“You not cold up there, mister?” asks a croaky, ancient voice. He’s startled, momentarily and turns his head to see an old lady. A cleaner, in her blue overall with a sweeping brush in her hand.
“Cold, I said! And wet, in this rain,” she continued. He scowled at the intrusion.
“I’m fine. Go on your way.”
“Well, now, that wouldn’t do, would it? Me leaving you to your own devices, stoodup there next to that big drop.” He took a deep breath. This hadn’t been in his plan, at all.
“Don’t you have some cleaning to do? Please, go.” He turns his head back and now peers down the momentous drop in front of him.
“Young man, I do, indeed, have some cleaning to do. I think I know what you’re going to do and I’m going to have to help you change your mind.” He ignores her. She takes a step closer.
“Don’t come near me,” he shouts, quickly, tensing.
“Look at me, sonny. I’m all of five feet tall, skinny and old. Do you think I’d have the strength or the speed to stop you from jumping?”
He knows she’s right and his shoulders relax. He minds less, her being closer. She is oddly comforting in his final minutes.
“Those are mighty fine shoes, you’ve got there. Cost a pretty penny, I’d bet.” He frowns at her randomness.
“Ferragamo, just short of eighteen hundred pounds.”
“I thought as much. I just told myself, there, they ain’t no H and M discount shoes. You must be pretty successful, to own shoes like those babies.”
“I was. Past tense,” he says absently.
“Now, I’m just an ancient, old cleaning lady but it don’t take much brains to work out that’s why you’re all the way up here, being busy dying. Am I right?” She takes a step closer and rests her fragile frame on the wall that Gordon is standing on. He looks down at her.
“You’re right. It doesn’t take much in the way of brains to deduce that.” She looks at him with little, knowing eyes and he finds her gaze drawing him further. “But, that’s not all of it,” he catches himself saying.
“Oh? There’s more?”
“There is more,” he says, glumly and his shoulders visibly droop under the weight of what he’s done. He’s silent.
“No need to tell me. I’m not asking.”
Ignoring her, he continues, as if to himself. “I’ve not spoken out loud about it...about what I’ve done.” He closes his eyes against his thoughts and shakes his head. “But I do know, I didn’t mean it. I’d do anything to turn the clock back and make a different decision,” he says, and a tear escapes his eye. The old cleaner stands quietly, holding her sweeping brush. She says nothing. He’ll either talk or he wont and, if he talks, she’ll listen.
“Four months ago I was flying high, top of my game in the stock market, making a killing. Buying two-grand shoes, diamonds for my gold-digging bitch of a wife and an apartment for my PA.”
“Get around a bit, then?” The old lady raises her eyebrows. “I keep my options open. Don’t like to be tied down. When you earn what I earn... earned... you get what you want. Why stick with mars bars all the time when you can have the whole sweet shop?”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” she says, softly.
“Are you judging me?”
“Not at all, you’d be doing a good job of that for yourself.” “I lost it all. One fell swoop. One wrong deal.”
“I thought I could make it big. I mean, really big. So big, I’d never have to work again. I just need the right money and the right information. I thought I had it, the inside track on a new company.”
“Inside? Is that like the inside trading thing I might have heard of? Illegal inside trading?” He looks round and smiles. “Insider trading, it’s called and illegal, yes. So is cashing in the stock of key clients and re-investing it without their knowledge into an illicit trade that would then go belly-up.” He pauses as he relives the moment he knew he’d lost it all. “That was it, game over, in every sense of the term.”
“You lost all of their money?”
“Yes, ten investors, all of their money and all of my own.”
“What did they say?”
“I don’t know. They don’t know yet. They’ll find out soon enough.”
“So, what? You’re checking out before they find out? Money can be remade.”
“Lives can’t though. Not once they’re snuffed out.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I was distraught. You have to understand that. I didn’t mean it. When I realised, that I’d lost it all, Jack Daniels came to the rescue. I pretty much drank myself stupid, slept a couple of hours over my desk and when I woke up, I got in my car.”
“Skinful of JD, two hours sleep?”
“You’re right. I was way over the limit. If I could just...”
“You had an accident? You hurt someone?” the old lady’s voice was slow and measured.
“Worse, I killed someone?” A sob escapes him. “I clipped him. I didn’t know he was...you know...dead. I panicked and drove on.”
“Hit and run. That ain’t a good thing to be doing.”
“No shit,” he says, sarcastically. “It was on the news. I saw it, yesterday. Looking for a blue sports car, but they weren’t sure of the make. But, it was mine. They’d close in on me. They’d find me. No money, hit and run, over the limit. What could I do? This seemed the only way out.” Inside, though, just for speaking it out loud, he feels just a little lighter. He looks round at her, taking his eyes away from the gaping drop, just a few inches, in front of him. “You are a smart old cleaning lady. Talking really is cathartic.”
“Cathar-what?” she asks.
“A release, an emotional release. Five minutes ago, I could see no possible future beyond this drop in front of me. Now, well, maybe....”
“But, you can now?”
“I’m not sure what that might look like for me. But, maybe, I can face the future. I’ll scrap the car, they won’t find me.” He looks down at his feet. “I could sell these,” he says, pointing to his shoes. “That would give me my first investment, to get me back on the road.” He smiles, and it feels good on his face.
“You’ve changed your mind?” The cleaner asks.
“I think I have,” he says, starting to turn slowly, shuffling his feet.
“Let me help you.” The cleaner eases her small frame from its leaning place against the wall. With a swift movement, she lifts the sweeping brush and pushes him firmly in the stomach. He’s falling backwards before he even realises what’s happening. Instinctively, his arms flail, trying to find some kind of purchase that just isn’t there. And that’s it, he’s falling, screaming, flailing. Then, it’s quiet.
The old cleaner leans forward over the wall and looks down. For her, the job’s done, the world is just a touch cleaner and it’s time to move onto the next one.