Setting his foot on the cold iron of the railing in front of him, shivering involuntarily in the chilling wind that tugs at his thin c...

A Forgivable Kind

   Setting his foot on the cold iron of the railing in front of him, shivering involuntarily in the chilling wind that tugs at his thin cardigan and brushes his pale skin, Matthew calls Andrea's mobile phone number again. He knows it'll ring out; there's no coming back from where Andrea's gone. But a spark of hope still burns away inside of him; hope that the past few weeks will turn out to be just a bad dream, hope that his actions had never led to her death, hope that the guilt that plagues him can be left to drift away like a plastic bag in the wind. 

   Standing precariously on top of the four-foot high rail, gripping a lamppost to stop himself slipping and falling prematurely to a watery grave, Matthew listens to the tone ring and ring, more times than he can ever remember any other telephone ringing, before Andrea's voice chirps into his ear, Hey it's Andrea. Sorry, I can't get to the phone right now, but please leave a message after the tone and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Matthew wonders if the guilt would be diluted, be numbed somewhat, if her family had deactivated the number by now. He knows it wouldn't undo what he has done, but maybe he'd feel a little lighter if he could let go of this nightly routine.

   Not that it matters either way. Because tonight, on a Tuesday evening in the biting frost of a bitter winter, Matthew is going to throw himself from this bridge into a dark, wet death. It's only right, he tells himself, that someone should pay for what happened to Andrea. He can't live with the guilt, so he will take it to the afterlife instead. 


   It had been a long night by the time Andrea telephoned him on that drizzly night just a few weeks before now. Matthew had had a long day at work, a nightmare journey home, and drinks with a girl he liked in which he said such embarrassing things that he doubted she would ever contact him again. At half past midnight, as he'd just arrived home and was slipping his shoes off for the first time all day, the last thing he needed was a call from Andrea. 

   He knew how it would go as soon as the phone started ringing. She would slur her pleasantries, drunk again, and he’d have to pretend he was amused by her idiocy until she changed the subject. Even then, he’d still have to grin and bear the conversation, as she asked too-intrusive questions about the date he’d just been on with faux disinterest, pretending not to care about the answers but quite obviously becoming more brokenhearted with every new mention of it. Then she’d get upset and remorseful about that one night a few months ago, before putting on her vulnerable voice and begging him to pick her up, claiming she had no other way of getting home.

   He just couldn’t be bothered with that. Instead, he kicked his shoes off, and as the phone continued to ring he removed his coat, throwing it on a hook and thinking back to the night when everything had changed between them.


   She had been hinting towards it for weeks. Saying the odd thing here, suggesting the odd idea there. And Matthew had ignored it because he thought that after a decade of friendship, she knew he would never go there. But like women do, she grew more persistent, more desperate to get her own way. Deluded, lying to herself, she finally went all the way one night after a few too many drinks, and asked him, ‘So when are we gonna stop playing these games and just fuck?’

   ‘What?’ He had replied.

   ‘Oh, you know what I’m talking about, Matt. We both want it, so let’s just do it. I’ve been waiting years for you to offer, and now I just can’t wait anymore.’

   ‘You’ve got the wrong idea, Andrea,’ he had said, backing away from her and wishing he had distanced himself months earlier, ‘I don’t like you like that and I never have.’

   ‘Bullshit,’ she had laughed, ‘the way we flirt, anyone would think we’re together sometimes.’

   ‘That’s wishful thinking on your part, I’m afraid,’ he had snapped, more annoyed than he would have been if she wasn’t breathing her desperate wine breath in his face, ‘I flirt with every girl I know. You know that. You’ve seen it for years.’

   ‘But Maaaatt,’ she had sighed, leaning over and resting her hand on the crotch of his jeans, ‘stop denying it…’

   Matt got up and left that night, and things had been cold between them ever since.


   So when the phone rang that night after his date, he decided to ignore it. Officially, things between them were supposed to be fine now – she had apologised when sober and he had accepted it just because they were part of the same large social group and as such were forced to spend long periods around each other, so it was easier if he just forgave. But he hadn’t forgotten.

   If she asked the day after, he would say he had already fallen asleep when she called. Failing that, he’d say that he was in the bath so he couldn’t get to the phone. Any excuse not to have to pick her up and have her fake her pleasure at hearing that he was getting along okay on the dating front. Any excuse not to have to put up with her advances, which were repulsive to him after they had known each other so many years. It was deception, there was no doubt about that, but it was a forgivable kind of deception. The kind of deception that everyone has been guilty of countless times. The kind of deception that is justifiable; not like Andrea’s self-deception that told her she had a chance with him.

   But the next morning, when he woke to find his phone ringing again, this time being called by Andrea’s best friend, he wasn’t so sure that what he had done was forgivable. When Aimee’s normally chirpy voice had informed him, in sullen tones between loud sniffles, that she had been found dead and dumped by the side of a road, he felt like maybe his tiny piece of deception last night had grown into the biggest and worst lie he had ever told overnight.

   With no one to take her home and no forward planning to tell her to keep enough money for a cab, she had tried to stumble back to her house at midnight after a whole evening of heavy drinking. On the way home, tottering slowly under the dim streetlamps in her highest heels, she made herself into a sitting duck for all the lowlifes that wanted to take a piece of her. She painted a target onto her own back. And just like it does when it’s given half a chance, the night had its way with her. The night chewed her up, and spat her out as a bruised and abused cadaver.

   And Matthew had no one to blame but himself.


   And so, standing atop a handrail on a bridge above an ice cold, aggressively flowing river, Matthew tells himself that this is the end. He brought this on himself, he thinks, so he has no choice now but to end it all. Give himself what he deserves for ending his friend’s life so cruelly. For lying, and causing the demise of someone he had once been best friends with. I can do this, he whispers to himself, I have to now.

   It’s deception, there’s no doubt about it, but a forgivable kind. The kind of deception that everyone has been guilty of countless times. The kind of deception that is most potent, because self-deception is more powerful than any other.

   And once he has accepted that, he steps down from the rail. He takes a gulp, releases that breath that has been locked up tight in his chest since he decided to climb onto the iron rail, and climbs down to the pavement below.

   Sliding back into his car seat, he lights a cigarette and weeps. He knows he’ll be back here tomorrow, in exactly the same position, and this just breaks his heart. But at the same time, it comforts him; the day that he doesn’t visit this bridge and at least attempt to attempt suicide is the day that he has forgiven himself for his deception that night, and he is far from deserving that yet.

   He weeps until his ducts are dry, and then he drives home in the pitch black night without his headlights on.

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