When the Moment
by Mike Hickman
Maybe it was like this, he thinks.
Maybe it will be like this for me, too.
When the moment comes.
The town had never looked more beautiful. From up here, Matthew could see the spire of the church at the end of his road. (Would he have turned to God at the end? Would God have occupied his thoughts at all?) It was so close he felt he could reach out and touch it. Or maybe he wished that it could touch him. After what had happened. And what had brought him here.
I suspect that Matthew’s feelings may just have run out. I suspect that Matthew hadn’t eyes for the scenery at all. With just one exception.
No, two exceptions.
If that was me up there, I wouldn’t be able to avoid the sight for long. Particularly after something so very senseless had happened out there.
The wind was getting up now and it blew his hair into his eyes. Ordinarily, Matthew would be bothered by this, would stop to fuss it all back into position. Not now, though. It wasn’t what people thought of him that mattered anymore, even though he knew what had been said and what would continue to be said, whatever he did now.
Just one more.
Maybe Matthew had been more alive in this moment than he had ever been, tuned in to everything around him, the sounds of the main road, the impatience of the cars, the shouts and cries of the kids coming into town after school.
Maybe he had time to hope that they wouldn’t make anything like the same mistakes.
Matthew shifted his weight slightly, moved his hand down the rough, rusted scaffolding pole and let himself feel the pull, as if he was toying with it, as if that was all this was. A game. And one he had been losing for far too long now. Ever since. If only he knew when since.
His mind flitted back to the playground of his own youth and the eight year old him clambering round the black painted railings at its periphery – the ancient paintwork almost as rough as the pole he was now holding onto. He could feel it even now. (Is that too much? Is that what happens at a time like this? I’m trying to put myself up there with him, but is that really where his mind would have gone? Is that where my mind would go in the same circumstances?) He would work his way round, ignored by the other kids, tolerated as eccentric and harmless by the staff on duty. He’d pretend he was a thousand feet up, with monsters or aliens or sharks snapping at his heels, all the while playing at being the superhero, fake-fur trimmed anorak whipping in the breeze and his sister looking on at him with her friends, despairing of her older brother and his serious lack of cool.
Just one more step.
And, oh God, how he was sorry for her too.
Matthew would have thought of those he loved, wouldn’t he?
Those he loved most of all.
That would be why. The reason. When they were asked later. Those he left behind.
It won’t matter, he thought.
The gust of wind, when it came, was powerful enough to send him over the edge. He held firm, he breathed, he regained his balance, the horizon dancing dizzyingly around him until it steadied, leveled out, and he found himself looking directly at the one part of town his eyes had thus far entirely avoided.
He would have had to look there eventually. He would have felt its pull. After what had happened there. What he had not been able to prevent.
Matthew shut his eyes, but it didn’t help. It never helped. The river wasn’t going anywhere. It was there when he woke, each and every day. It was the first thing he thought of, as if he needed the reminder, as if his subconscious didn’t trust him. As if it knew it had good cause not to.
Why wasn’t I there that night? How could I not have known?
How could I have let it happen?
“There was nothing you could have done. She made her own mind up. There was no sign.”
There can be no doubt Matthew took those words up there with him, can there? Because, you see, they were wrong. He should have known.
There had been signs.
He had known that she wasn’t happy.
He had known a great deal more than that.
So to tell him that there was nothing he could have done, maybe nothing he could have even said…
The words had settled everything and brought him here.
He must have looked up at the block on his way into the station. He must have noticed the scaffolding was still up. He must have had the thought.
And once you have had the thought…
Just one more.
He’d thought someone might have looked up, but even now, they were just going about their lives as if he wasn’t here. There was not a face to be seen in the buildings opposite. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It was probably best for them.
One step. Just one. And, in that moment, everything, all the pain, all of it, would be dealt with. Just one moment, and everything leading up to it, everything that had gone so very wrong these few weeks, would be gone. It was so simple, thinking of it like this. Reducing everything to a binary decision.
As his sister had been faced with her own binary decision.
Yes or no. One foot forward or not.
Which had it been for her?
Which had she chosen? Had she known which was which? How could anyone have helped her if she hadn’t? How could he have helped when he didn’t know himself?
Just one more step.
It must have happened so quickly.
It wasn’t the wind that sent him over, but the tiniest, involuntary movement of his foot. Matthew had wanted to reduce everything to one step, but the choice was taken for him.
The few who saw him fall didn’t even know, to begin with, what they were seeing. There was no sound. Not even when he hit the ground. Until someone, somewhere, started screaming. Bystanders rushed towards the broken figure even as others backed away, seeking out strangers for comfort as a babble of voices faded up from the silence, frantic calls were made on mobile phones, the emergency services were summoned.
Too late to do anything for him.
Maybe it was like this, Matthew thinks, as he looks up at the scaffolding and he has the thought.
And maybe it will be like this for him, too.
After the river.
When the moment comes.
Mike Hickman is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio) and has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review.