It was a cold Christmas Eve, the electricity in the air felt like its was moments away from snowing as the icy wind picked up its pace, and as Freddie looked down on to the river, he could make out the lightest of dusting of icy shards caught in the gusts, blowing over the frozen water below. He had chosen the wrong time of year to jump from the bridge, he had no idea how thick the ice would be, but he was here now. He had been sitting on the guard rail now for twenty minutes, his mind was made up, but a nagging voice at the back of his brain was cautious. His wife had been dead for a little over a week, her suicide had taken him by surprise, he had not noticed her melancholia, or as her farewell not had said….
“You just don’t see me”.
He had wrestled with this single line on her pillow when he woke that morning, he was not to see her again. This was possibly the same spot she had sat, but with slightly nicer weather. The note had said nothing else, but it said everything. He was rarely home, jetting around the world with work, never stopping to just ‘Be’.
He had read a line recently in some airport lounge, one of those books that gets left behind, in error, or kindness. It had simply stated we are ‘Human Beings” and not as he had become a ‘Human Doings’. He had not time to just be any more, he wanted to keep busy and not end up like his father, who, many years ago, finally drunk himself to death in a cheap motel, on a vibrating bed. He didn’t really remember his father, he left soon after he had been born, his mother never said why, just, he left. Freddie had a fear the alcoholic was lingering in his DNA, and being too busy to have time to develop a habit was his solution. It touched all areas of his life, he had acquaintances, but was very light on friends, he never paid his wife the attention she deserved or wanted as he was never home. He would only ‘stop over’ at home, wash his clothes, sort his paperwork for the coming week, iron and re-pack and back out the door, this is what she meant in her note.
All week he tried to work out if he really loved her, and could he find the grief to mourn her, but he could not. Then this morning after everyone had left to, ‘give you some space’. It hit him between the eyes as he returned to the bedroom and noticed the empty bed, it caught him so hard it knocked him off his feet. He had sobbed all day, he couldn’t stop, he can not remember the last time he had cried, it just was not in his make up.
He was cold sitting here, the faint whoosh of traffic hummed in the background, he was freezing, but he felt the calmness his life had been missing for so long, it was only this feeling that was keeping him sat here.
The snow had started to fall, and heavily, he blinked madly every time a snow flake came to rest on his eye lashes, thrown back to a childhood memories of the first snow of the year. He watched it start to settle on the iced river, and remembered the childhood eagerness as it finally started to settle, and wondered if it was deep enough to break his fall, nice soft landing, but he was confidant he would break through the ice. He loved snow, it made him feel childlike, snowmen, snow ball fights. He was snapped out of this daydream, as voice from next to him broke the unearthly silence that had descended upon him,
“Alright mate? Good job you like a bit of a dither, I got caught up on the last job, what a palaver that was, anyway, thanks for hanging around” it said, Freddie looked around in shock, he had not noticed anyone sit down beside him, but there he was. Freddie had to look twice, he had to be imaging this figure next to him, he was in a shroud of white light, and he also noticed the snow had stopped moving, for want of another word, frozen….
“I am Jack, smoke Freddie?” Freddie waved a hand and said,
“Erm, no, smoke, umm no I, umm, no thanks” he spluttered,
“Mind if I do? I know its not fashionable these days, but… it ain’t going to kill yah, hahahaha” Freddie was stunned, his brain could not compute the visual information….
“I am from up stairs, pearly gates and all that, having a chat with the big ‘I am’ the other day, and we came up with an experiment”, yeah? Whatever, came Freddie’s reply to that,
“Before we start, the big man don’t like the profanity’s, so lets be on our best behaviour, I am as bad as the next cunt, hahahaha, he wont like that. He is always watching so no crafty arse scratching, best grown up behaviour. So, where were we……oh yeah, that’s right. Look around you Freddie nothings moving, there’s no sounds of the big city, this is not an everyday occurrence, is it? No. So close your mouth, and listen, okay?” Jack spat back,
“It was brought to my attention recently, that there may be some wider implications that each human has on a person or persons, I had lived in the knowledge that to remove or replace one human soul would have no effect on the bigger picture. Take Darwin, without him you may think, you would be still living in fear of God, not knowing the theory of evolution, but not so, there was another man, Alfred Russel Wallace, who came to the same conclusions, so if we removed Darwin, it would not change the course of life, had we killed Hitler in the First World War, there would have been another fanatic to fill the void. Do you feel me?, the question basically is, if you had never been born, would life be any different, would it effect the path of mankind?”, Jack explained, to the still bemused Freddie,
“I think its like removing one grain of sugar from a cup of coffee, would anyone notice? After a chat with the boss, well, he has kinda let me run with this experiment, its really proving to be an eye opener. So, I will be dragging you to parts of your life, and show you how they would have turned out if you had never been born, are we on the same page”, asked an exasperated Jack, who was coming to believe this job was going to be as hard as the previous one…..
