A Falling Man, Part 4

Author: Mel Brownlee /

Helen
9:43am





The line went dead and I worried I would pass out again – I hoped I would, it was the only way I could imagine the pain easing. People were all around me sobbing and running around like lunatics escaping from an asylum. It was an awful sight, and everything seemed to move in slow motion. I looked to the towers one last time, as if I were looking at Robbie for the last time, turned my back and walked away. I kept walking for as long as my feet would allow me. I walked past our house, past our local supermarket and then back again until I was on our doorstep.

When I stepped inside the house Rowdy came bounding up to me immediately. I kneeled down to him, he looked sad – or was it just me? He followed me up to bed. I sat there for a bit with him in my lap and stared into space. How could I just be sitting here when the city was coming to a standstill, when the man I loved was sailing on a sinking ship? I felt heartless; I felt cold and longed to have Robbie with me.

I reached for the TV remote and thought for a long time about turning it on – I had promised I wouldn’t, but Robbie knew me, I was stubborn and I told myself I needed to see this. I turned it on. As I suspected the incident with the twin towers was all over the news. The camera was showing was live footage of the burning buildings as smoke poured out of its offices and people screamed for their lives and their loved ones. It was like how I imagined the end of the world; it’s what it felt like to me.

I pulled the covers over me and Rowdy lay down next to me. We both sat and watched the TV, and I wondered if he understood what was going on, if he could sense my pain. I felt so numb and so helpless – only a few minutes ago I was talking to Rob, hearing his voice for what I knew was probably the last time and all I could think of was that the house was a mess. If he were to come home, he wouldn’t want to come home to a rubbish tip. No, he would want a tidy house, clean bed sheets and a nice warm dinner on the table.

So that’s what I did, I cleaned every single room in the house from top to bottom, every single corner. I cleaned our sheets with the fabric conditioner Robbie had picked out, the one that he loved, it smelt like mango's and every time I wrapped myself up in bed I thought of him. It was too early to start dinner, but that didn’t stop me. I figured he wouldn’t be coming home at his normal time – considering, you know, what had happened.

I set up the kitchen and the food, turned the TV on by habit and the news flashed on. This time, I couldn’t try and push it out of my mind; there was nothing that would distract me and no chore that would keep me going on in denial. People were jumping out of the twin towers and the camera caught them falling the entire length of the building until they were out of sight. It was horrific, I didn’t want to watch it but I couldn’t look away.

Would Robbie jump? Or would he stay in the building until the very end? I tried not to think about it, but the more I pushed other thoughts into my head the more I dwelled on him. This couldn’t be happening, could it? How was I going to live? What was I going to do? My whole life was about to go down with that building and I was helpless to stop it. Everything I had known for years, everything that I had loved for every minute of the day was about to be gone from me and what would I be left with? An empty house with a dog and bed sheets that reminded me of what I had lost. My heart started to sink and I couldn’t fight it anymore. I sunk to the floor and cried. I didn’t plan to ever stop crying, I wanted to carry on until I had no more life left in me.

I thought about Robbie’s face and wondered if I would remember it in 50 years. I wondered if I could still hear the sound of his voice and feel his touch and embrace from time to time. I wondered if I would ever find someone else, and if, even then, I would be constantly pining after Robbie and wishing I was with him instead. He would be underneath my skin every day for the rest of my life. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine life without him. Who would tell me that they loved me? Who would cuddle me when I was feeling so down I could not even get out of bed? Who would pick me up when I fell so hard I could not get back up? Who would be there for me in hours so dark I couldn’t even see the end of the tunnel?

I could feel my heart stopping, like it had decided all by itself that life wasn’t going to be worth living anymore. What was life worth if I couldn’t tell Robbie that I loved him, if I couldn’t marry him, if we couldn’t have children? All of these thoughts and questions were swimming around in my head and I just wanted it to stop. I wanted it all to stop but no one was there to answer me, no one was there to stop it for me and cry with me.

All I could do was pick up the phone and dial a number.

