and that’s Paul.
“You’ll be alright? Well, that was convinc-” Paul is told to shut up by Alexander. Suddenly it’s not just me feeling thrown by Alexander’s actions, Paul looks stunned. Alexander’s sad eyes are looking at me in almost a frown now.
“Don’t fob us off, mate. You’re not well. You know it and we know it. I’m not going to talk about ‘the black and the blue’, I’m not gonna give you advice or even tell you that you’re in the wrong. I just want to know why you felt that you would rather jump off a fucking roof than talk to one of us. I just want to know what got you to that point. I want you to talk to us about everything and I want you to do it now.”
To say I was taken aback was an understatement of gargantuan extent. I looked at Paul who looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He had some of his pint dripping off his chin. It was pretty rank. I kept trying to utter a word to start a reply but couldn’t get anything out. I could feel myself rubbing at the back of my head, ruffling up my hair. I felt like I was itching all over. My heart was pacing. My breathing was shorter. My chest felt tight. I could feel my eyes welling up. I couldn’t control it.
Alexander removed his hands from around his pint glass and gripped my left hand, which had been resting on the table. “Scott, from the beginning. I just want you to talk to us. Nothing else. It’s okay.”
I looked at both Paul and Alexander who were now staring at me intently. I had a moment of clarity. “Okay, I’ll talk. I’ll talk.” I let my breathing calm a bit. “But we’re gonna need another pint, and I need the toilet. Same again?”
They nodded. Alexander let go of me. I got up.
I ran out of the door as quick as I could. I heard them call my name as they ran after me but I didn’t stop. I ran home, I locked the door, I ignored the banging on the door, turned my phone off and tried to sleep on the sofa.
The sleep could not stop my mind from wandering.
Chapter 4 Rabbits In Boxes
Rosie wasn’t a spectacularly good looking girl but there was something about her that I found myself almost besotted with. The first time I saw her she was wearing a red top, black shorts and red tights with black rabbits patterned all over them. She was a mixture of goth and emo and I was sold. I approached her, clumsily in hindsight as I stuttered saying hello, and we talked about music.
“I love The Cure,” She said, “But I also like The Smiths. Really, I shouldn’t like them both, but I do. And you?”
I knew how important this was, this was the deal breaker question. If I answered incorrectly, then any future hopes of romance were gone. I couldn’t choose anything too mainstream, but I couldn’t choose anything too far out there.
“Well, firstly, I think The Smiths are better but for me I love stuff like Hell Is For Heroes, Biffy Clyro, Reuben…that sort of stuff.”
She looked at me smiling and flicked her brown hair over her shoulder. She replied, quiet simply, with “I don’t know them.”
What followed was a silence where she kept constant eye contact with me, her brown eyes were practically sparkling, and she let out a faint giggle. From that moment, we were inseparable. I couldn’t believe it. For the first time ever, I’d approached a girl and things had worked out. This was massive.
I’d always suffered with low self esteem, low confidence. A childhood of moving from place to place does that to you; I was never in the same place long enough to make friends so I spent much of my time growing up as a bit of a loner. It was only in the last couple of years at Sixth Form had I gathered two or three truly close friends. My biggest issue, for the most part, was that I was too shy to approach anybody and make conversation…I’d wait for it to come to me.
And that’s what made the initial interaction with Rosie so special. This was all me! I’d made the approach and, somehow, she liked me enough to exchange numbers. I was on cloud nine.
The first couple of years were exciting for me. A new experience, something I’d never felt before. I was introduced to Rosie’s friends and family and we started to see them on a more regular basis. This was fine with me because it kept her happy and that was the most important thing for me. I didn’t come from money but Rosie seemed to be able to flaunt it. Her parents house was huge. I felt like I was batting above my league and early on decided that if I had to make sacrifices to keep her happy then that’s what I’d do. I couldn’t lose this.
After a while, we moved in together. A small place, it was all we needed, but it wasn’t cheap. I was living beyond my means but I chose not to say anything. I didn’t want to lessen Rosie’s opinion of me by saying that I was broke but the reality was that I was massively broke. I didn’t have a penny to my name. When it came to the first rent coming out I had to come clean. She went ballistic. This was a side to Rosie I’d never witnessed before, and it scared me. I broke down in tears apologising, saying that I only tried to do things to give her what she wanted and that I’d miscalculated. I promised it wouldn’t happen again, and that I’d make it up to her. She grabbed her phone and called her Mum, and before I could even gather my own thoughts she thrust the phone in my face and shouted at me, “You tell my Mum what you’ve done! You tell my Mum what you’ve got in the bank.”
