By Dr. Jan Birley
Kenneth had thought about jumping on more than one occasion, but that's all it had been - a thought. Until now. Right now he was facing a two hundred feet drop off the Glass Building on Park Square in the centre of Leeds. A very prestigious address to jump from. And that infrequent though was now smack bang in the centre of his universe.
His knuckles, white with tension round the cold rail belied his insistence to himself that he wanted to do this. His arms were stretched, taught behind him as he faced away from the roof and safety to the drop below him. The ledge was about two feet wide, but at this time it felt to Kenneth more like two inches. He shuffled his feet a little to confirm his purchase on solid ground. He wondered about the fall. He tried not to - he didn't want to find any reason not to jump, but he couldn't help wondering. Will I die of fright before I land? This was the question on his mind at the moment. He'd heard that somewhere, that jumpers don't actually die on impact. Somehow that seemed better. Crystals of sweat broke on his forehead and neck and chilled quickly in the crisp November wind. Even up here, the air held traces of that city stench that Kenneth had grown steadily to hate. His heart pounded, the sound almost perceptible, echoing through his ears.
He brought the image of Fiona to his mind and all he saw was her deep blue accusing eyes. A sharp gust of wind caught him and his balance faltered. Fiona's glaring eyes dissolved and Kenneth gasped with fright. The pearls of sweat on his forehead dribbled into tiny tracks.
Steadying himself Kenneth tightened his grip again on the bar behind him and took a deep breath as he peered down to the square below. He noticed pointing fingers. Not a crowd, but he was starting to gather attention. It wouldn't be long before he became the main event. He wondered again about the fall. That though would be difficult to get rid of. Perhaps he could land on one or two of them. Gawking bastards. The city below was busy, people bustling about their business, busses, cars vying for position on the city's one-way system.
It must be close on 4:30, he thought. The beginnings of rush hour beginning. His thoughts drifted to his own business. Once thriving, now ruined. Retribution.
Kenneth didn't notice the new arrival across the roof, emerging from the door to the right, behind him. The wind was growling in his ears and his attention was lost in his thoughts. The man approached Kenneth slowly. He was within ten feet of him before Kenneth caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He felt his heart start to race again, felt vulnerable facing the drop rather than this unwelcome person. He pulled back on his stretched arms and straightened himself, pulling back from the edge. He released his grip with his left hand and carefully pivoted himself round to face the roof and the policeman. Face-to-face, the rail and only a few feet between them, Kenneth shouted, "Stay there. No closer".
"Ok," said the man. He was dressed in a green coverall. He had a shabby appearance and Kenneth regarded the man carefully, putting him perhaps in his mid-forties. As if sensing the a need for explanation the man said, "I'm the cleaner. I clean the shit out of the world, you know?"
Kenneth was wary. He suspected the man might not be quite what he seemed. Maybe a policeman. He'd seen enough television to know that the hero (our man here) befriends the jumper, edges closer in a trying-hard-not-to-be-noticed kind of way and then grabs and hauls the jumper to safety. Well, not here and not tonight, sunshine, he thought. This is my show and you ain't featuring.
"I'm jumping and you can't stop me. Why don't you go and chase a joy-rider or something equally useful and let me have my last moments in peace?" Kenneth had to raise his voice to be heard through the howling wind and the hint of sarcasm took a little effort to achieve.
The cleaner took a step closer. Here we go, thought Kenneth. The creeping forward begins.
"You'd have gone already if you were going to jump. You're not going to do it. You won't take your own life. Believe me." The man held both hands out, palms up in a gesture of openness and took another step forward. "Look, I'm here to help."
Kenneth tensed. "Stay there, stay there," he shouted.
"Look mate, how would it be if I promise not to lay a finger on you to try and stop you. You want to go of your own accord, then be my guest. Really, I won't stop you. So, why don't you let me come over and park myself near you. Then we can talk without shouting." The cleaner's voice raised questioningly.
And so we move swiftly onto the trust-building stage, though Kenneth.
"Look, you think I'm going to work my way closer and stop you from jumping. You do, don't you now?"
Kenneth watched him closely. His hands were tingling with his tight hold on the cold rail.
The man paused for a moment. "My name is Jerry. I'm just a cleaner and I'm no hero, I don't get paid enough for that. The last thing on my mind is trying to force you back over those rails against your wishes. The likelihood there is that we'd both go and I certainly have no desire to fall 33 floors. So let me come over and I give you my word, I will NOT try to stop you from jumping."
Kenneth though about it for a moment. He was frightened and the company was somehow comforting. He nodded his approval. The shabby cleaner approached Kenneth slowly. Kenneth felt his grip tighten even further on the rail, although he deep inside, he believed Jerry would keep his word. A moment later and the man was next to Kenneth, but on the safe side of the rail. He smiled at Kenneth, who noticed, irrationally, that his teeth were brilliant white - almost sparkling. Christ, though Kenneth. What a stupid thing to notice. Imminent death was having an effect on his thoughts.
