An ordinary night, perfectly ordinary.
He’d known for some time about his disease, although he wasn’t in the terminal stages of it just yet. Had, apparently, about a year left to him without treatment. However, although he had flashes of pain now and then, he seemed to hold onto the hope that – with treatment – it would flee into remission.
Stepping out to return some rented DVDs and buy a small amount of groceries (ordinary, everyday things not forgotten and flying in the face of what was happening to him, his way of telling it you won’t beat me), he tells his girlfriend that he might be a while.
She is optimistic that the cancer will be forced out of his body and into oblivion, both because of the fact that they’d found out about it so early, and the new course of drugs the doctors had placed him on – which held the possibility of curing nearly eighty per cent of people with his type of the disease.
As he hits the street that night, the cancer is the last thing on his mind, although it is never far from the back of his thoughts.
Nonetheless, he’s tried to maintain a positive outlook on things.
Thus, when he sees a young woman struggling with several bags full of groceries, trying not to lose what’s left after one of the bags split, he offers to help her with the outlook of a cheerful Samaritan.
She accepts his offer, is pleased for his help.
She’s about the same age as him … and quite attractive.
As they walk, making general conversation and introducing themselves, mentioning (generally) where they live and whatnot, the woman senses … something … about the man, but mentions nothing. She continues what is now a façade of normality, which seems genuine enough that he notices nothing out of the ordinary – at least consciously.
Subconsciously, though, his mind … tingles.
Pleasantly, he finds that it’s only about a kilometer to her home, a set of units not too many streets removed from his own. He’d walked past them in the past, but had never actually been in them. The most magnificent units in the area, he’d thought once, and – now that he was up close – these thoughts are confirmed.
He helps her directly to her front door. She invites him in for coffee.
No harm in it, he figures, and he could use the caffeine.
There he meets her two flat-mates – also women – also the same age, also attractive and intelligent.
They show him through the huge unit, which is panelled in dark wood, with the earth-toned carpeting and many indoor plants being succoured by the large amount of natural light streaming in from the huge picture windows and multiple skylights.
Brobdingnagian paintings line the walls, many with women in them; looking up at the moon, or standing with arms outstretched under tremendous trees at night.
As they sit, drink good coffee and converse the man gets the feeling that the woman he first met seems to like him, is attracted to him – that there is some sort of curiously strong bond quickly forming between them.
Aware of the possibility that it could merely be nothing more than some (vaguely) buried male wish-fulfillment fantasy, he nevertheless begins to look at her from a different point of view.
The other women seem to know of his feelings in a way that he doesn’t, the knowledge passing between them like a secret in a schoolyard.
Strange thoughts pass through the man’s head as he begins entertaining fantasies about all three of the women.
They offer him wine, and, as the evening progresses, they all become – apparently – progressively more drunk.
Soon, they are all in the bedroom, stretched out on the king-sized double.
Their clothes are on, and they haven’t actually made any sort of physical contact aside from the occasional hand touching as the women led the man throughout the house over the course of the evening. Nevertheless, in the man’s mind, something intimate has passed between them – even if he doesn’t quite know what it was, aside from the fact that it was warm and made his head swim.
Or was that just the wine, and the effect it was having on him as it intermingled with his medication?
He seems to drift away as they whisper to him, saying things he doesn’t understand, using words he doesn’t know.
He wakes to find himself wandering through the streets of the city.
It is still night, and the city is fairly well populated with weekend revellers touring the nightclubs and pubs on offer. Cars flow down busy arterials and music blares and melds with shouts of amusement or anger from people nearby. The proclamations of Announcers and DJs echo throughout the bustling night, escaping through passing car windows into the unnatural maze.
The man finds himself leaning on a wall near a bus shelter, unable to remember what happened earlier.
The realization of time hits him with a gut-churning start.
He remembers his girlfriend waiting for him back home. She must be out of her mind with worry – he’d just stepped out for a few minutes!
