By James Churchill
“Are you sure you’re ok?” the voice asked with calm concern. Jack, his face miserable and his lips pouted downwards as he stared into the black waters of the Menai below, nodded.
“Give me a moment,” he replied. “I just need some time to think is all…” He listened quietly as the sound of the waters flowing beneath the bridge was interrupted by the noise of a car speeding around the roundabout at the northern end of the bridge before tearing past him in a blaze of speed. No doubt it was somebody drunk, somebody who thought they could get away with driving under the influence. The joke was on them though. Jack had passed a speed trap outside that funny looking Italianate villa just up the road not five minutes before. The thought of the driver being pulled over and arrested made his lips curl into a slight, wicked grin for a moment. At least somebody besides himself was going to be miserable that night.
“Is that a smile Jack Joyce?” the voice breathed in his ear. “That’s a smile! You see… Things aren’t so bad as they seem.”
“Fuck off,” Jack replied, returning to bitterness. “I just want to be on my own.”
“I’m not leaving until I know you’re alright,” the voice snapped back. Jack looked up at the star lit sky and sneered.
“I’ll be fine… Just fuck off,” he repeated. This time the voice stayed silent, allowing Jack his much needed time to think.
Things hadn’t been going the right way for a long time now, not since his old landlord had spitefully decided not to renew the contract on his former residence. It had been a nice, pleasant house and all, located on Ambrose street just opposite the Presbyterian church and within spitting distance of both the Mostyn AND the Nelson. It had both a front and rear garden which Jack had tended to almost religiously and it had all the other things one could ever want or wish for. Overall it hadn’t been much but at least it had been home. Since leaving that place he had been living in a grubby end of terrace opposite the Home Bargains on Caernarfon road and it was a truly awful place to live. The decoration and the fittings were poor. They were rotten and peeling and falling apart and in dire need of replacing. There was damp creeping up the walls and the drains were in an equally terrible condition, flooding whenever it rained and stinking to heaven whenever it wasn’t. And the landlord didn’t seem to care at all. Jack had complained about the damp and the furnishings several times already and each time he had been waved away with a half hearted claim that it was going to be sorted soon. It never was. Meanwhile, at all hours of the day and night, the traffic on the road outside screamed past at ridiculous speeds, rattling the windows and shaking the building down to the foundations. And the neighbours… Dear god… If any people in the world ever deserved a slap it was those two. Each night they screamed and they ranted at each other for increasingly trivial reasons, often ending up throwing things such as plates and bowls other crockery at the wall. And following these arguments, every Saturday morning dead on the strike of ten, the lady of the house next door would cross the road to Home Bargains and ten minutes later she would return carrying a stack of fresh crockery. Jack often thought, when he witnessed this scene from his window, that in the long term it would be far cheaper for the couple to divorce rather than continue to buy a whole new set of crockery every week. It was either that or buy plastic crockery that wouldn’t break when it hit the walls.
As awful as his house was there were times when Jack could find it tolerable. Some of the neighbours arguments were quite amusing to say the least and he was slowly getting used to the noise of the traffic. He was even starting to find his old and broken furniture comfortable. The trouble was that it was now all he had and when he realized this it saddened him. His friends, of which he had once had many, had all left the city for new pastures and greener opportunities and he had been left behind. There was always Facebook to keep in touch but, like with the city itself, all his friends had drifted away from the site and now only used it to tell people how great they were finding their new job and their new friends in London or wherever they had ended up. It made Jack bitter because he didn’t even have a job of his own anymore, not since they had closed Dickies down at the end of the previous month to make way for a new housing development. The company had only moved up the road to Porth Penrhyn but in order to help ease the costs of the move the managers claimed a redundancy was required and the chose Jack to face the firing squad. He had searched the city from end to end and further for a replacement job but nothing had been forthcoming. And so as the days began to pass, lying on his moth eaten couch and watching Jeremy Kyle shout at Chavs, he had become steadily more depressed and that night he finally decided that enough was enough.
