Jan/Feb 2014  •   Fiction


by J.R. Dawson

Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream

You died this morning.

I saw you fall. You stood on the edge of the apartment complex, and you threw yourself off.

You didn't know I was watching. You didn't know I existed. But I saw you hesitate right before you did it, and that meant you had to push yourself with even more gusto to get yourself to actually move, actually do it, actually do something in your God damned life—I think I saw that thought flash across your face right before you did it.

I tried to shout something out, but you moved too fast, or I didn't move fast enough. Maybe I didn't think you'd really do it. Or maybe I saw you hesitate, and I thought you'd maybe pull yourself back up.

You didn't. You died.

It happened faster than either of us thought it would go. You dropped like a bag of bricks, like you were made out of pure lead. You unceremoniously splatted on the ground. An unforgivable thunk, chunks of meat flying everywhere like you were just a big old bag of flesh and organs and nothing special.

That's how you felt, wasn't it?

The cops came. And then everyone else started looking, so they could see what it looks like when someone jumps. They took pictures on their phones. I wanted to yell at them. But I didn't, because I was still inside, and I didn't think it was any of my business.

But I stayed with you from my window. I watched until they covered you up and took you away. I felt like I'd been there at the beginning with you, and I couldn't leave you now.

It happened quick. I think that surprised the both of us. You put all that work into a life, and you can end it without much effort.

But I had to step away around noon. I had a lunch date with Margaret. You wouldn't have liked her. She isn't a nice person, and I only eat lunch with her because I don't have anyone else to eat lunch with. But Margaret went on and on about some stupid car she's looking to buy, and I didn't tell her about you.

I think you would've been a good lunch buddy. I think you would've talked about more interesting things than car sales. I think you saw things other people don't see. You would've told me a funny anecdote you heard the other day, or maybe a fun fact about outer space. Or maybe you would've just asked me how my day was going. Or maybe, we would have just eaten in silence, smiling once in a while over our salads because we weren't eating salads alone and we were in the company of people who knew it was okay to not talk.

I thought about you while I walked back to work. I thought about you skipping over cracks in the sidewalk when you were a kid, and whether or not you'd been a puddle jumper. What you wanted to be when you grew up. Why you hadn't been that when you grew up. Who your mom was, and if she knew yet.

I wondered if you liked umbrellas, or if you perpetually forgot to grab one.

I was soaked by the time I got to my desk, and I spent most of the afternoon staring out my window at the blood splatter you left in the parking lot as it resisted being erased the rain. It was a lot of blood. I don't think you were expecting that.

I thought about you coming to visit me in the office. I saw you leaning over me and my desk and bracing your palms on the windowsill with a whistle.

"Jesus," you'd say, or if you were the type who didn't use that word, "Gosh," you'd say, "I made a mess."

I bet you always felt like you were making a mess. That you always felt like you were in the way. Maybe that's why you never came to anyone and told them what was wrong enough to shove you off a ledge with such gusto. I know I saw you in the parking lot once, and then at the grocery store maybe a year ago. You didn't even look at me. I barely looked at you.

But what if we'd talked? What if we'd gone to the pizza parlor and gotten a slice and talked about how awful the winter had been this year? What if a few months later, we snuggled up for an awful movie we both loved, no matter how ridiculous Tom Cruise acted? What if a few months after that, I'd found you alone in your room and asked you to come take a walk with me. What if I held your hand, and you knew you weren't standing there alone?

A simple conversation could have stopped it. The right smile in the right aisle of the grocery store.

And I wondered if you ever looked in the mirror and realized how handsome you were. If you knew how much blood you would leave behind if you really did it. Or how fast it would go. Did you know once you jumped, you wouldn't be able to slow down?

I wondered if you ever looked out your apartment window and saw me sitting over here typing away, and I was just so busy, I just assumed you had everything under control. I didn't check to see if you were looking.

I left work around four, and I walked to the parking lot. They still had your splatter taped off, and so I didn't get to properly say goodbye. But I tried to give you a small smile before getting in my car.

I sat in my living room tonight, watching Seinfeld reruns and thinking about all the people you hadn't met. Thinking about how next week could've been the best day of your life. You could have met the girl who would have loved you, or maybe we could've finally said something to each other at the grocery store. Maybe you would've gone on an interesting trip, or maybe you would've woken up tomorrow and thought to yourself, "I can do this."

I wondered if you ever watched Seinfeld, and could we have texted about it?

"I don't know how I feel about George," you'd say.

And after a few texts, I'd say, "Maybe we can watch the next episode together."

"I'd like that."

It's in the quiet, simple moments we find friends in strangers. The louder times are left for when we lose them. Unless we didn't find them in the first place; then I don't know how it sounds. Maybe like a loud thunk, followed by silence.

On Monday, I'll go back to work. And the splatter will be nearly faded away. The world will continue on, just as you thought it would. But I wonder if you knew I would never stop watching the parking lot, even after I moved from that job to another.

And if you had known that, would you have hesitated long enough to talk yourself out of falling?