The regular tap of my stick pauses as I lean over the stone wall and contemplate the swirling dark below. As my breathing steadies, I fumble in my coat pocket and locate the engraved hip flask, one of the few things I treasure in this world. A generous gulp sends the honey liquid coursing down my throat. By God, that’s the ticket on a night like this. I’m screwing the cap back on when a movement catches my eye. Someone is climbing onto the wall near the middle of the bridge, holding onto a stanchion, head bowed to the blackness below.
I limp towards them, calling out, making myself known. It’s a woman. She warns me to stop when I’m a few feet away from her. She’s not dressed for the weather.
I tell her my name. She doesn’t want to talk but I talk anyway, gentle, soothing, like she’s one of the kids with a fever, all those years ago. She wants me to leave her to it.
I ask her why? What can be so bad? Her body folds in on itself, her grip loosening on the stanchion. I’m nearer, asking her to hold on, asking her to come down. I’ll listen.
She shakes her head but then she speaks. Her child died. Cancer. She can’t go on without her. Her husband is broken, their family shattered.
Her pain is visible, radiating into the darkness and much as I want to take it from her, I know I couldn’t stand it. I’m nearer now, close enough to wrap my shovel of a hand around her slender one. I remind her that if she goes through with this, she’ll pass the same pain to her parents, already mourning the loss of their grandchild.
She frowns, then crumbles to a sitting position, her sobs covering the noise of the wind and fast-flowing river. She’s shaking uncontrollably as I help her off the wall, wrap my coat around her and give her a nip from the flask. She splutters, then has some more.
We talk quietly and finally she lets me call her brother. He arrives in tears and takes her in his arms. I decline their offer of a lift but take her hand through the passenger window before they leave. She thanks me. He can’t thank me enough.
The car disappears back towards town. I’m shivering from the cold or shock; I don’t know which. The rain comes, thick drops, right on the edge of sleet. I limp back to the point she was going to jump from and regard the inky depths she sought deliverance through.
At home, my wife drifts in a morphine fuelled sleep. She’s not long for this world and I don’t want to be in any world where she isn’t. My suicide note sits, neatly folded, on the kitchen side next to the kettle. Veronica will find it when she arrives in the morning. She’s a good girl. Comes to look after her mum two days a week to give me a break. If I go through with this, she’ll have to mourn me, then mourn her mother. Am I that really that cruel?
I take out the hip flask, drain it and watch the river flow.
Karen Rust is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Check out her blog, Blooming Late.