First of all he had written a short note on his Facebook wall explaining the situation to his far away friends, not that they would ever read it, and following this he had headed out for one final pint in Yr Undeb, a place he had come to cherish as a quiet haven away from the endless throngs of irritating university students. He sat alone in the corner, not talking to anyone and he had savoured every last drop of his bitter. Upon leaving the pub he decided to take one last, long walk around the city he held close to his heart. He walked under the railway bridge and then down the high street, passing all of the pubs he had spent so much time in over the years. It was karaoke night at the Harp and the usual cacophony of tone deaf students floated through the door as he passed by. The usual crowd of lardy middle aged men were hanging around outside Fat Cats and, as was normal, the place that had once been called ‘O’sheas’ had been closed down. Jack walked on past the clock tower and towards Dean street, making sure to walk on the opposite side of the road to all of the people who were stumbling their way towards Octagon. It was a locals night so the crowd appeared to mostly made up of teenage girls, all screaming and acting as though tonight were the last night of the world. For himself, Jack thought, it most likely was. He took a glance at Oscars as he passed and wondered for the last time if it was, as he had assumed, a gay bar. He had always intended to find out but now supposed that he never would.
He passed on into the Hirael district and down the silent terraces of Friars road before turning onto Ambrose Street. The usual crowd of smokers were grouped outside the Mostyn but Jack had paid them no heed. Instead he stood and gazed lovingly at his former home before reluctantly heading on down to Beach Road and to the silent and ghostly boatyard where he had formerly worked. At the corner he turned onto Garth road and walked down to the sealed iron gates of the pier before turning and walking towards the main university building where he spent a great deal of time on the terrace, watching the lights of the city and dreaming of days gone by. At last he made the final stretch of his journey down college road and then along Holyhead Road, where he had passed the speed trap, before finally coming to a halt in the middle of the Menai Bridge.
His reflections over, Jack pressed a hand against the railings. It was cold to the touch but to him it felt wonderful. His thoughts of how it had all come to pass had cleared his head of misery and now he knew that he was doing the right thing. He knew, as his fingers gripped the icy railing, that this would be one of the last sensations he experienced. He knew that he would never feel anything else, not even when he ended it all. The sudden chill of hitting the waters of the Menai would knock all feeling from his body and everything would fade to black before he was even aware of what was happening. Things would be quick and painless. Jack would no longer suffer and that pleased him.
“You don’t have to do this you know…” the voice explained.
“Yes I do…” Jack snapped back, placing his other hand on the railing and feeling the cold of the metal running through his fingers.
“Things will get better Jack… It won’t be long… Trust me.” Jack didn’t respond. He didn’t have to listen to that preaching if he didn’t want to. What did it know anyway? It knew nothing. It didn’t know that things were going to get better. There was a strong chance that things would get even worse. Jack could end up out on his ear again, this time with nowhere else to go except the streets. He might yet become one of those people who sat outside Morrisons playing the same three chorded tune on a broken old flute. Any number of things might happen and every scenario he could imagine was terrible. All Jack could see was a bleak and desolate future with no hope and no chance. This, in his mind, was the only way to avoid all that. The only way was to finish things, add a full stop at the end of the sentence.
“Jack… Please…” the voice begged.
“I’ve made up my mind,” Jack told it. “You can’t stop me…”
“Jack…” the voice pleaded once more. Jack paid it no heed and placed both feet onto the bottom railing.
He looked out over the straits ahead of him. The Britannia bridge was all lit up and glowing in the distance but all around it was darkness. The only other light came from the Menai bridge around him and it lit up the water immediately beneath his feet. Jack looked at the water and gave it an approving nod.
“Jack… Don’t do this…” The voice had now taken on a warning tone. Jack felt a hand touching his arm, trying to hold him back, but he knew there was nothing there. There was nobody besides him and there never had been. It was all in his head. Jack breathed in deeply…