“Hello?” said the groggy voice on the other end of the line.
I took a deep breath, tried to compose myself and failed into tears “Dad…”





Robbie
9:57am





When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a lot of things. My ultimate dream was to be a rock star, of course, but then again almost every young boy had that ambition on the very top of his list of unreachable goals. I considered for some time during high school about becoming a doctor, but I hated blood - I hated blood more than I loved money so that went out of the window pretty quickly. I was always pretty good at tennis, and my parents reckoned that if I really put in the time and dedication, I could have made a name for myself. I'm not saying I was as good as Becker, but I was good enough. My dad used to take me down to the tennis courts every Saturday morning and we would play for hours on end, even when my feet were killing me and my brain was telling me that I wanted to go home, I would not stop until my Dad eventually caved and told me he was too tired to continue.

It wasn't until I got my first proper job that tennis started to fade out of my life. I stopped playing on the weekends, I didn't watch it on the TV because I was too busy at work, I lost track of which tournaments were where. In the end, I just grew out of it and now, hanging casually out of a broken window of north tower, I couldn't help but regret my decision to quit tennis. I wasn't phased about the whole rock star thing as I was under no illusion that would ever actually happen, but I had a real chance to play the sport that I loved. I had the chance and I wasted it. Helen was always getting on my case about taking it up again, about doing something for me, something that I loved. But I always shrugged it off with a "Yeah I will at some point". I never for once thought that the day would come where I would wish I had stopped being such a procrastinator and started doing someone pro active with my life.

I had heard though, that when your time is up you get an overwhelming sense of regret for the things you did not achieve in life, for the things that you let slip away. And that moment had just crept up on me. I felt like the only thing for it was to jump. But then I remembered something that I could still do, something that would make up for all of the things that I had let pass me by.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called Helen, but her line was busy. I imagined she was frantically calling around to see if I had managed to get out of the building safely. I kept calling, but there was no answer. Eventually, I decided to call my mother.

She picked up, of course. "Robert, oh my God, are you safe?"

"Mum, you've heard then?"

"Of course, we are in England not on Jupiter. Now, tell me where you are - you need to put my mind at ease."

I couldn't say I was at home, but I couldn't tell her where I really was. No child wants to break the news to their own mother that they were in a pretty life threatening situation. No child wants to tell their mother that this would be the last time they spoke.

"Oh no." She breathed. "Oh God no."

"I don't think God has much to do with it, Mum."

"Why are you still in there? Why? You do know that building is coming down, don't you?" She sounded frantic now.

"Yes, I know. I am trapped up here, there's no way down."

"So what are you saying to me, Robert? Are you saying that this is the last time I will talk to my son?"

"Well, I am sure you will constantly have conversations with me in your head like you always do. You know, those conversations where I say things that I don't remember?"

"Do you think that's funny?" She spat angrily.

"No Mum, I think you're funny. Lighten up, what do you want me to say? When have we ever been all doom and gloom with one another?"

She remained silent.

"You want the honest truth? Fine, yes, this is probably the last time we will talk, but I am sure as hell not going to waste it on being negative and upsetting you."

"Robert," I could hear her sniffling now, it was utterly heartbreaking to hear my mother cry - she really knew how to pull on the old heartstrings, "I don't know what to say to you."

"Wow, never thought I would hear those words." I laughed.

"Are you happy?" She asked.

That took me back. Was I happy? I was probably about to die and leave the woman and family I love without me and she wanted to know if I was happy?

But then I started to think about it. Was I happy when I woke up this morning? And the day before? And the week before? Was I happy before a plane flew out of the sky and cut my life short?

"Yes," I said confidently, "yes I am so happy, Mum."

"Good, that's all I need to know."

"Can you do me a favour?" I asked, knowing that our conversation was near an end.

"Of course sweetie, what is it?"

"Can you tell Helen that I was going to ask her."

"Ask her what?" She seemed confused.

"She will know." I smiled.

"Okay, I'll tell her, don't you worry."

"Thanks Mum, I love you. And tell Dad I love him too, if he can hear you."