“Yes, yes I have seen the film, I know what your getting at, in a hope I don’t take my own life tonight” Freddie sniggered back, it was the only emotion he could find at present, the suppressed giggle of children in church,
“Yeah, get it out of your system before we start, this many not be as amusing as you think it might be, and what is it about you lot? Is everything Gospel according to Hollywood” Jack said, trying to understand the humour in the situation. Jack raised an arm and swirled his hand, the world began to spin, and Freddie gave a complete body jolt as dizziness hit his mind. Another jolt later, and the world came to an abrupt stop, Freddie’s legs buckled beneath him,
“Yeah, sorry about that Freddie, still working on smoothing out take off and landing”, Jack said trying to sound sincere, but being taken over by a loud chuckle.
“Right then, I thought we would start around your fifth birthday, a point you could remember and notice any change from what you remember, understand?”, Jack said, this time hitting the right level of sincerity.
Freddie recognised the kitchen he was standing in, he remembered every inch of it, the highly patterned wall paper, the clock that was always fast by five minutes no matter how often you corrected it, the the smell that made him feel safe and warm, protected. As his eyes tracked around the room there was his mother, washing her precious tea cups and saucers by hand. He loved to sit at the breakfast bar, eating his breakfast, watching his mum wash up. He was not here though, but that was the point he guessed, but it did not look any differently to the home life he remembered, then from another room came a mans voice,
“I am out for drinks after work tonight, remember? I don’t know what time I am going to be home, so don’t wait up”, he said, footsteps growing ever louder, in strode a man, six foot one, dressed in a nice suit, he cuddles up behind Freddie’s mother and nuzzles at her neck,
“I love you wife” he said
“I love you husband”, Freddie’s mum said to the man, and as he turned around, Freddie saw his face, and a chill shot from head to foot, it couldn’t be? How could it be? I don’t understand, all these thoughts at once clamoured for his attention.
“This is my mother and father, what year was this? In 1985, I was five, is this 1985, but my dad was dead by 1982, he left six month after I was born and drunk himself to death, so this must be pre 1980, isn’t it?”, just able to to string these words together, sounded like blah, blah, blah to Freddie in his confusion,
“Er, yeah, just let me look at this doubry-firkin a moment, errrrrr, yes, it is 1985, today would have been your fifth birthday, had you been born in this version, but remember, its how life would have work out without you”, Jack explained again,
“Hang on, the big man has the explanations, let me just give him a quick call”, Jack finished, pulling a white mobile from his pocket. Freddie watched him dial a number, then some covert whispering which Freddie made out to be something about telling him something, or something…
“Right, yeah big man, you sure I need to tell him?, ok, no worries”, Jack hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket,
“Ok Freddie, me old muckka, here is the SP, your dad left when you were six months old, could not stand your constant screaming, so he left, never recovered from the loss off your mum in his life, drank to forget, then he forgot to stop, dead inside eighteen months”, Jack looked sheepishly toward Freddie just in time to see his smile fall away.
“Er, don’t know how to say this but, in this version without you, your dad never left, they never had children, now live in a house on the beach on some tropical island, still as much in love as they ever were. Sorry, I guess without you things would have been better for them”, Jack said in a half apologetic tone.
“I was not expecting that Freddie, still trying to iron out glitches in the system, tell you what, lets see something else, how about the year of your high school graduation, you have good memories of that, it said in your bio that you were valedictorian, were you not?” Jack asked to divert Freddie’s mind away from the last snippet of his life without him. Jack knew after that last vision he was up against it with this case, he would have to re-group and come back strong. He raised his arm and wave his hand, Freddie took the take off better this time, but Jack would be on hand to catch him should he collapse again. Freddie, however, was expecting it this time and on landing he stood firm, sure this time he would be re-assured his life had meant something.
There were all his friends, they had been as thick as thieves since the day the first met on their first day of school, they had played together, studied together, fought together, and each had their own specific talent that they brought to this gang. However, on closer inspection he could see Roger, Roger had died unexpectedly in their eighth year at school. He was Freddie’s nemesis, they would match each other for test scores, Freddie knew if he took his eye of the situation and fell short of perfect, Roger would grab the glory. The final straw was when they chased the same girl, and Freddie had to choose between continuing academic excellence or to follow his heart, at the end of the day she began to date Roger. Freddie chose academia, but never let the truth get in the way of an imagined slight, it was always somebody else fault than his own, and this was no exception. Then shame flowed over Freddie and it engulfed his entire being as he began to remember how he had behaved.