I looked at her and said, “No way. I’m not talking to your Mum about my finances! I could barely bring myself to talk to you!”
But it wasn’t good enough. She gave me the phone, and a few minutes later I was sobbing down the phone as Rosie’s Mum told me how much of an idiot I’d been.
By the time rent day came, Rosie decided that she’d pay the rent and I would buy the food until I was earning enough to go halves on the rent. I got a part time job and worked more overtime than I thought I could. Rosie wanted good food, so I would ensure that we had fresh food each week and in time I always worked to ensure that I had dinner on the table when she got home. After a while, the part time job turned in to a full time job and I was able to pay half of the rent.
We celebrated me getting a full time job by going for a meal out followed by some drinks. Finally, I thought, I can start to provide the kind of life she’s after. We can enjoy life.
I slowly started to lose touch with my friends at home. I worked shifts and it meant I missed a lot of people, and spent a lot of time alone at home. Rosie got in to the habit of leaving me lists of jobs to complete when she was at work. At first, I didn’t mind. They gave me something to focus on. And then I started to build friendships at work.
I met Paul and we instantly clicked. I thought he was a bit of a dick but, behind it all, a nice guy with a heart of gold. We arranged to meet up on one of my days off in the week. Rosie had left a list but I decided that I’d do it when I got home after. It was a mistake. I finished a couple of the jobs, but didn’t have dinner ready and hadn’t got round to a few other household chores. Rosie was furious. She told me that she deserved better, and that by going out with Paul I’d chosen clear priorities and that was friends over her. We didn’t speak for the rest of the night and I felt terrible.
As the years followed, it became a recurring theme. Any day off was greeted with a larger list than the one prior. I came to learn that I couldn’t plan anything on my days off because I needed to finish my list of jobs. I would meet Paul on a weekend, always with Rosie, unless Rosie had gone away with her friends for the weekend. If I questioned anything Rosie would go on to explain that she deserved the best and that if I didn’t do what she asked then I was showing a lack of commitment to “us”. She booked some trips away for us both, including trips to London that I couldn’t afford, but it just enforced that she was better than me and that I needed to remember that. She wanted this life, I was some way off it and that made me feel awful. Rosie told me I needed to look at these trips away and see that this is the life she deserved to have. When I said I couldn’t provide it yet, she told me to “get better, then.” and we carried on.
Against my better judgement, we got a house. I was skint again. I’d been paying half of the rent and buying all of the food as well as paying bills, but I was earning less money than Rosie and I couldn’t keep it up. I ended up borrowing from my family, and kept it quiet. I just wanted to keep her happy. All the while, however, I was sinking further within myself.
I ended up doing everything to the house, from building furniture to general tidying. I didn’t see my friends. I saw Rosie’s family but she refused to see mine so that meant I never saw them either. I was under house arrest, only leaving to go to work. One day I decided to tell Rosie that I felt trapped indoors and she turned to me and said “You can leave, but you’ll never get anything as good as me again.” My confidence and self belief were rock bottom. Deep down I believed she could be right. I’m still punching above my weight, she’s better than I am worth.
Then came the night. Out with a friend, she’d asked me to wait up to pick them up. It was fine by me, I was a shit sleeper. Pick up at about midnight, fine. Midnight comes, no call. One o’clock. No call. Two o’clock. No call. Five o’clock, phone rings. Rosie is hammered. I get her, shattered, and when we get home head to bed. Rosie shouts at me for not wanting to stay up with her. I tell her to get some sleep. She comes upstairs and throws a plate at me, narrowly missing my head and smashing off the wall. She forces me to sleep on the floor. “This is because you don’t listen. You don’t give me what I want.” She spits out at me.
And, with that, the girl I approached that me feel like I was on cloud nine had made me feel smaller than small. A spec of dirt on a shoe, good for nothing. I was mentally beat. I was battered.
The next day I got up and got in the car and drove to nowhere in particular. For the first time ever I looked across at the other side of the road, watching the convoy of lorries travelling at 60 mph and I started to think, for the first time, “If I just turned my car in to the other side of the road, that could take all of this away.”
I got back home. I packed my boxes. I never went back.
(Part Two to follow soon. As this is the first time I have ever attempted anything like this (as in a proper piece of original fiction), I’d be very appreciative of any feedback. Fully aware that it’s not the happiest of stories so far but any other feedback would be amazing. Thank you.)