– Hello, Samaritans, can I help you?
The line buzzed and, below that, breathing, faint and faraway.
– That’s okay. Take your time. There’s no rush.
At the edge of hearing, an intake of breath, the prelude to speech. But it failed to arrive.
– I’m happy to wait until you’re ready. Whenever you feel ready…
– I just… I need to… to talk to someone. Someone who’ll actually bloody listen.
– Of course. Of course. I can do that. That’s what-
– “you’re here for”. Bloody hell. This is stupid.
– No. No, I’m sorry. Why don’t you talk? You phoned to talk, so please… just talk.
There was only his breathing again, like the distant sawing of old wood.
– Just, whatever you’d like to say, you can say it now.
– I’ve got nothing left. Anna’s taking everything: the house, the kids, the car, the fucking dogs. Bitch.
– Are you going through a divorce?
– Going through? Fucking dragged through, more like. I’m going grey here. She’s going to have me in an early grave.
– Okay. I can talk you through some options, if you’d like.
– Options? I don’t have options, mate. Why do you think I’m calling you? I don’t need legal advice, I need to hear one solid, logical reason not to kill myself and save myself any more bother.
– I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that, I meant-
There’s another voice on the line, or he’s talking to himself.
– Yeah, I’m still here. Heh. You won’t believe this – now I’m running out of credit on my mobile. That’s just rich. She hasn’t even left me enough money to call you to talk me out of killing myself. She couldn’t plan it better if she tried.
– Okay, well, I can-
– No, mate. It’s alright. I’m calling from the garden of the pub. I can walk home from here.
– Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Maybe you could take some time, think it over for a bit?
– No. I’ve done too much thinking. There’s nothing else to do, I just want to sleep.
– Is it busy, the pub? Is there someone there you can talk to, get a lift home?
– It’s the Southerton Arms. They know me here. They’d probably try to stop me from killing myself if I had a go at it.
– Are you sure you’re okay, then? You know you can call back if you need to talk.
– Yeah, I’m well. I just needed to get it off my chest a bit, you know? Everyone in the pub is avoiding the subject with me, when all I want is to talk it out a bit.
– Okay. I hope it’s helped a little. You should go back in and see your friends, maybe. Bring the subject up. You never know.
– Yeah, I could try that.
– Of course, that would be-
The line dies. Out of credit. Poor bastard.
* * *
The Southerton Arms is one of those town centre pubs that looks like it used to be a residential house. If you spruced it up a little, it would be a dive. Only buildings with oak beams and fireplaces big enough to roast whole pigs in should be allowed to call themselves public houses.
At closing time, a straggle of men spill out onto the street. No women, no couples; just single lonely men, and each of them walks home alone.
I know him when I see him. He’s still dressed in his work shirt and trousers, tie undone, hanging unfastened either side of his neck, like a noose he hasn’t figured out yet.
He stands outside the pub as if there’s some last bit of chat and camaraderie to be gained, but he stands alone. The others move away like dropped marbles and almost every one works on lighting a cigarette as they go; they leave him there with unspoken goodbyes on his lips and a dying light in his eyes and they take even that with them when they go.
He passes by the car park and then makes to turn up a small side road. I curse loudly and drop the car jack onto the back edge of the van’s bumper, where it drops to the road. Obviously, he stops and turns at the sudden noise, but he makes no move towards me. I kick the jack furiously away from me and he now turns completely in my direction and he’s mine.
* * *
– It sounds like a tough time, no doubt about it.
We’re sitting on the low wall that parallels the road and he’s just gone through the same story I’ve already heard once before this evening. Up close, he’s younger than he looks: the grey that streaks his thinning hair is almost silver and would look distinguished on someone more imposing. He hasn’t revealed his occupation yet, but it’s not manual from the look of him. He’s perfect.
– You’re not wrong there. She’s going to end up with the lot and I’ll be lucky to walk out of court still wearing the clothes I’ll walk in with.
When he talks, there’s a wisp of something from deep inside him. I remember the rasping breath on the phone. He doesn’t know he’s dying, he just thinks he is.
– Look, let me give you a lift home. It’s the least I can do for your help.
– Yeah. Okay, mate. Thanks.
I walk to the doors of the van and open them. He picks up the deflated tyre and brings it round, lifting it up to the back without looking inside. As soon as the rubber touches down, the needle goes in at the base of the skull and he falls forward. Nothing more spectacular than that. It’s as if there’s no real life to take.
I drag him into the van and roll him over onto his back. In the last moments, his pupils still expand in the dimness and I can see it all in there before it goes. What’s your story, I wonder. Why does this mean so little to you when it’s everything to me?
I talk to him as I prepare. I ease his shoes and socks off and open the work chest.
– It’s alright. I’m going to make it all new. We can start all over again.
* * *
I make sure that I have the rock with me before I start the careful drive to the park. It’s secure in my coat pocket, the weight of it really very reassuring, but I take it out and look at it one last time all the same. I trace a fingertip lovingly over the symbols etched carefully into its surface. Placing this next to the body will finish the piece wonderfully.
As I drive, the melancholy returns. Just once, if only for a second, I wish to see some fire in their eyes, a rage, defiance. I want to find someone who will cling so fiercely to life that they’ll take mine in order to do so.
The headlights and streetlights run and smear. The late night traffic ebbs and flows. The city has a pulse. I just want to find the heart.
I want to be killed by someone who loves life as much as I do.
Then I can stop.