The taxi cab hooted his horn outside to say he was here, bang on 7.30am as ordered the night before, this was to be Frank’s last journey. He knew that, and that’s why he had ordered the cab the night before, just so he could relax in the knowledge it was all sorted. Frank had spent the previous week, putting all his affairs in order, even to the point of leaving a goodbye note and his last will and testament on the dining room table before he went to bed. He like to be organised, and these last few months had really been one muddle after another, it was like trying to swim in a pool full of molasses. He did not like that feeling, his life had become like firefighting in a dry straw field during a firework display. No sooner had he sorted one thing out, another issue would pop up. Looking through his photo album, he could see how much these last months had aged him, not only was he mentally crumbling, but his façade had become as shabby as a cut price B and B on Canvey Island. The stresses had really taken its toll on him.
The journey was uneventful, the driver drove the cab smoothly, and the blessing was he was not a talker. Frank had been able to replay his life over the last two years. The cab pulled up to the curb, and Frank stopped his reminiscing, with an icy cold shudder, paid the bill and stepped from the cab, straight in to a blustery cold October day. It was his favourite time of year, between the end of August and the beginning of November. The trees would sparkle to him every time the golden glow of the autumn sun hit them, mellowing as evening fell. He loved to take those long deep breaths of sharp icy air, the smell of bonfires and the feeling of Christmas just around the corner. This year would have been different though, the first he would ever have spent alone. It was the final nail in his hand built coffin, the straw that broke his back. He stood for a while looking around the street, strangers buzzing past him, wrapped up in their own stories. He no longer cared, he just stood and smelled the air, shop fronts sneaking Christmas in a little earlier each year, and for the first time since leaving London, he smiled.
His plans for today had begun a month ago, when he walked in to his bosses’ office and told him he could stick the job up his arse, after one unnecessary and pointless bollocking too many. He wouldn’t of minded if it was something he had done wrong, hands up, and a sorry, promise to learn from your mistake and move on. No, these were things his boss was doing wrong or not doing, and laying the blame with Frank to the MD. This had started as soon as Frank had moved across the Atlantic to the head office in New York. It was a tough decision to make, leaving your family and friends behind and starting again, just his wife and himself. She was not that keen on the idea, but as Frank had explained, he was well respected within the firm, and this was a massive step up, just one promotion to go before he was knock on the door for a seat on the board. This job in real terms was early retirement and enough money to travel the world and see out their later years in comfort. They had sold everything before moving, giving them both enough cash to start again when they arrived in their new country. Best laid plans of mice and men.
The following six months had been a living hell; his boss had taken an instant dislike to him, possibly from the day they met. The penny dropped why the board had offered him this job, he was by far the best man for the position within the company, and it was generally understood he was a far better man for the job his boss was currently doing, badly. He should have realised this toss pot in a handmade suit, whom had clung to this job for almost twenty years, like a barnacle to a shipwreck, must have had some power in his arsenal to keep the board off his back, mucky pictures or some other type of blackmail. He made Franks life hell, but once that disciplinary procedure had started, Frank knew his days were numbered. He pushed that thought to the back of his mind, and in popped another.
His wife, she had never been comfortable, driving on the other side of the road, the money and the general culture. Frank was never home, the tighter he had to cling to his job, the less he was home, a couple of dozen times in the last few months he had not even made it home. She had left, about ten weeks in to the move; he had come home from work about 10pm to find a note on the kitchen table. She had gone back to the UK, to stay with her parents. The letter was just a rant at him for bringing her over with him, and finished with the ultimatum to move back with her and walk forward from there. Frank had sunk all their money in to the house and car, he was on a very large salary, but a move back to the UK with nothing, no job, no home not even his bus fare home. There was no question to Frank that this was where he was staying, well paid job, and a nice house in a nice area. He had tried to compromise, but she was adamant that it was all or nothing. This had spread his already strained sanity even further, with having very little spare time to carve out negotiations with his wife and the time difference, most of it was made up of answer phone messages, getting ever more shoutie as the weeks went by. He had his boss and his wife ragging his arse almost twenty four hours a day. Something had to give, and it did. For the first time ever, Frank was now unemployed and had been for a month, and loved the freedom of it.
He broke from his admiration of the surroundings, and strolled across the plaza towards his doctors’ offices. The leaves were starting to fall in all their golden glory, a second thought hit his mind at the sight of the leaves changing for autumn, he was determined to complete his plan, but the trees were stunning this time of year. He entered through the revolving door, mumbling under his breath…..
“I fucking hate revolving doors…bloody hate them”
He exited with fear and trepidation, not quite getting his step right, making him look a little daft. Without looking around he headed straight for the lifts, and pressed the button to call it. The lift arrived with it cheary-fucking-happy-go-lucky “DING!”. He let the occupants alight from this box of death and disease, and entered, pressed the button for the top floor, and leant on the back wall of the elevator…..
