Danny looked up from his ring. The rest of the story is as expected; Sarah passed away, leaving Danny with a fortune and a heartbreak. Danny never did say how he spent his remaining years in Sagemont. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday. Or, maybe I’ll accept that he wanted that part of his life to remain a secret. In the meantime, I’ll just stand here and stare over at the woman atop the second Tower of Babel, wondering why she hasn’t jumped yet.
After Danny told his story, the two of us went out on the tear. We said it was to mourn the life behind us, but in equal part, it was to celebrate the life ahead of us. Despite his initial protests, I did convince my old mate into a drink or two. Or eight. Christ, maybe more, I just can’t remember anything after that point. All I know is that I woke up the next morning in a hotel, alone.
For a while I laid on the bed, voluntarily immobile. It was by no means my first time feeling like the universe had a personal grudge with my sensory, but it was disagreeable all the same. I’d found that the best cure was to not think too deeply about it. So lying on the bed, I pushed all thoughts aside: no tale of Danny’s past, no hopes about the future, and no consideration to where my mate might’ve been at that moment. Although when the hangover did begin to pass, it was that last thought which grabbed be.
I had a look around the room, and spotted a note sitting on the nightstand. It read, “WenT To The rooF To GeTt some air. heres TO LIFE!”
Well. I flew to the door and pulled it open, but jumped at the sight of a man in a baseball cap, standing right in my path. Not forfeiting a single step back, I asked, “Where is he Leonard?”
“Your little mate? I didn’t touch the lad. I must say though, I haven’t been fond of your antics lately.”
“Shouldn’t fiends be in jail this time of day?”
“Why would I want to go there? It’s a dreadful place to tell you the truth, been there before, nothing to do all day but think. You ever get to thinking Aidan? Nah, you wouldn’t have, you don’t look mad enough. Thinking makes a man mad.”
As he droned on my patience withered. Through with his rambling, I commanded, “Leonard: away.”
We glared at each other, and we both cast our contempt downwards, because we both knew we were the bigger man. I wasn’t fucking about; I would have fought him again. I would have taken the smugness off his face and knocked it clear past the pier in Sagemont. All I needed was for the bastard to be the one responsible for it.
But he wasn’t attacking me. In hindsight, he was never going to. I was standing on the balls of my feet, knees bent, fists and teeth clenched. Leonard was simply standing. When he started to move I started to throw a punch, but he stepped aside, and I was left with a funny feeling. I wanted a challenge, something to fight, something I could conquer. But life is a bastard, and I didn’t even get that.
I walked down the hall and stepped into the lift. It was only as the door was sliding shut that Leonard shouted, “You might want to hurry! He wasn’t looking so good!”
Before the door closed, I caught a glimpse of Leonard laughing.
I slammed my first into the wall. It came back bloodied, but I did it two more times before the lift opened on the highest floor. There I saw Danny, passed out in front of the roof access door, and I didn’t know whether to embrace him or to bloody my knuckles once more.
His head turned in my direction, and his eyes opened. “Aidan?”
I sat against the wall beside him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I ha, ugh, I have to, say somethin’,” Danny declared, trying to get up.
“And what’s that?”
Having failed his attempt to stand, Danny was on his stomach yet again. “Sarah: I loved her, y’know that?”
“Aye Danny, I know that,” I confirmed.
A look of distaste spread across his face—the words resting on his tongue were too sour to bear. He rolled to his back, where he spat, “Good. I can’t rem’mber if I, if I told her.”
I looked down at him. His new appearance still hadn’t grown on me, but I’d come to accept that the ghostly man was, in some way, Daniel Kennedy. Never the most sentimental, but always quite aware of the world around him. So when the ghost lying on the floor couldn’t remember whether or not he’d said a phrase as simple as “I love you,” I assured him that he surely would have.
“Aidan,” Danny repeated.
“I lied when I was talkin’ to Johnny Hick, that day.”
“What did you lie about Danny?”
“It wasn’t cancer,” he spat again. “She was sad, she was, always so sad. I couldn’t stop her.”
“Fuck mate, why would you lie about something like that?”
Danny closed his eyes. “Suicide,” he mumbled, “it’s a type of cancer, if you think about it.”
Then our location struck me.
“Danny. What were you doing trying to get on the roof?”
“I don’t blame her, you know,” he went on. “I can’t… I can’t say I’m happy for her, or even that I know she’s at peace. But I don’t blame her.”
“Danny? Danny! Wake up, I know you can hear me!”
It was too late. If somebody were to walk by, they would think I was sitting there with a dead man. In many senses, they wouldn’t have been wrong.
I pulled Danny’s arm over my shoulder and stood. I carried him to the lift, and then to his room. Or at least, the room I thought to be his, since I hadn’t bothered to check the number before rushing out. I tried to turn the handle, but it wouldn’t budge. Ready to start punching walls again, I set Danny down and went through his pockets in search of a key. What I found instead was a folded up piece of paper, bearing words neatly written in black ink.
