Joe closed his eyes and felt the cold rain slap his face. It was perfect. It would be over soon. No more pain, no more anguish, no more self-loathing that consumed every cell in his body. He loosened his grip on the rail and took a deep breath.
‘Hey!’ A voice shouted louder than the rain.
Joe tightened his grip again, opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the voice.
‘Hey, what you doing?’ The voice in the rain belonged to a man in his thirties, black rain mac, dark hair made darker with the rain.
‘Isn’t it obvious? Go away.’
‘Well I can’t do that now.’
Joe stared back down into the agitated river. ‘Why?’
‘I couldn’t forgive myself.’
‘There’s nothing to forgive. Walk away, this’s nothing to do with you.’
‘It is now.’ The man took a step towards Joe. ‘You’ve kinda made it my business by doing it out here on a public bridge.’
‘I couldn’t find a private bridge.’
Again, the man took a step forward and was almost in touching distance of Joe. ‘Come down here, you’re making me nervous.’
‘Go away then.’ Joe stayed transfixed on the rushing water below.
‘Told you I can’t. Not gonna happen.’
Joe leant forwards with arms locked straight behind him. A glimmer of moonlight illuminated him, rain running down his face, like a marbled figurehead on the bow of a ship.
‘You’re really kicking off my anxiety here.’ The stranger shouted up at Joe.
Joe stayed poised in position.
‘My name’s Mick, what’s yours?’
‘Joe. And you’re an annoying bastard Mick.’
‘Technically correct on both counts, my dad ran off and didn’t marry my mum, and I have been told many times by many people I’m annoying. Usually by ex’s just as they dump me.’
Joe relaxed his arms and leant back against the rail. ‘Jesus Christ.’
‘I don’t think he’s here, it’s Good Friday, I imagine he’s busy, so I’ll have to do.’
‘What do you want from me?’
‘I just want you to come down here, stop me feeling anxious. And I’m getting soaked. I’ll probably get pneumonia. Do you want me to catch pneumonia Joe?’
Joe closed his eyes. ‘I just want to die.’
‘Can we make a deal? Some kind of trade off?’
Joe remained anchored.
‘If you come down, come back to my place and talk things through, if you still want to jump off a bridge I’ll find you a private one to do it from.’
‘Are you nuts?’
‘Says the man about to jump off a bridge?’
‘This makes perfect sense to me. More than you. You don’t even know me.’ The rain whipped at Joe’s face.
‘If you jump now I’m always gonna be thinking I could have saved you, and wondering why you jumped. Plus, there’s a crowd gathering here and I don’t want to look like a shit negotiator in front of them.’
Joe opened his eyes and turned his face to Mick. Looking down he saw five people clustered together. ‘Oh Christ.’ He turned his face back to the river. ‘Alright, make them go away and I’ll come down.’
Mick turned to the little group behind him and started waving them away. ‘You heard him folks, go on with your whatever you were doing.’
‘Should we call the police?’ A large woman in a navy anorak peered at Mick from under a pink polka dot umbrella.
‘No, it’s gonna be fine, I got this.’ Mick smiled at the lady. ‘I’ll look after him.’
She smiled back. ‘God bless you.’ She then dispersed into the night with the other onlookers.
‘Ok, people shooed away Joe.’
Joe turned and checked there was no audience, then climbed back over the rail and down onto the pavement. He stood face to face with Mick, inches apart. ‘You can go now.’
‘Are you kidding me? As soon as I walk off you’re gonna be straight up there again.’ Mick gestured to the bridge girder. ‘Look, I just live around the corner, come back to mine, chat, eat, drink, and like I said, if you still want to end it all I won’t stop you.’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. ‘Do it for me, give me a clear conscience when you jump.’
Joe stared into Mick’s eyes, the deep blue seemed to swirl like the river. ‘Ok.’
Mick patted Joe’s shoulder again and grinned. ‘Good, come on.’
Mick ushered Joe into his basement flat. ‘It’s not a palace, excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company, although to be honest I probably wouldn’t have tidied anyway.’
The living area was a riot of colours. Reds, oranges, pinks, and greens.
‘Let me get out of these wet clothes and I’ll get you something dry.’ Mick disappeared through a door at the opposite end of the lounge.
Joe stood in silence, dripping onto the doormat. He surveyed the room. A tired sofa had an orange woven throw draped over it. A terracotta tiled coffee table was adorned with different varieties of cacti and a New Scientist magazine. And the kitchen area in the corner, painted bright red, had dishes stacked up high on the draining board like a modern art installation.
