Ed Warner stood, precariously, on the building’s edge looking down at the tiny cars below. He could barely make out the small dark dots of the pedestrians’ heads, but he knew they were there. No one could see him, at least from where he stood. No one ever saw him. He gasped a breath sucking in a sob that desperately wanted to escape his throat. A warm breeze buffeted him making him teeter ever so slightly. The weight on his shoulders threatened to topple him over the ledge and send him onto the cold concrete far below. He pushed himself against the wall cupping his palms against the rough, rock facade. Deep breath.
He fixed his eyes straight ahead at the horizon trying to gather his thoughts, which flew through his mind like a flock of nervous birds. No coherent thought could land. His wife fluttered before his eyes, her own eyes damp and pleading. His two daughters wept at her feet shrieking like crows feasting on a carcass. He shook these thoughts from his frittered mind focusing instead on the deep blue sky that hung overhead. The gentle sun warmed his face. He tried to smile one last time to enjoy the sunshine, but his face froze in fear.
His mind ricocheted back to the moment he knew this would happen, that he would meet the same fate as his mother. That day, likewise deceptively warm and sunny, began with a trip to the beach with his wife and young daughters. While his wife frolicked with the girls near the edge of the foamy waves of the Pacific Ocean, he sat further back on a plush beach towel already littered with sand and frowned. A melancholy mood beset him. The beach had done nothing to cure that.
His wife had promised that a day off from work spent at the beach would cure all that ailed him, but it didn’t. Instead, it brought into sharp relief the anguish and despair that riddled his heart and mind. He’d never feel normal again, or he never had felt so to begin with. He couldn’t escape the clouds even on a bright, sunny day.
As his daughters, slick with seawater and dotted with bits of sand, giggled and ran from the encroaching waves while his wife snapped photos on her phone, Ed knew then that he couldn’t do this to those he loved, that he couldn’t contaminate their lives with his presence. He knew first hand what it felt like to grow up with a parent embroiled in the quicksand of depression. His mother had died a slow death before his eyes from his earliest memories. He had never known her to be happy, and hence, he had never been happy either as if her woes were his cross to bear.
A high-pitched squeal caught his attention. His wife swung one of his daughters around and around, both of their arms extended as his wife pivoted in a tight circle. The sun caught his daughter’s face at just the right angle when she spun furthest from him and she glowed like a little angel sent down from heaven to save him. He felt like smiling as she shrieked and started to loll her head in dizziness, but all he could do was tighten his lips across his teeth. His other daughter bounced up and down near them pleading for her turn. His wife’s laughs filled the mostly empty beach, and despite the glee of his young children, Ed felt empty, too.
His heel scraped against the grainy ledge shocking him back to the present as he thrust himself against the wall behind him to retain his balance. The ground wavered below him, and for a moment, he thought he wouldn’t recover. His heart rate spiked and ragged breaths escaped him before he levered back onto the ledge. The warm breeze had stopped leaving nothing but the faint sounds from the streets below to assure him that he was still alive. He tucked his chin to look at the world beneath him.
The shorter building across from him cast a shadow onto the street below. The sun had settled well past mid-day, but the buildings, crammed together like mottled, irregular teeth kept the streets in the shadows except for a small window of time each day. He’d fall into that darkness, a fate befitting of someone who had always battled it. A gloomy wave washed over him. Gravity beseeched him. He wavered on the ledge drunk from his own misery.
An image of his mother appeared before him. She said nothing, but she looked at him with that dismal, meager frown she had always worn. He could not conjure up an image of her smiling because he could not be sure she had ever done so. What kind of life is one in which a person never smiles? Why prolong such misery?
He’d been the one that found her, stiff and pale in the deep, bone-white bathtub tucked against the wall of her bathroom. The blinds had been turned down casting the weak overcast light from the window onto her such that she looked like an apparition. Her eyes were shut like she was sleeping, but her lips, the eminent purveyors of her truth, were frozen in that ever-present grimace.
He could only see her head, slightly turned toward the entrance, and the tops of her bare shoulders when he finally opened the door to the bathroom. He called out to her quietly, but she didn’t move. She refused to acknowledge his presence, which wasn’t far from the ordinary in the last few weeks of her life. She’d grown more withdrawn with each passing day often hiding in her dark bedroom for hours at a time. As a young teenager, he should have been happy to be removed from his mother’s spotlight of attention, but Ed longed to engage her and rid himself of the foreboding feelings that overwhelmed him at times.
When she didn’t respond to his words, he crept closer to the tub, each step confirming his worst fears. The long, rectangular room felt like a stretched hallway whose walls were closing in on him. His heart raced and his breathing became erratic. Before he touched her cold body, he wanted to cry out, but he didn’t want to accept the harsh reality before him. He almost crumpled onto himself when he finally stood over her.
She lay in her white underwear, which matched the phosphorus glow of the tub, with streaked crimson stains on either side of her. Her wrists were upturned on each side with dark, gelatinous slits across them, exclamation points on a life not lived. His whole body shivered like a cold, winter breeze wafted through the closed window on the other side of him. His hands trembled as he reached out to touch her. He pulled his hand back, and then, he forced himself to shake her slightly. He whispered to her as if saying her name would thrust him from the nightmare.
When she didn’t open her eyes in that lazy way she had adopted after years of medication, when she didn’t whisper his name in that raspy voice that had replaced the motherly timbre of his childhood, and when she didn’t sigh in exasperation as she had for much of his life, he knew she was gone, that death had finally relieved her of her burden. What burden he did not know. Him maybe?
Another stiff breeze scattered the image of his mother across the sky before him as Ed recoiled to the present. His heart sank further. After all these years, he finally understood his mother. Life, like a hungry lion in pursuit of an exhausted prey, eventually overwhelmed it’s target, a slow death of a thousand cuts. His mother simply preempted the inevitable rather than suffer the indignity of living. For years he had resented her, hated her even, but now, he had some semblance of empathy with her.
A tremor wracked his body. His cupped hands pulled away from the wall at his back, and he could feel the earth pulling him into her bosom. He hesitated, stalled. The voices in his head waged a war of reason and emotion and hope and despair. The battle had been fought time and time again with nothing more than a stalemate until this very moment. He wanted it to end in the worst way. He wanted peace, final peace, just like his mother had found so many years ago.
A tear escaped his eye and trickled down his cheek. As if some internal dam had broken, more tears followed. A bleating sob forced its way out, and the tremors began to overwhelm him. He had lost control of his own body much like he had his life. The affront became unbearable. He bent his knees slightly and then propelled himself over the edge.
The shock of being suspended in the space above the street shocked him. His instincts kicked in and he grasped for something to save himself, but he only squished air between his fingers. He kicked his legs for purchase and swung his arms as if he could somehow fly like a bird. The windows on the building next to him smeared into some blurry canvas devoid of any vivid color. He couldn’t breathe as he watched the the tiny cars grow bigger and the dark dots turn into the upturned heads of pedestrians. He wanted to scream, but nothing came out. He fell faster and faster until his mind mercifully faded to black.