“Elevator my arse, it’s a fucking lift” he grumbled under his breath, he had not quite got used to the American form of English, and stubbornly held on to the correct spellings and grammar. On the journey to the top floor, he had started to think that it was this unwavering attitude to American culture, and his determination not to assimilate his core Englishness, that may have had some effect on the state he now found himself in, even when he was advised to see a therapist he held on to his stiff upper lip, and just refused. The lift came to a sudden stop, and he had realised almost too late that this was the floor he wanted, dashing out just as the doors a started to close. Lucky it was early he thought, as there was no one to see him in mid fluster. He headed down the carpeted corridor, past all the offices, until he reached a door to the roof, he pressed down the bar, and the door gave a beep, until he had shut the door behind him.
He was instantaneously hit by the bitter chill on the Autumnal air at this high altitude, he was not climbing Everest by any means, but the 50th floor was high enough he thought. He took a sharp intake of breath, and was struck by just how clean and fresh it was, a minor miracle for this city. He stood their just enjoying this moment arms raised in an almost triumphant manner, and felt truly free, sometime in the next hour he would be free of these shackles of life, on his own terms, no second thoughts, no hesitation. He was not going to stand on the precipice while a crowd of hysterics gathered below, he was just going to walk over and fall, he had seen this in his dreams for so many nights, almost like dress rehearsals. He did decide to have a peek over, just to see how high it looked from this windy vantage point, so it would not be too much of a shock at the moment of execution. While he had dreamed of this moment, he had not scoped out the building prior to his arrival, he just knew his doctors office was in a tall building that would be more than high enough for terminal velocity……
“It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s coming to an abrupt deceleration at the bottom” he half chuckled at the thought of this. As he gazed over, his breath was suddenly taken at just how high it actually was, all those thousands of tiny people in tiny cars, going about their tiny lives below, he though as his head began to swim and swirl, and stepped back to regain his equilibrium. He took out his cigarettes, and lit one. He only had five left, and as he did not like waste, he was going to enjoy them, he was in no real rush, he had all the time in the world, it was his day and he was going to live it his way, on his timetable. He had not picked up his mobile before he left home, he had text his soon to be widow with a farewell text, and left it on the table with his note. He didn’t want that dam thing ringing, he was enjoying the silence and the freedom if he was to be honest about it. He sat on the cold floor, and enjoyed his final five cigarettes, almost enough to pop back down stairs to buy another pack, but no, his mind was set, goodbye cruel world.
He stubbed out his final smoke, took three big lung fulls of air, and almost as if he were an olympic long jumper, steadied himself ready for a run up, he was just going to run straight at the waist height wall around the edge of the roof, and hurdle it, twenty smokes a day had not left him the hurdler he once was, but he was sure he had enough left in the tank for this. As he sprinted at the wall he felt no hesitation at all, the wall approached and he took it like the athlete he once was, the falling sensation after was a new feeling for him though, but resisted the temptation to scream out. The air rushed loudly past his ears, the cold wind stung his face, and he closed his eyes. Then all of a sudden nothing, no butterflies in his stomach caused by falling through the air, no sound of the wind in his ears, no chill, nothing, just silence, and then a voice……
“Smoke Frank?” A voice said. Frank opened one eye, and squinted.
“Who the, what the, fuck, who” frank stuttered
“Oh, sorry mate, I’m Jack, how you doing?” He replied nonchalantly…..
“Seriously? How the fuck am I doing? How the fuck do you fucking think I am fucking doing?” Frank snapped back….
“Easy tiger, smoke Frank?” Jack asked again. Frank opened both eyes and scanned the scene that met him, it was like a film on pause, everything below had stopped. He looked through the window in to an office, and there was a secretary frozen in time with the most comical look of horror on her face, and a cup of coffee stationary in mid dropping, obviously she was not used to seeing a man falling past her window. There standing next to him was a man in celestial white offering him a smoke from a white packet, odd was the only word Frank could find to describe this moment….
“Look Frank, the big guy upstairs sent me down for a word with you, ohhh, yeah, he ain’t keen on the obscenities, so can we keep it clean mate?” Jack said in a matter of fact tone. Frank was totally bewildered..
“Frank, snap outta it, we don’t have all day, I got the time and motion guy ragging me, so lets get with the programme” he continued….
“Quick recap Frank, you jumped in an effort to kill yourself, I must say you did it in a no nonsense way, I am impressed” Jack told him…
“Some people dither and dally, hesitate and fuck the whole thing up, but you, no nonsense man of action” the fog clouding Franks mind was still not clearing, and shot back a quizzical look to this apparition…
“What the hell…” Frank began
“No, no, mate, not hell, I’m from the other team, you know, pearly gates, St. Peter, gods squad. He had big hopes for you, he didn’t realise that you were going to snap that easy, he is feeling a bit guilty I think, but he has a hands off approach” Jack explained…..
“So, let me get this clear, the all knowing creator of everything didn’t know where my snapping point was, and he decided to fuck up my life, for what? A bit of laughter? Brighten up a slow week? What?” Frank fired back at him…
“You lot give him too much credit, yeah he created the world, and then he stepped back to see what was going to happen, bit like putting water, hops and yeast in to a bucket, what will be will be, you may get a tasty brew, or the bucket may just explode under pressure, you just have to let it be” Jack explained….