“I, Daniel Kennedy, leave the Feldtmann fortune and estate to Aidan O’Moran. Goodbye friend.”
That was it. Two sentences were all he was going to leave behind. My hands trembled as I read it, over and over again, trying to understand. There was so much more for him to say, certainly more than two bleeding sentences. There were decades of his life he’d yet to touch on. Even if he didn’t want to live any longer, he could at least explain the life he was leaving behind.
I was at a loss. There was my last good friend, unconscious before me, and he never wanted to be conscious again. Was it wrong to blame him? What in the bastardly world would I tell him when he woke up? And what was I supposed to do in the meantime?
I would pray. That’s what I would do. I got on my knees, right there in the hallway, and brought my hands together in hopes of some miracle.
I can’t put my prayer into words. The message I sent the lord that day was beyond English, beyond Gaelic, and perhaps it was even beyond the language of the Babylonians. But it was something I understood, and it was sure as Heaven and Hell something He could understand.
The lord heard my prayer. If He hadn’t, then the lift doors wouldn’t have opened. A man pushing a cart wouldn’t have stepped into the hall and seen me kneeling before an unconscious corpse. The man wouldn’t have run to me and asked what had happened. The man wouldn’t have been Jack, the same man who was stabbed the previous day. Before standing, I uttered to the lord the most heartfelt gratitude I had ever felt.
“Aidan?” Jack questioned. “I can’t even begin to guess what you’re doing here, but I need to thank you for yesterday.”
“It was nothing, you don’t have to—”
“No, I do. It takes a special—”
“Jack,” I interrupted. “It really was nothing; I didn’t put that much thought into it, and neither should you. How are your wounds?”
He nodded down at his right arm, which was wrapped in a sling. “Only deep cuts were right here from trying to defend myself. Doctor said I was lucky. They just sewed me up and sent me on my way. So uh, who’s your friend?”
“His name is Danny,” I explained. “Listen, I know this sounds odd, but could you get us a ride to the hospital?”
“Oh God, is he—”
“He’s fine,” I assured, knowing full well that it was a lie. “But I’d really rather get there before he wakes up.”
I could see the wheels turning in Jack’s head—what few wheels there were at any rate—as he considered the circumstances. Hoping it would help, I warned him that Leonard was lurking around the hotel. When Jack learned that little piece of information, he was insistent that he drive us himself.
I picked Danny up and carried him once more, following Jack to his car. Not much had changed when we arrived at the hospital; Danny was just as unconscious, and I was just as concerned. As Jack dropped us off I thanked him, and as I carried Danny inside, I also thanked the lord once more. I told the woman at the front desk that we needed a room. She asked what for. I told her it was for detox. That wasn’t the complete truth, but it was enough to speed things along. Besides, after the way we’d been drinking, it couldn’t have hurt.
Things were automatic for the next few hours. I followed as they put Danny on a gurney and brought him to a room. I watched them stick needle after needle into him. A doctor asked me questions about my mate. I answered them as well as I could, and before the doctor left, I told her one last thing which she hadn’t asked about.
“He was trying to get to the roof. This note was in his pocket. I think he wrote it yesterday.”
She took the note. After glancing it over, she placed it on her clipboard and said, “We’ll keep an eye on him, thank you. You’re free to leave. He might not be up for a while. Of course, you’re also free to stay, if that’s what you’d prefer.”
I nodded and leaned back in my chair. She stepped out of the room, leaving just me and Danny. A nurse would stop by every half hour, but he never said anything. Maybe out of respect, or maybe because he had nothing to say. Either way, I was grateful for the quiet.
In my head I kept going over what would happen when Danny woke up. What he would say, what I would say, how we would come to an understanding. Yet it was impossible. The conversation never ended well, no matter how many times I went over it. We would both leave the room very unhappy with each other, every single time.
It was dark out when he opened his eyes. He looked out of place. I doubt he expected to wake up in a hospital, but I believe the truth of the matter is that he didn’t expect to wake up at all. After glancing at the needle in his arm, he was the first of us to speak.
“What’s all this then? What happened?”
His voice struck a swift blow to my chest, and I had to force my next breath. The voice had changed. From that point on, he spoke exactly as he looked: ghastly. His tone screamed of his disregard for anything earthly. It was impatient, like he had better places to be, and it was detached, like a part of him had already left.
“Don’t give me that, ‘what happened?’ bullocks. You were trying to jump.”
Danny made a gesture, I don’t know that there’s a term for it. First he scowled, and then he brought his hand to his chest. His fingers were gnarled into a claw, and they shook along with the rest of his arm. Finally he bunched the fingers into a fist and brought them down onto his leg, screaming, “Yes! You’re God bloody fuck damn right I was trying to jump! Why the hell shouldn’t I‽”
“Why the hell shouldn’t you?” I repeated, astounded by the question. Counting the list on my fingers, I said, “There are people who care about you. For as long as I’ve known you, you seemed happy more often than not. You have so much more to say, and so much more to do. And you’re a millionaire ar son Dé!”