Mick returned through the door, wearing jeans and a blue and white striped shirt. ‘I’ve put some clothes on the bed in there, you look the same size, and put your stuff on the radiator to dry out.’
Joe fiddled with a button on his jacket. ‘I’m ok, don’t want to be a bother.’
‘You’re bothering me dripping on my floor.’ Mick held out his hands. ‘Jacket.’
Joe slipped his jacket off and handed it to Mick.
‘Now go change.’ Mick smiled and hung the jacket up on the bulging coat rack behind the door.
Joe re-emerged from the bedroom in bare feet, with grey jogging bottoms on, and matching sweatshirt.
Mick was in the kitchen, the kettle boiling. ‘Sit yourself down. Tea, coffee, something stronger?’
‘I’m an alcoholic.’
Mick shrugged. ‘Ok. Tea or coffee then?’
‘One please.’ Joe sat down and sunk into the sofa.
Mick pottered about and carried over two mugs of tea to the sofa. He handed Joe his tea and sank down next to him. ‘So. Cut to the chase, why do you want to kill yourself?’
Joe took a sip of his tea then placed it on the table, he shrugged. ‘I just don’t want to live anymore. I’m a failure, I have nothing to live for. I can’t go on anymore.’
‘Friends, family, colleagues. There must be people that wouldn’t want you to kill yourself?’
‘The only friend I had ran off with my wife, my parents are dead, my sister is a self-absorbed bitch who lives in France, I’m self-employed, well, I was, my business has just gone bankrupt. So, you see, no one would care if I’m here or not.’
Mick took a sip of his tea. ‘Ouch. That is pretty shit.’
‘There’ll be other women, I’m sure your wife wasn’t the first woman in your life and she doesn’t have to be the last. You’re a good-looking guy. Granted you haven’t got a lot going for you right now, so more of a potential catch than a current catch, but you’re not dead in the water in that department yet.’
Joe shook his head. ‘I could never love anyone again. I could never trust anyone again.’
‘You will.’ Mick combed his hands through his damp hair. ‘You can get another job easy enough, might not be your own business but you can earn money. What did you do?’
‘A chef, I had my own restaurant.’
‘There you go, everyone needs to eat, you can get a chef job anywhere.’
‘I’m too tired to start again from the bottom.’ Joe leant forwards, cradling his head in his hands. ‘I just can’t. I don’t want to.’
‘How old are you?’
Mick tucked his legs up and under himself. ‘Hardly past it. You could have an exciting bright vivid future. Starting with this blank canvas in this moment right now. The future can be anything you want it to be.’
Joe lifted his head from his hands. ‘That’s just it, I don’t want the future to be anything, I don’t want a future. I’ve had enough.’
‘I think you’re lying.’ Mick took a gulp of tea and then placed his mug on the table.
‘I think you do want a future.’
‘Look, you’ve been kind to me, but you don’t know me, I want to die.’
‘Nope, you’re a liar.’ Mick folded his arms.
‘I’m not lying.’
‘If you’re not lying to me you’re lying to yourself.’
Joe sat up straight, frowning. ‘With respect you’re talking shit.’
‘With no respect, you’re the one talking shit.’ Mick grinned.
Joe stood up. ‘Thanks for the tea, I’m going.’
‘Where to? In my clothes? Gonna jump off the bridge again, oh no wait, you didn’t jump did you, because you don’t want to die.’
‘I didn’t jump because an asshole like you came along and interrupted me.’
‘If you really wanted to die you wouldn’t have let an asshole like me stop you. You’d have just jumped. You wouldn’t have even chosen a busy bridge to jump from if you were serious, you wanted someone to stop you.’ Mick uncrossed his arms and uncurled his legs. ‘Sit down Joe.’
Joe sat slowly back down. ‘If you didn’t think I was going to really jump why did you stop.’
‘Why didn’t you choose a whiskey?’
‘When I offered you a drink, you told me you were an alcoholic and you chose tea.’
‘If you were an alcoholic and wanted to die you’d choose a whiskey. Why stay sober if you don’t even want to live?’
‘Bullshit. You’re self-indulgent, loving to be the centre of attention in the drama you create.’
‘I don’t have to sit here listening to this crap.’ Joe stayed seated, his shoulders slumped forwards.
‘No, but you are, because you love being the centre of the drama. You certainly don’t want to kill yourself.’
‘I do. I’m just a coward.’ Joe started to sob. ‘I don’t want to live but I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. How pathetic is that.’
‘That’s pathetic.’ Mick sighed. ‘And sad. Pathetic and sad.’
‘You should have left me on the bridge.’ Joe wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and sniffed snot bubbles back up his nose.
