By David Coppi
Is there ever a good day to die? Perhaps on an unwanted birthday or another wasted Christmas? The day doesn’t really matter, but the how, that’s the important part.
Frank had chosen a Thursday. Wednesday was rubbish day so he wanted to do the right thing and put the bins out and Friday was the day he usually played bridge. Frank hated bridge but not as much as the wrinkly old sad sacks he was forced to play with. Thursday would be fine.
Frank spent extra time shaving on Thursday morning and even shined his shoes. He hadn’t worn them since Judith’s funeral. These shoes would forever be linked with sadness but they were also the same shoes he had walked the streets of Prague in. That had been her favourite holiday and his too.
The toes were scuffed but a little shoe polish would do the trick. Frank took his suit from the cupboard, carefully dressed and then slipped into his well worn shoes. He slicked the little hair he had left across his head. He was ready.
Parking a few blocks from the library Frank fed the meter. He knew he didn’t have to but it felt like the right thing to do. The city library was a hulking, square looking building in a fawn colour, its four storeys faded through years of serving the city’s book lovers. Frank was a member and borrowed regularly. He had never had an overdue book in his twenty seven year borrowing history.
For old times’ sake Frank found the military history section and cracked open his favourite book on World War Two tanks and armoury. Frank had lived through the Second World War but had been too young to enlist. There were stories of fourteen and fifteen year old boys passing themselves off as eighteen year olds but Frank knew that even as a nine year old he couldn’t have passed for a man supposedly twice his age. He shut the book with a heavy sigh and replaced it in the correct position.
Frank paused at the water cooler and watched it bubble as he drank from a cheap paper cup. His last meal had been beans on toast that morning, a favourite for many years now. Frank remembered stories of death row inmates and the fantastic last meals they had requested. He remembered one inmate asking for four cheeseburgers, two milkshakes, deep fried pickles, a green salad, and a whole apple pie for dessert. He was happy with beans on toast.
Annoyed that the elevator was out of order Frank trudged up the four flights of stairs until he reached the top of the building. As he opened the door that had no entry written on it, bright sunlight flooded the dim stairwell. What a magnificent day, Frank thought.
Navigating past the air-conditioning ducts and stepping over the crunchy leaves that had settled on the roof Frank made his way towards the edge. From the ground four storeys hadn’t seemed that high but now standing near the edge and peering down the distance appeared much greater to Frank. He stood admiring the hills in the far off distance and felt the cool breeze against his smooth cheeks.
Eighty-four years of hard living has taken its toll on Frank. He’d been without Judith for two long years and the loss he felt at the beginning was terrible but by now it had become unbearable. He was sick of sleeping poorly and knew that getting up four times each night to piss wasn’t helping. His only daughter had long since moved away and rarely called, let alone visited. Perhaps the most heartbreaking for Frank was that somebody had broken into his home and stolen Judith’s wedding ring, among other things. For drugs probably, Frank had thought, but it didn’t make it any easier.
Stepping onto the very edge of the building Frank felt calm. Calm and ready. He didn’t want a large pool of blood to form on the sidewalk below but he wasn’t sure how to control that. Frank thought for a few moments but then decided for once in his life he wasn’t going to worry. Somebody else could deal with it, he thought.
This was it. Goodbye to a world that was changing quicker that he could keep up with and goodbye to all who knew him. He raised one foot forward and closed his eyes. He felt free.
“You’re not going to jump, are you?” a voice asked.
Frank’s eyes flicked open as he spun on the one heel still in contact with the building. He wobbled but steadied himself with his arms, trying to focus on where the voice had come from.
How had Frank failed to see her? Reclined on a banana lounge in oversized sunglasses was a young woman. She was reading a book and had a bottle of cool drink next to her. They stared at each other, both surprised to see another person on the roof.
“You’re not supposed to be up here,” stammered Frank. “It’s dangerous.”
“Says the old man about to jump off the edge,” she replied sarcastically peering over the top of her sunglasses. “Plus, I work here. What’s your excuse?”
He didn’t have any answers for the young tattooed woman sitting across from him.
“The thing is, if you jump then there will be a whole heap of paperwork I have to fill out. I hate paperwork,” she said removing her sunglasses. Frank saw her piercing blue eyes.
She was pretty, in a plain way. Her pale skin was flecked with coloured tattoos that Frank didn’t understand and her short haircut made her look like a boy, he thought. He noticed her nametag. It said Holly.