“The big fella gave every creation that slithered out of the primordial slime free will, he is no more in control of you as you are in anyone you meet in life’s journey” Jack said…..
“Why do you think its so hard to complete? If he had any control do you think he would not have stepped in to make things a little better, he is still laughing about the catholics idea of original sin, I mean, what horseshit. Do you think he likes to see children suffer as they do, that’s just horrific, what kind of arsehole do you think he is? He is not a monster, mankind have some odd behaviours when it comes to the plethora of deities, the funniest part is your all wrong, to him its like watching a soap opera, its entertainment, he is no more in control of your lives than a kid with an ant farm is in control of the ants” Jack appeared to be just millimetres from hysterical laughter, like kids trying not to laugh in church, his shoulder quivered in pre giggle shakes…
“So Frank, was that a yes or no to the smoke?” Frank took a smoke from the pack, and waited for a light..
“It’s pre lit Frank, just take a drag, we do have some perks, the big guy is magic, I have to give him that, some of the stuff we have, pubs with the never ending pint, just as soon as you have taken a big slurp, it tops itself up, magic.” The glee in Jacks voice was all too evident as he told of the wonders of heaven. After a few drags on the best smoke Frank had ever tasted, he began to get with the programme…
“So you’re here to show me what life would be like without me? Like the movie “It’s a wonderful life” and then I see what the world would be like if I had never been born, and I realise how much I wanted to live, and you give me a second chance?” Frank asked feeling all at once a sense of elation that had been missing in his life of late…….this time Jack could not hold back and broke down in hysterical laughter, tears streaming from his eyes…..
“What? What’s so funny?” Franks brow started to furrow in anger, as if he were the butt of someone’s joke… when Jack had finally pulled himself together he took half a dozen long drags on his smoke, and began to get hold of himself….
“Sorry Frank, you seem to have got the Hollywood end of the stick, I don’t show you what others would have done with out you, most people have very little effect on the lives of the people they meet or know, without you in this world it would have still ticked on as it now does, you lot have such an exaggerated sense of ego, it would be like saying what would this coffee taste like with one less grain of sugar, would you even notice it?, of course you wouldn’t, there’s seven and a half billion of you buggers out there, and double that predicted over the next few decades, what would life be without me, hahahahahah, just like it is, is the answer to that one” Jacks hysteria began in full force again, now Frank was really fuming, and dragged frantically on his smoke.
“So what the fuck is this all about then? Why are you here talking to me? If its not to show me the error of my decision this morning?” Frank bellowed back at Jack in an anger that had been building within him for the last few months…..
“Like I said before Frank, the big fella didn’t realise you would snap under this pressure, he cant help you any more than you could help anyone in a similar situation” Jack, still on the verge of laughter, tried to shoot Frank a sympathetic look, but it had never been his strength, even in life….
“So what’s this all about, for fucks sake?” Frank was getting more infuriated as the seconds past
“Well, its true that there is a heaven, and also true that there is a hell, you lot nailed that one, heaven is fun, bit like the end of Monty Pythons ‘Meaning of life’, every day in heaven is like Christmas, we don’t call it Christmas because Christ was not exactly the son of god, well he was, but no more so than any other person who has walked the earth, he created this world, so he is everyone’s daddy. For every positive, there is always a negative, in this case heavens opposite is hell. Now there are few ways to get in to hell, breaking the law, stealing, rape, paedophilia, murder, racism and suicide. So I am afraid your going to hell, now I don’t have first hand knowledge of what goes on down there, but I know its not fun, and you have bought your entry ticket to hell” Jack said as solemnly as he could muster….
“So what the fuck is this all about, your not showing me what life would miss without me, you cant, well I take it you cant put me back on the roof to give me a second chance, so all you have really done is delay my entry to hell” Frank was screaming now, unable to hold back that ragging beast within him….
“What is it? My room not ready? I cant check in before 2pm? You were feeling glum and needed to laugh at someone? What?” Franks beast was now in the driving seat behind his eyes…
“Hahaha, Frank, you’re a funny man, you should have used that sooner. It’s nothing like that, there’s always a space ready for those who break the rules. Like I said, God feels bad about this, if he could have helped you, he would have, but he cant, simple, you were pavement pizza, as soon as you jumped, you were on your way to being dead, sorry. The boss sent me down simply to apologise for his inability to lend you a hand during your troubles, troubles that have pushed you so far as to take this drastic action, he would have helped if he could, he cant even take you in to heaven, he never thought that you would all procreate to such an extent, I blame the catholics sense of worth of every ejaculation, and refusal to wear a rubber johnny, so there has had to be an even share between heaven and hell. So this is just an apology, sorry mate” Frank went to reply to this statement from Jack, but no sooner had Jack finished speaking that the sound of wind in his ears began again and the cold air stinging his face, now with his eyes wide open he could see the sidewalk, “fucking pavement”, approached at speed, and he hit the floor and exploded like a packet of minced beef being run over by a car.
It took a few weeks for the stain to disappear from the pavement, and in truth Frank had touched the lives of strangers, those poor innocents who were just going about their business before being pebble-dashed with brain matter and liquified flesh.