‘To do what, be ‘rescued’ by a different passer-by?’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s knee. ‘This cycle would just keep repeating itself, wouldn’t it? The torment would never go.’
Joe nodded. ‘I’m such a failure I can’t even kill myself.’
‘Do you know what’s not a failure Joe?’ Mick stared into Joe’s eyes. ‘Meeting me. That’s a definite result on your part. Do you know what I do Joe? For a hobby that is, my day job is butchering.’
Joe shook his head, his eyes not breaking connection with Mick’s.
‘I watch the bridge. I was in the café watching you. I sit in the window there and watch for leapers. Lost souls that don’t want to live anymore. Then I talk them down, just like I did with you Joe. A few leapers have a cup of tea with me, are grateful for my intervention, and go back to their lives, thankful for the stranger that saved them.’
‘You have some sort of a hero complex?’
Mick removed his hand from Joe’s knee. ‘Oh no, I don’t enjoy helping people walk back into their dreary lives. I enjoy helping the people who really want to end it all.’
‘I’m confused. You talk them out of jumping.’
‘Watching someone jump to their death is not a thrill Joe. Helping someone to their death is.’ Mick relaxed back into the sofa, resting his hands on his thighs. ‘When someone tells me they really want to die but can’t do it themselves, I help them. Assisted suicide.’
Joe turned to face Mick more, perching on the edge of the sofa. ‘How? Drugs.’
‘Administering drugs and watching someone slowly slip away is also not a thrill Joe. And it’s not good for the decider either. If you decide you want to die, you want it to be over with quickly. Don’t you?’
Joe nodded. ‘What do you do then?’
Mick’s eyes sparkled. ‘I use a knife. Quick and easy. People can request where they want to be stabbed. Throat or heart are the most popular.’
‘What happens after?’ Joe frowned. ‘With the bodies?’
‘What’s it matter? They’re dead. No one loves them enough to want to bury them.’ Mick sighed and stood up. ‘Your clothes might be dry now.’
Joe stared up at him. ‘What?’
‘Your clothes, dry. You can put them back on and go back to your life of drama.’ Mick started walking towards the bedroom.
Mick stopped mid step and turned to Joe. ‘Pardon?’
‘Heart. I want you to stab me in my heart.’
Mick walked back to the sofa and crouched down, he held Joe’s hands. ‘Are you sure? I don’t think you really want this.’
‘I do. Please.’ Joe squeezed Mick’s hands. ‘I can’t go back. I don’t want to.’
Mick’s voice was almost a whisper. ‘Only if you’re one hundred per cent sure. I’m not a murderer. I’m a suicide assistant.’
Joe gazed into Mick’s eyes. ‘I’m sure.’
‘Ok.’ Mick nodded slowly. He stood up and slinked silently into the bedroom. When he came back out he had an eight inch hunting knife and some plastic sheeting which he laid down on the floor, moving the coffee table slightly to make room. He indicated to Joe’s clothing. ‘Take my tracksuit off and lie down.’
‘I have to be naked?’
‘It makes it easier to clean up after, and saves me a tracksuit.’ Mick grinned. ‘Coz you’re gonna shit and piss yourself, everyone does. It’s perfectly natural.’
‘Oh, ok.’ Joe nodded, stone faced, and stood up starting to undress.
‘It’s only a naked body, I’ll only be looking where I’m stabbing.’ Mick started to unbutton his shirt. ‘I’ll take this off to avoid blood splatter. Dry cleaning bills are a bitch.’
Joe stood naked in front of Mick, his hands hung loosely in front of him.
‘Lie down Joe.’
Joe led down on his back. His hands alternating between by his sides and covering his privates.
‘Relax Joe, leave your hands by your side.’ A topless Mick straddled Joe and lined up the knife on his chest between the fourth and the firth rib, the tip of the blade resting gently on his skin. ‘Whenever you are ready I need you to say to me ‘please take my life’.’
Joe nodded. His breathing deepening. Mick leant over Joe, his two hands gripping the knife. The two men stared into each other’s eyes. The silence was deafening.
‘Please take my life’.
Mick thrust the knife at an angle into Joe’s chest, swept it swiftly along, then removed it rapidly. Joe’s eyes widened like a goldfish as a jet of blood volcanoed upwards splattering Mick. No scream came from Joe, just a gasp and a gargle, his eyes scared and pleading faded to acceptance and regret as he drifted down into deaths warm embrace.
Mick leant forward and kissed Joe gently on the forehead as the last beat of life left him. He sat upright on Joe and, with his head back and back arched, he massaged the blood that was decorating him into his chest. Licking his lips he started to undo his trousers.