Short Stories

Ledge

(Content Warning – suicidal themes)

She shuffles along the ledge, watching the bits of crumbling stone fall away to oblivion. She can hear their voices like they are a long way away, a podcast left playing quietly in the next room. Occasionally she will pick something out, a word that rises above just enough that she can grab it. ‘Deadline’. Once a welcome challenge, now a rhythmic, regular pummelling. Like falling on a treadmill. You can’t get up. You can’t slide off. So you sit and you take it.

There’s a couple down there and they’re walking, coffees and hands in hand. They wear business district uniform – suits and shirts with trainers. Back at the ranch their polished footwear awaits their return, huddled in lockers with coffee cups. From the jaws of the monotonous daily grind they have snatched a few precious moments together. Modern romance. But like Romeo and Juliet there will be a price to pay for their love. A later finish. A longer day. Don’t abandon your watch. 

Minutes ago, staring hopelessly into her screen, she had watched her inbox grow as she prodded at her salad. Deciding to do this. But no, maybe that. Or that other thing she had been putting off for days. Did it matter? Was there anything she could do to put her ahead of the game again? She had walked to the office kitchen for water and found herself on the ledge. Or maybe she had been here for weeks, creating vibrant inner lives for the unseeing sea of heads that flowed beneath. 

Up here is monochrome. And bird shit. Her back flat against the crumbling facade, palms face down and balancing tenuously as she sidles along. She’s tired but not in a physical way. It’s deeper than that. In her mind she calls it ‘ancient tired’, because that’s the only way she can describe it. Like a long, drawn out tired that has been there since she can remember, maybe even since before she was around to feel it.

For a moment she closes her eyes and thinks of sleep. She wonders if the peace she feels is something like meditation. Despite practise she has never managed to make meditation feel right, never really drawn any benefit from it. But this. This is different. For a second she feels her body bowing forward, her feet slipping from the ledge below. It’s not like flying, she thinks, it’s heavier, more rapid, more urgent. Like the ground is moving up to meet her and catch her as she descends. The couple are closer now, their upturned faces notice her for the first time, and she knows it’s mad but in them she could swear she sees the same ancient tired. 

Another lunch wasted on an argument. He stares down at his phone, partly to avoid her eye, partly to work out how severe the penalty will be for walking away, even for ten minutes, to see her. 25 new emails. Even accounting for the nonsense he will be copied into there will be at least 10 new things he’ll have to deal with, probably today, in addition to the mounting to-do list he left on his desk. 

She’s staring at him now and her eyes demand an answer,

‘I told you, there’s no way.’ He says, ‘I won’t be finished until gone nine.’ 

Then adds, ‘I am sorry, you know. I’m doing it for us.’

Her smile is wan, but it is there. She knows that it’s only a matter of time before the roles will reverse, it’s not like she’s seen the bottom of her inbox in months. As they rise from the bench their eyes are drawn upwards, to the woman who drops, almost silently down to kiss the pavement.