“It’s a long way down,” Holly said, tilting her head to light a cigarette.
Frank paused and narrowed his eyes.
“Those things will kill you,” Frank said.
“So will jumping and I know which one will be messier,” she replied, exhaling smoke slowly.
Frank stared at her while she stared back. Reluctantly, Frank moved away from the edge and sat on a small step facing Holly.
“What are you doing up her anyway? Shouldn’t you be working?” he asked.
“Take it easy, Chairman Mao. Haven’t you heard of breaks? I could ask you the same thing,” she answered.
Frank glanced back towards the edge. He still wanted to jump.
“If you are going to do this can you at least wait until my break is over? I really don’t think it’s fair that it’s going to be me who has to deal with this. Ten bucks says you won’t do it,” Holly said.
Frank shook his head and groaned as he stood. He made his way back towards the edge. “You young people are all the same.”
“Okay, okay, I was kidding. But just so you know it’s not like you see in the movies where you hit the ground and splat, it’s lights out, game over,” she said.
“No?” Frank asked without looking at her.
“No. From this height, unless you landed on your head, you would probably survive the fall. Of course you’ll have multiple fractures and most of your organs will be ruptured but look on the bright side, you’ll probably be alive to feel it all,” Holly smiled.
“How do you know so much about this kind of thing?” Frank asked.
“Look at me. I love this stuff. The blacker the better,” she said.
Frank gazed into the distance. He thought he could see the radio tower near his house but it could have been any aerial tower. Holly stubbed out her cigarette and sipped the remainder of her drink. She rose to her feet and snapped her book shut.
“I’ve got to get back to work but before you chicken out and don’t jump are you sure there isn’t anything I can do for you?” Holly asked.
“No. Nobody can.”
Holly looked annoyed. She dropped her shoulders.
“Look, if you want to go out this way then fine, it’s not my business to stop you. But at least come inside with me to talk, there are much simpler and less painful ways to go. You don’t want to have people scrape you off the road, do you?” she asked.
Frank turned to face Holly. She was in fact very pretty, even with a boy’s haircut. He took one slow, gentle step towards her.
“Why are you helping me?” he asked.
“I told you. I hate paperwork,” she smirked.
Eight months later, Frank and Holly were sitting on a grassy hill overlooking the city.
“I can’t believe they stuck a needle in it,” Holly said.
“Two needles actually, and a cannula to drain the blood. It just wouldn’t go down,” Frank said, groaning at the thought.
Holly began to eat an apple. “You didn’t recognise the little blue pills?” she asked.
“No, I had no idea. A young kid sold them to me and said they’d help with what I need. You were the one that said to take a handful of pills.”
“You wanted my advice and I gave it to you. I can’t safeguard against stupidity,” Holly laughed.
“I know. It’s just embarrassing.”
The pair were silent for a few moments while Holly ate her apple. It was a beautifully warm day. The grass had been freshly cut and reminded Frank of childhood.
“What was the last thing you did with your wife? Your last memory together?” Holly asked.
Frank thought deeply for a moment. “With Judith? I held her hand, told her that I loved her and then watched her eyes close for the last time.”
“I mean the last big thing you did together. What was the final hurrah?”
“Well, we did manage a trip abroad a few years ago after her diagnosis. She’d always had her heart set on visiting Europe. She’d wanted to see Prague and Italy,” Frank said. “I never understood why, it’s full of Italians.”
Holly smiled. “Did she enjoy it?”
“She loved it. Took a million pictures. The Coliseum was the best part. Bring that back I say. Christians against lions? I’d pay to see that,” he said.
“Was Judith a believer?” Holly asked.
“Bloody useless, the lot of them. Two of those old nuns arrived unannounced at the hospital the day before she went. Bless her, she told them to rack off.” Frank smiled at the memory as Holly softly smiled.
“What would she make of all of this suicide business? What would she be thinking?”
“I don’t know, honestly. She’d probably say I was a silly old fool. I probably am.”
Minutes passed with neither Frank nor Holly saying a word. Holly shifted sideways towards Frank until they were touching. She tilted her head to rest on his shoulder.
“Two needles and a cannula?” she asked again, smiling.
“Two needles and a bloody cannula,” Frank reiterated.
Holly finished her apple and set the core down next to her on the grass.
She smiled her cheeky smile. “You still owe me ten bucks.”