“So Freddie, do you recognise any faces, that’s your gang over there isn’t it? They all seem happy, achieved the same results in this image as they did on the day, so who do you think got the top honours? Oh, its one of your gang, do you remember Roger” Jack asked him gleefully, sensing a dark cloud descending on Freddie.
“Fucking Roger? How could he have come top? He had been dead for years, and I got the girl and won valedictorian, Fucking Roger? How?” Freddie screamed, now foaming at the mouth and showering everything in angry spit as spat these words out. Jack shot him a puzzled look, what had he done this time? And he once again pulled out his mobile, turning to Freddie he said..
“One second Freddie” as he turned and walked off to a quiet corner to make the call.
Once more after five minutes or so Jack said..
“Yeah, I tell him, yep got it, no worries” and finished with..
“Not sure how he going to take this one” he ended the call and returned his phone to his pocket, “Hahaha, one thing you can say about God is he knows how to run a mobile service, even here I have full signal, and none of those roaming charges, hahaha”, Jack desperately try to lighten the atmosphere…
“Ok Freddie, you might want to take a seat for this” he said pointing to a wooden bench, and Freddie sat, Jack remained standing and said..
“This might be a bit painful, so, you were intimidated by Roger, he was always hanging on the fringes of your crowd, you were worried he would replace you, then he got the girl you were after, and that hurt” Freddie nodded his head at every comment,
“The difference between you was, that Roger was generally a nice person, had never got a bad word to say about anyone. You on the other hand have a spiteful streak a mile wide” Freddie continued to nod at every statement, dreading how much Jack actually knew and wether his shameful attacks on Roger were his little secret, or not
“So, just like any other bully, you made his life hell, every day, without justification, just to protect your ego. In your Version Roger hung himself in his room, he could no longer take the bullying, his last year on the earth was spent paralysed by anxiety, depression and sadness. You caused that, no one else, you just battered him down until he felt he had no other options. You may well sit there and hang your head in shame, and cry until it hurts, you are dropping in my estimations of you, by the minute. In this version of life, he got the girl, he loved school, got in to Caltech and graduated top of his class, he developed a way to bring power and clean water to every isolated tribe he could find in Africa, South America, India and any where else they needed it. He created a drone that could remove CO2 from the atmosphere, thus bringing an end to global warning, and you for all intents and purposes killed him, yay go Freddie” he finished in a mocking high school cheerleader fashion. Freddie had been overcome by a numb sick feeling, he could not even muster the courage or energy to raise his eyes to meet Jacks.
“Right Freddie, your 2-0 down, you had better shit ice cream in the next vision, or I might just push you off that bridge myself, twat!” A flash of anger swept through Jack, which surprised him as much as it did Freddie. His raised his arm again and had a little chuckle to himself as Freddie flinched as he did so, once more he waved his hand and the surrounding changed once more.
This time they were greeted with a snowy street, in the front garden of 2300 Palomino road,
“Right Freddie, do you know where this is?” Jack asked bring his mood back down to helpful angel from vengeful demon,
“Yeah, its my house” Freddie said, almost loosing the will to live,
“What date is this one?” He asked trying to sound interested,
“This, me old china, is a week ago, your wife’s birthday, Do you want to take a closer look? There a bit of a party going on, sounds like a wild one” Jack said, feeling the party mood rising up his body, giving it a little soft shoe shuffle to the muffled beat.
“Nope, I don’t, I don’t even want to know what’s going on” Freddie said now in the pit of depression himself, with out a word Jack walked behind the old oak tree in the front garden. Freddie could hear him talking in muffled tones, and after five minutes he returned to Freddie………
“Eerrm, okay, well that’s not happened before. I do apologise, apparently you drove your wife to suicide a week ago, without you she had ‘a wonderful life’. Within a few days of this party she wins the lottery, proper big money hundreds of millions. She goes onto fund scholarships for underprivileged inner city kids, one will go on to be president of the USA, one is destined to be the first astronaut on Mars, every child who will succeeded off the back of this charity will contribute to the running of a consortium to improve schools in poor areas all over the country, I don’t know what else to say, you are a truly bad person, who has systematically destroyed people who had a major role to play in creating a better life for people, your human cancer.” with out a single word Jack raised his arm and waved his hand, and they were back on the bridge looking down on the now snow covered river, Jack spoke,
“Erm, do you need a push?”