Alistair Jackson stepped back and admired his handiwork. With the limited resources at his disposal, and considering his lack of experience in the field, he’d done a pretty good job, he reckoned. It was the first thing he’d been proud of in a long time. He hadn’t realised how difficult it was to find a decent piece of rope these days, and his flat didn’t have many decent places to fix it. He’d been tempted to give up the whole idea as too difficult, but for once in his life he wasn’t prepared to admit defeat.
He placed the chair slowly, deliberately in the centre of the room, adjusting it slightly to ensure it was on a firm base. In his mind, an infomercial rolled. Over a montage of smiling children and happy couples, a sonorous voice chimed:
“Do you have money worries? Are relationship difficulties getting you down? Maybe you’re lonely, or you have health troubles. These things happen to all of us at times in life.”
The montage shrank to become a backdrop in a studio, and on walked a Colgate-clean American presenter in a chunky knitted sweater.
“Well, all that could be at an end, soon! Hi, I’m Dan McMahon, and I’m here to introduce a great new home remedy that is one hundred percent guaranteed to get rid of all your problems!”
Dan McMahon inserted a dramatic pause, as if he wanted to say “What’s that? I hear you ask.” His smile became even wider and more sincere, and he prepared to let the viewers in on a secret.
“Suicide! The solution to all your problems!”
Alistair didn’t feel particularly suicidal that day, but he’d come to a decision, and a man had to stand by his decisions. When he didn’t think about his situation, he could appear remarkably cheerful, even to himself, and sometimes he would catch himself smiling. He had good days and bad days, just like anybody, but the suspicion kept returning to him that he just wasn’t very good at this whole life business. He’d given it a pretty good shot, he reckoned, but nothing ever quite worked out for him. There were times when he was fairly sure that the fault lay with the world at large, rather than anything within himself. He had always thought that he was going to be different, special, that he was going to cut a swathe through the crapness of the world, shine some kind of beacon of quality, whatever that meant. But things just didn’t click. He felt as if he had chosen the wrong queue in the checkout of life, and now he was stuck behind some old dear who was insisting on trying to pay with halfpenny pieces. He had to do something about it.
It wasn’t unhappiness that swung his decision, although he wasn’t particularly upbeat. It was just the unbearable thought of this non-life stretching out in front of him as far as he could see, a flat desert of emptiness, broken up here and there by the occasional cactus of misery or a mirage oasis of hope. What possible improvement could there be? Even if he did manage to pick himself up out of this slump, there would be another one along in a few months, or a couple of years at most. The trouble was that he’d asked himself if there was more to life than birth, school, work, death, and been unable to come up with an answer more satisfying than a half-hearted ‘Well, not really’.
He thought about leaving a note. It seemed to be the form on these occasions, after all. What would be the point, though? Who would read it? Maybe a policeman who would be more interested in getting home early than in paperwork and the dangling corpse in the centre of the room. Maybe a friend or relative would Well, sooner or later somebody would notice that he hadn’t been around for a while, and send out a search party. Wouldn’t they? Maybe not. He was sick of making no impact on the world, of just chugging through the days as if he was marking out a prison sentence.
He placed his right foot on the chair. He was surprised how empty he felt. He had thought he’d be in tears, or he’d feel as if he was saying a defiant ‘Fuck You!’ to the world. He had thought that he’d at least feel something. He wanted to say some famous last words, but he had nothing to say and nobody to say it to. As he stepped up onto the chair, he became aware of his bladder. With his mind preoccupied by other things, he hadn’t realised how badly he needed a piss. He was half tempted to say fuck it. What did it matter? He’d be past caring soon enough. But he stepped down again. It wouldn’t do to be remembered (even if it was only in the police canteen) as the bloke who’d died with piss in his pants.
He walked out into the hall. The sound of his upstairs neighbours arguing could be heard above the pounding beat of the music from kid next door’s stereo. He pulled at the toilet door. As usual, it was sticking. He paused a moment, and gave it a sharp jolt. As usual, it gave way first time. He smiled to himself. All in the wrist. His smile faded as he realised how unfortunately true that was. He reached up for the pull cord to switch on the light. As usual, it eluded him. The scabby little string with the randomly placed knots swung back and forth as he pawed ineffectually at the air. Those knots had always bugged him. He really should do something about them. He let out a half-chuckle as he realised the absurdity of it. He wouldn’t have to think about emptying the bin or cleaning the oven or scrubbing the bath any more. Not that he’d really given these things a great deal of thought during his life. It was strange to think of his life as being over.
Finally, he caught hold of the light cord, and gave it a quick tug. For a split-second, the bare bulb glowed, before going out with a ping.
The thudding of the bass from next door was no more. The lightbulb must have taken out the electricity in the whole house when it blew. He smiled as he thought of next door having to go round and reprogram all their digital clocks. The sudden peace was almost blissful. The only sounds were the dripping of the leaky gutter and the gentle cooing of the pigeons outside the window. He looked up towards the sound. The window was filthy. He never had got around to cleaning it. Just another item to be added to the list of things he’d never done. The grime lay sprawled across the pane, mixing with the stray flecks of peeling paint from the frame. Something held him there a moment, as the clouds shifted to allow a shaft of sun to unfold into the narrow space between buildings. Light came sliding into the bathroom like the Silver Surfer, animating the dust that lingered in the air.
As he stood there slightly dazed, patterns of light danced slowly on the dirty bathroom floor. He watched for a while, entranced by the simple beauty of the shadows. He looked up at the window and watched the drips falling from the gutter. They arrived at the hole in the pipe, swelling into a fat little bubble which paused on the brink until the weight became too much, plunging downwards into oblivion. As they fell, they passed through the wedge of light, for a brief moment catching and refracting it with a beauty that Alistair could never have imagined. The sense of wonder that he felt was almost painful, a fire burning in his brain that shocked and amazed him. He turned round, gave the door a sharp jolt, and went out to buy some new lightbulbs.