Although he doesn’t remember what happened to him since he stepped out, he doesn’t let this curious lack of short-term memory bother him, as thoughts of his girlfriend’s worry overwhelm his mind – so much so that he doesn’t even think to reach into his pocket for his mobile phone to call her.
In his confusion, he also neglects to find a public phone.
It’s not too hard to understand – he doesn’t even realize that when he stepped out it wasn’t the weekend that it now, obviously, is.
Stumbling through the streets of the city in a daze like so many others (yet completely unlike them), he walks up to a complete stranger and asks him for a smoke, even though he’s never smoked in his life. The stranger says that he gave his last spares to his friend – a shabby man standing nearby, who gives him a sideways nod with raised eyebrows; Too bad, pal.
The man continues walking, finding himself standing near a curved, two-lane, one-way road, packed with fast-moving traffic sailing past and hissing at him as it does so. Some of the metal beasts growl as they head off into the dark city labyrinths.
Across the road is another bus shelter.
No busses this late – none dare, not in this city – so he waits for a lull in the traffic while trying to hail one of the many taxis going past.
None, however, stop, the drivers giving a shake of the head to indicate that they’re on their way to pick up someone else, or else indicating the passenger in the back or shotgun seat – or ignoring him completely.
Taxi in use – drive on.
The man crosses the road and tries to hail a cab from there.
More speed past with the same response.
A subdued franticism roiling inside, he feels the desperate urge to get home, to contact his girlfriend, and figures that – with no taxis stopping – the only thing he can do to facilitate this is walk.
Unfortunately, it’s apparently a long way to his unit from where he currently is, and it still doesn’t occur to him to find a public phone (this time to book a taxi for his location).
Suddenly, his location changes.
He finds himself on the edge of a building.
It doesn’t cross his mind how he somehow managed to gain access to a building at night and climb onto the roof, let alone how he came to be standing on the edge of it, the street so far below. Something in the back of his mind mingling with the ever-present whisper of cancer-thoughts tells him that the night has been like that – fragmented, strange.
A powerful wind seems to threaten him into the oblivion below, but he hangs on to a slightly loose and dirty pipe jutting from the side of the elevator-housing he stands near.
Feeling somewhat depressed and not too clear-headed, he thinks the word, cancer again – and decides to jump.
Wind rushes past him at incredible speed, the noise an almost invigorating pressure as it fills his ears.
He can see the sights and sounds of the city hurtling up at him and realizes with a sudden clarity that he now belongs to a select elite. Even though he can’t really hear anything above the searing wind of his descent, the shouts, the blasts of horns and engine-noise, the music, the screams, the lights of the city all nevertheless manage to blast at him from his impendingly-terminal vantage point, like a tidal wave against an ant as he relishes the fact that he is (however briefly) where so few have ever been. So many have never experienced the city from this perspective, this angle. So many will never be buffeted by this whirl of sensation.
Sensation which stops …
Lights stop moving on the ground, music stops, engine noises cease, shouts shut up, and even the wind stops tearing past him …
… as his descent itself stops.
On a nearby rooftop, someone says that he has a chance for his life to be turned around.
He attempts to look over to the speaker, sure that the female voice is familiar as he hangs – inexplicably – in mid-air, but his fall is suddenly begun again, then arrested after a second – as if to catch his attention.
Realizing that he could be doing something in his life differently, the man stops looking for the speaker …
… and starts listening.
The voice whispers over to him – saying things he doesn’t understand, using words he doesn’t know …
… and he does, indeed, listen.
When the words have finished, the man considers;
Do I want my life turned ‘round?
He ponders this for a few seconds.
Then everything goes black.
Far from an ending … it’s a beginning.
Copyright © 2007 by David Scott Aubrey
All Rights Reserved
This short story is a work of fiction. Any and all names, characters and/or incidents are either products of my imagination or are used fictitiously. Where any such resemblance may exist to actual persons (living or dead), actual events or locales, it is purely coincidental.
Please don’t assume that my characters speak for me or carry my own opinions on various matters in any way, shape or form (though some might – you never can tell).