This story is by Brian Montgomery and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leaving the homeless shelter for the last time, Bill stepped out into the misty rain. He tugged his coat collar up against the cold drops trickling down his neck. He didn’t look back.
Guilt, mixed with anger and regret created a bitter cocktail which had become too much for him to endure.
There was no urgency on this final journey. Bill’s socks squelched in his leaking shoes as he trudged to the bus stop. His malevolent black dog derided him. A flickering movie played inside his head; a reprise of his past mistakes. A dumb one-night fling wrecked his marriage and cost him his beautiful 8-year-old son. He shook his head to purge the images.
As the bus roved its way into the city, inching through the dense traffic, he considered his plan. He’d get off, find a bridge and jump, but not before dark. He didn’t want anyone to talk him out of it. If hitting the Thames didn’t kill him, he would drown. The water would finish the job.
It wasn’t so much that he wanted to die, as to stop living.
After the divorce his son visited him each Saturday at his flat; he craved those few precious hours. The boy found it hard, he loved his dad and he often asked if he’d caused it. Bill assured him it wasn’t his fault but finally, he revealed the truth. His son was collateral damage of his stupid affair; a callous way to describe casualties.
His wife found out, she was furious and stopped his access. Bill lost his son.
He descended into a dark place where he met his evil black dog. It inhabited his troubled mind: scoffing, mocking and taunting him. He refused to seek help, instead he soaked in a comforting bath of self-pity. He’d lost his job, his flat and until today his home was the unit. It wasn’t a home.
The images of his son began to fade which saddened him. His black dog told him to forget the boy. Bill was alone, making his final decision easy. As easy as any resolve to end your life could be, that is.
His fingers cleared a patch on the steamed-up bus window to see where he was, he rang the bell, lurched down the aisle and off the bus. The street was unfamiliar, only the rain the same, but it wasn’t far from the river.
Crowds of people thronged the street, umbrellas up, focused on getting to where they had to go on this dark, miserable winter’s afternoon. The cheerful lights in the shops reflected an optimism on the wet pavement which Bill didn’t share. The conditions were perfect, his body would never be discovered tonight, or maybe ever. He’d disappear without trace.
His son didn’t need him any more Bill believed, he was nineteen now; the best part of his marriage. The persistent rain masked his tears.
The remnants of his worthless life were packed in a small, brown suitcase on the lino floor under his bed in the unit, along with a short note, and a letter to his son.
The crowds jostled him as he shuffled along the wet pavement, cursing him as they all tried to move faster.
The rain soaked him, but his destination would be wetter than any rain.
Traffic vied for precious inches of wet road space, horns blared, wipers slapped on wet windscreens, like tears being cleared only to form again. Calm engulfed Bill, he looked up into the slate-grey sky, the rain mingled with his tears, it was nearly time.
His eyes were closed, and when he opened them the man in front had stopped dead, Bill stumbled to avoid a collision but pulled up in time to see him on the edge of the curb, about to walk in front of the fast-approaching red, London double-decker bus. He saw his eyes connect with the bus driver before stepping off.
He lunged for the man’s wet coat, it almost slipped through his grasp, but he held firm as the bus honked and braked hard. Bill wrenched as hard as could, careening him backwards onto the wet pavement, his head hit the solid surface with a sickening thud. The bus hit Bill’s shoulder a glancing blow as it stopped.
The unconscious man lay in a pool of dark blood spreading out from his head. People stopped and stared but no one moved. Bill pulled off his coat, laid it down and turned the man over onto his back, then knelt beside him. “Call an ambulance!” He yelled at no one in particular.
Deep shadows shrouded the man’s face, Bill shoved his wet hood back and leaned in close. He couldn’t feel or hear breathing. He lifted his head back, put his fingers into his open mouth to clear his airway, then started CPR. He heard someone say, “Yuk! It wouldn’t be me, he could have anything.”
Bill stifled an urge to punch whoever said it but carried on. He wasn’t worried about catching anything, why should he? The water in the river made him immune.
He counted the compressions in his head, delivered two rescue breaths, then carried on. Sweat mixed with rain and tears ran down his face; no one could see his pain. The man coughed and drew in several deep gulps of air, then he breathed. Bill rolled him into the recovery position and looked down at him. The grimy face of a twenty something-year-old lay there, eyes closed, his messy blond hair soaked and matted with blood. Bill’s black dog grumbled inside him, a shiver trickled down his spine; adrenalin he assumed.
An ambulance arrived with the police. Blood still flowed from the man’s head wound. Paramedics wheeled him to the waiting ambulance, alive and breathing. At least I did something useful on my last day on earth, he thought.
“You saved his life sir.” The voice startled him. A young, fresh-faced policeman smiled at him, rain dripping off the rim of his black helmet onto his ubiquitous notebook.
“I guess so, I did my best but…”
“You did save his life sir, he’s a lucky boy.”
“I did a course once.” Bill said wistfully.
“Did you notice if he had a cell phone in his hand?”
“No, definitely not.”
“I suppose that’s what he planned to do then.”
Those words froze Bill in a way the cold rain couldn’t. The boy had tried to commit suicide, he’d stopped him. Would he thank him or hate him? Either way it wouldn’t matter to him. Perhaps the boy would be glad to have been saved, and seek help. Maybe I should have done that?
A paramedic led him to the ambulance. Traffic ground to a standstill, everyone furious; how inconvenient that someone had jumped in front of a bus.
The welcome warmth of the ambulance embraced him as he climbed inside and sat. He insisted he’d be fine and just wanted to go.
“The driver told us the bus hit you, and you’re soaked through. You could catch your death out there.” Bill smiled at the irony.
They checked him out, he was bruised, but nothing else. He shuddered, they wrapped him in a space blanket. Something had changed, a peculiar feeling coursed through him, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.
On the narrow bed opposite him, the boy lay with his eyes tightly shut. The sight of his blood-soaked hair made Bill’s tears return. He focused hard on his breathing as he watched his mask, fog and clear.
“Why would he want to do that?” Bill said.
“We get around six a week, mostly younger, we save a few but the majority…
The ones from the river are awful, it’s usually a while before we get them, by then it’s ugly.”
“What about the ones you do save?”
“In most cases they’re happy to be alive but some go straight back out and succeed the next time. The worst ones are the jumpers, they’re dead the second they step off, there’s no coming back from that.”
The paramedic checked the boy again.
“Will he be OK?” Bill asked.
“We’ll scan his skull, but tomorrow he’ll have an epic headache. Right, that’s all we can do for him now. I need your details please.”
“I told you I’d be fine, you could’ve saved yourself the work.”
“You’re soaked through, they’ll check you out again at the E.D. and dry your clothes, then you’ll be good to go. Your name please?”
“It’s Bill, I mean William, Aitcheson with an ‘e’.”
The paramedic stopped writing and looked up at him.
“Aitcheson did you say?”
“Do you know an Andrew Aitcheson?”
“Yes, my son is Andrew.”
“This, is Andrew Aitcheson,” he said, pointing at the boy.
Bill took the offered, dog-eared driver’s licence, it was indeed his boy on the bed.
His black dog snarled and scuttled off. Its job with Bill was over.