fall/the fall · October · William's stories

He’s Still There

By William Gallagher

YOU blinked a moment ago and by chance it was at the same moment that Lee jumped from the top of Birmingham University’s clock tower. That’s quite a trick these days, william-octincidentally, as the university long ago cut down on its annual legal bill by putting up barriers to deter the suicidal.

It’s not enough now to just get all the way up there, you also have to somehow get out and across protective barriers. You’ve got to be serious, in other words, and just about exactly when you blinked, Lee was dead serious.

He’s had a bit more time to think about it since then.

Quite a bit more time than he expected.

Lee was a philosophy student – well, right now he still is and will be to the end of his life in about one more second – so of course he’d heard of this idea that your entire life flashes before you just before you die. But being a philosophy student means more often hearing the idea that he is a brain-dead embarrassment to the family and that if he thinks anyone will ever employ a philosopher, he’s got another think coming.

Even in the misery he was feeling when he jumped, Lee did hope that the job prospects weren’t as bad as everyone said. He fully accepted that he, personally, was unlikely to get hired after this but as the air zoomed by and the ground zoomed up, Lee did hope that other philosophy students would succeed. It wasn’t particularly a great dying wish, it wasn’t some heroic final words. It was just a hope. He was philosophical about it.

Now, though, still right there between that last blink and your next one, Lee has moved on from misery to a bit of despair. Because if people were telling the truth about seeing their entire lives, they were lying when they say it flashes by. Lee saw the lot, in IMAX-quality precision and in more than a flash.

He saw his entire life flash in front of him in real time: every action, every day, every event, every second, in full and complete and laborious recall. There were times when he’d lose concentration – if you’re going to see your entire life you’d think you would skip the shocking number of hours you were asleep – and he’d forget that this was a pre-death flashback.

Lee would find himself back on that day he met Mary, for instance, and in the heat of the moment would forget that it was really seven years ago. He’d watch himself walking to that Starbucks and he would consciously say to himself things like no, let’s skip that this time, shall we?

But he doesn’t skip it. He never skips anything, no matter how painful or embarrassing or just ferociously boring. He never skips a second because he can’t. This is not reliving his life in the sense of getting to do it over, it is reliving his life as a man who is fractions of a second away from dying in a spectacularly painful way.

It isn’t like if he has two screens playing scenes in his head. It isn’t as if he is wearing varifocals where you can see one thing clearly yet still be aware of a fuzzy, blurry rest of your vision. It is that all the time that he can see his childhood life and his teenage anguish, all the time that he can see so very clearly what he’s done, he can also see the ground zooming up to him.

Except it turns out that zoom is as much of a lie as flash. At first, yes, this was clearly a fully accurate and physics-confirmed acceleration of 10 metres per second per second. Lee’s mind tripped over that ‘per second per second’ repetition just at the point when he could see himself in school and the physics teacher explaining it. He could see that school, that teacher and himself and at the same time could think about what a pointless recollection it is. He could also see that same teacher talking about wind resistance and for a single moment Lee was interested again, was wondering if this is why things were taking so long. But apparently no, from what the teacher was saying all those years ago, wind resistance can’t be a statistically significant factor here today.

So whatever the maths, the real truth is that it ought to be hello ground, bye-bye life within the space of two blinks.

Misery first changed to puzzlement when the time between these blinks felt exhaustingly long. Then as he was thinking about this and even staring at his watch where he could see the seconds hand looking frozen, he could also see that the ground had done quite a good job of rising up to him. Not a perfect job, he wasn’t spread across the pavement yet, but the concrete did now fill his vision.

It just filled his vision while at the same time his first fights with Mary were also playing out in excoriating detail in his life flashback.

You still haven’t blinked again but in that same time Lee has rewatched, relived his entire life from birth to suicide, and frankly he’s a bit bored now. He went through a patch of despairing that he will never quite reach the bottom of his fall, then he got a bit pissed at it all and, straining himself, he tried to reach out the final distance to the ground. Nothing doing.

It was when his reliving, rewatching of his life reached the moment in the student halls when Mary told him to fuck off, they were through and he has the tiniest penis she’s ever seen, that was what gave Lee pause. Seen this way, seen after the most almighty long ‘Previously on Lee Fraser’, the original knife of her words seemed pretty dulled.

He would have said that Mary was worth killing yourself over and to be fair he’d done more than just say it, but that was one blink ago and now he felt somewhat different. Now seeing how insane his thinking had been, still Lee had to watch himself leave that table, leave that room. Admittedly the dick comment followed by how Mary and Steve laughed at him did still burn. On this very greatest and certainly very longest of reflections, though, Lee mostly felt that these two bastards deserved each other.

He was thinking about that as his life repeat viewing reached the point where he’d come to the tower. This time around, the numbness and the righteousness was gone, entirely replaced by fear.

Now there he is, getting out onto the top of the clock tower and actually feeling good for a moment. Feeling like a success. There he was crawling out to the edge of the protective scaffolding. There he was slipping for a moment and feeling ridiculous relief at catching himself for a moment.

Then he is jumping. It isn’t jumping off again because it was the same jump in the same moment and at the same instant of that last blink of yours. It was all of that seen again, seen anew by a man with theoretically fractions of a second to live and now a man thinking less of how sad Mary will feel and more how life-shatteringly painful this death is going to be.

With his entire life finally flashed by, Lee braced himself for the end.

It hasn’t happened yet. You’ve moved on, you’ve lived. Lee is still in the space between those two blinks of yours. Alive, waiting for the next moment, waiting for the smash of concrete, waiting fruitlessly. Waiting forever.

He’s still there. And always will be.

© William Gallagher 2016

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