She laughed quietly, "I love you too. Don't forget that, okay? You're my son - you will always be a part of me."

I had to hang up, it was the only way to say goodbye. I wiped away tears from my eyes and tried to get myself together. I could feel the building rumble beneath me. A cracking sound sent shivers up and down my spine and I felt an uneasy sense of tilting. The tower was about to go down and there was no way I was going down with it.


10:04am


The South tower had collapsed.

I didn't have a lot of options, that was the one thing I was sure of. Among the things I was not sure of was whether or not Helen had turned the news off, I begged her to but I knew better than anyone how stubborn she is and at a time like this, anything constructive I said would just fall on deaf ears. I also was not sure of what was going on in my head, why I was hanging out of a window on the 100th floor looking down at the chaos erupting below me. There was a good possibility that between the time the plane hit us and now, my legs dangling from a window so high up I may as well have not been on the same planet as the people on the ground, that I had gone completely stark raving mad. And that was okay with me, I had always wanted to go that way - cheering myself on and laughing off the improbable doom that lay in wait for me. It was the best way to leave the world, it may not be the most dignified, but it was the most ignorant and that was all I could ask for.

The wind was strong and smoke was blowing around everywhere. There were papers flying out of the building, floating in the air and I realised all the work I had done every day of my life that was so important to be me meant absolutely nothing now and it never really did. All those hours wasted in front of a computer, in meetings, in paperwork were all for nothing as it all gushed out of the tower and disappeared forever.

I laughed, quite loudly, and couldn't stop laughing until I felt a tugged on my arm.

I turned around, it was Josh Isaacs, he was trying to pull me back in.

"No Josh." I pulled my arm out of his grip.

"Mate, c'mon, you don't have to do this, I'm sure there is another way." He begged me, but we both knew he was wrong.

"Another way to die?" I replied calmly.

"No, another way out, you can't just let it end like this."

"Josh, I hate to be a downer but there is no way out. And I have always wanted to fly." I looked below me, to say it was a long way down was an understatement.

"Rob, seriously, don't do this mate." He held out his hand.

"Do you think you'll see your wife again Josh?" I asked randomly.

He almost said yes, but then he stopped in his tracks and I could see the hopelessness in his eyes. "No."

"What is there to live for then?" I asked simply.

"Because it's more time to live, Rob. Whether it be a couple of minutes or a couple of hours. It's more time to enjoy this world and everything it has given us. Don't you want just a little bit more time to be alive in the same world as Helen?"

I stared at Josh, I had known him and worked with him for years and I had never even heard him talk so deeply or appear so emotional. I wanted to stay alive just for him, but it wasn't enough.

"Your Maggie is a very lucky woman." I smiled.

"Not for much longer." He said tearfully.

"Hey, I think you should spare me the inspirational speeches and save them for yourself."

Josh half smiled and held out his hand, but this time it wasn't to pull me back in.

I grabbed his hand and shook it, "It's been nice man."

He let go and walked off into the smoke. That would be the last time I ever saw him, I knew he wouldn't make it out but deep down I told myself he would, that there would be some happiness at the end of the day.

I looked at my watch - Rolex - what a complete rip off.


10:10. I unstrapped my watch and let it slip out of my hand, falling to the world below. I only brought it and kept it because of the name, at the end of the day a watch is a watch and that name never got me anywhere and certainly wasn't going to get me out of the mess I was in now.

I couldn't see the ground for the life of me, the smoke consumed everything and anything, thankfully.

This was it. Time to fly.

I pictured Helen one last time. I pictured her smile, her eyes, the way she danced around as she got ready for work. I could smell her perfume, hear the funny little noises she made as she drifted off to sleep. I could hear her telling me not to do it, to stay alive for her, to at least try. I wanted to tell her that this was the only way, that one day everything would be okay. I eased myself a little closer to the edge and looked down below me. I was scared, I could not deny it, but as I saw the smoke from the demolished South tower spread through the city, I took a deep breath, counted to three and finally let myself go.


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