"What's your name?" asked Jerry, pulling Kenneth away from his brilliant teeth.
"Kenneth." He'd never really been a Ken or Kenny. Sam Faraday, his school-days class hard boy, who'd never been a Samuel, used to wind him up calling him Kenny, with a sarcastic slant - more like Kenneee, but it never stuck. He never allowed it to stick. Kenneth never stood up to Sam Faraday. That would've been school-yard suicide, but later, at seventeen, he met his first steady girlfriend, Sally. Then, he found out just how easy it was to stand up for himself. It didn't happen straight away, but three, maybe four months on, the rages started to come. Sometimes during arguments, but other times over the silliest of things, he would explode. Of course, he never really meant to harm her; certainly not to break a bone, but it happened. And at the time, when he did it, it felt so right, he felt justified, she damn-well deserved it. Sally stuck it out for just about a year. Then she finally broke up with him.
It was his wife, Fiona, that he did the real damage to, though. Mostly a slap or a backhander to keep her in line. God, she could be so frustrating. But, sometimes, he would really blow. On of those steamers, he'd thrown a hot iron at her. It hit her left shoulder, chipped the bone and made a hell of a burnt mess of her lycra top. Another time, in the kitchen as she made a late evening cup of tea, an argument flared quickly and before he knew what he was doing, he stubbed his cigarette in her face, just above her top lip. That made a neat circle burn that was hard to mistake for anything else. But, what the hell? She was so desperate that no-one know, that she would dream up the most plausible of reasons for her injuries. Anyway, if people did suspect, it showed he knew how to keep her in line. This time, though, he'd gone too far. There was no recovery, although he felt remorse, now.
Kenneth stole a look over his shoulder at the gloomy crowd below. It had grown. Police cordons were being set up and the gawking people were being moved back to a safe point. He told himself it would soon be time, but a wave of dissent just below the surface said no. He really was sorry. He'd built one business, he could build another. Jerry, be the hero, grab me and haul me back. His thoughts were racing.
"Hey bud, you still with me?" the cleaner asked, jolting Kenneth from his thoughts.
"Yeah", said Kenneth. "Only just!"
"Tell me why."
"You wouldn't want to know." A strong gust of wind caught Kenneth. He swayed and left hand grip slipped. He grasped desperately again at the rail. A cold wave of adrenalin surged through his cold, shivering body.
"Whoa, mate," said Jerry, his hand outstretched to steady Kenneth.
"Get off me, DON'T TOUCH ME," he screeched.
"Ok, ok." The man backed off a few steps. "Look, when I get down there after you jump, they're gonna want to know why. Your wife will want to know why."
Kenneth gave him a long, hard look. "What's my wife to you? I might not be married."
"The ring, it's a dead give-away," he said. "Pardon the pun," he added.
Kenneth though again about Fiona and wondered how long the ambulance had taken to come.
"I did something really bad. I just went to far," said Kenneth, his voice low and barely audible over the wind.
"What was it? Beat some one up? Gone bankrupt." Kenneth stared at the cleaner in disbelief. "Aren't those are amongst the usual reasons for suicide?" said Jerry.
"Christ, you think you know it all. Are you some sort of policeman? You come up here with your psycho-shit and thing you can get into my head. Let me tell you," he was shouting now, "YOU CAN'T."
"Well, now. That was a raw nerve. Worth killing yourself over? It's a very long way down there, mate, and you'll make a hell of a mess."
Kenneth's eyes dropped.
"I beat my wife. I've always beat my wife, but now she's in hospital. I really hurt her. I was devastated. My business was in trouble. It went, I took it out on her. I'm sorry, but the business, I don't think I can go on without it."
Suddenly, Kenneth felt weary. Weary of life and weary of trying to die. The certainty was dawning on him now, he really didn't have the guts to plunge three hundred feet to his death. He could be the big hard man when it came to beating the shit out of his wife, behind closed doors, but not here and not now.
"You ready, mate?" asked the cleaner. "You ready to come back over to the safe side?"
Kenneth nodded slowly. He put his right foot up on the first bar to hoist himself up. The cleaner stretched out his arms and grabbed hold of a chunk of Kenneth's jacket at both shoulders.
"I've got you, mate," he said, looking right at him.
Kenneth straightened himself and as he let go of the rail, he reached forward to steady himself on Jerry. Jerry smiled a wide smile.
"As I said earlier, I'm here to help. We knew you wouldn't jump, so I was sent to make sure you did."
The cleaner released his grip on Kenneth's jacket and for just a moment, he seemed to balance, perfectly poised, his feet on the bottom rail and his arms outstretched. Jerry thrust forward with his arms. To the crowd below it would look like he tried to catch the jumper, not push him.
Kenneth screamed as he fell away from the ledge, the sharp air rushing past his flailing limbs. I'll know the answer, now, he thought, wildly.
Jerry looked over the edge and a moment later he was gone, vanished, just a second before the roof door opened and a policeman emerged to coax the jumper down. There was still a lifetime of evil bastards to clean from the world.
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