He scoffed at the five fingers I held up. Holding up five of his own, he retracted a digit with each of his counterpoints. “There aren’t people who care about me; when I left, they all carried on just fine. I ‘seemed happy,’ what does that even mean? I know what happiness is, but I’ve rarely felt it, so don’t go calling me the man I never was. As for the money, just don’t fucking go there mate. That money has given me the chance to do anything I could want, and all it’s proven is that I don’t want a damn thing.
“And having so much left to do and say, well, I suppose these fingers actually sum up my feelings on that quite nicely,” he said, returning attention to his hand. The middle and index fingers were still held high, and the back of his hand was facing my way. That gesture did have a name in Ireland, and to put it into more general words, it told me to fuck off. “You don’t tell a suicidal man he has things left to do Aidan, because it’s simply a lie, every single time.”
“So why did you come find me?” I questioned. I forced my hands to be still. Both of us needed to calm the fuck down, because I’d played this scenario out in my head, and it hadn’t gone anywhere. “It sounds like you could have slipped away without anyone ever noticing, so why complicate things? If it weren’t for me you could have been dead days ago. If you think I’m such a bastard for keeping you here, then you have to tell me why you sought me out. It wasn’t by mistake, and it certainly wasn’t from the goodness of your heart.”
“Because Sarah wanted me to be happy. She tried to herself, but she couldn’t, and so before she hung herself she asked me to be happy in her place. Well guess what: I can’t either. I tried—I came here looking for somebody who I used to be happy with, but I just can’t. So I don’t think you’re a bastard for keeping me here, but you’re blind if you think there’s any point to it.”
That’s when the nurse and the doctor walked in. They’d heard the commotion, and they asked me to leave. I explained it to them, but they weren’t willing to listen. They just insisted that I get away from him.
I prayed again in the waiting room, and this time I can put it into plain English. It wasn’t a complicated request, but it was something that only divine intervention could carry out. I prayed that Danny would be alright.
I woke up the next morning in the same waiting room chair I’d fallen asleep in. A new person was at the front desk, and I asked him about Danny’s condition. After tapping a few things into a keyboard, he said, “We released a patient named Daniel two hours ago. I would have woken you if I knew you were with him, but it says here that his condition was stable.”
Stable. I just had to laugh. I was doubled over on the desk, laughing my arse off, barely able to breath. Stable! After everything that was said, after the doctor saw his death note, after they pumped an inhuman level of alcohol out of him, they told Danny that he was balanced! And that made me his balance keeper. I’d fucked up, there shouldn’t have been any question about it. Yet there somebody was, telling me that I’d done everything right. For a brief moment I knew what it was like to be God. And for every moment after that, I understood what a terrible burden that was.
I left the hospital with tears in my eyes. I can’t even begin to guess what emotion had formed them, because from the desk to the door, I believe I felt them all. I stumbled through Belwyn towards my home. Everything felt so new! I noticed a couple across the street, and I could see the insecurity within their mutual soul. I passed a stray dog, and I could see the passing traffic through its colour blind eyes. I was the vast grey sky looming overhead, and I was the vast grey world underfoot. Whether He meant to or not, the lord had granted me His vision.
I saw Danny. He was standing on the roof of my flat, three stories up. I waved to him. He waved back. It didn’t take divine sight to know what was on his mind. I walked inside and climbed up the stairs. The door to the roof was wide open, and as I walked through it, Danny was still standing near the edge.
“I’m done discussing it,” he announced. “Say what you want to, but I’m done.”
“Well you can’t expect me to just stand here,” I reasoned, taking deliberate steps towards him. “You want me to be happy for you, like Sarah wanted you to be happy for her.”
He tried to hide his surprise. He didn’t want me to know that I was right. But it was a pointless thing for him to do, because I didn’t have to read his face; I could see his soul. There was something inside of it, something I was overjoyed to see. There was hope.
Then I saw something that was less encouraging. His hope was wrapped around a cluster of destruction, and that destruction wasn’t entirely spiritual. There was something real to it.
“What’s in your jacket Danny?” I asked. “You don’t have to discuss it. Just show me.”
With a sigh, Danny reached into his jacket and produced a pistol. He also pulled at the ring around his neck, snapping the chain. He glanced over his shoulder at the three story drop, and then he spoke to me. “It’s in case I couldn’t jump.
“I never did wake up a second time. Fuck, with all my rambling about it you’d think I could learn. But look, here’s Danny with a pistol in one hand and a ring in the other, the crazy bastard. See the way he brandishes it, smell the whiskey on his breath, feel the roughness of his cheek—know the uncertainty within him and realize the world means nothing to the damn crazy lunatic while he obsesses over the same two people who should’ve known to leave him be! Watch him and be bloody well hopeful that the tempest doesn’t cross your path, he’ll hurt ya whether he means to or not!
“You mean well Aidan, and I love you for it. But this is for the good of the both of us.”
I took a step forward. “This doesn’t have to be over,” I told him. “There’s still some part of you that doesn’t want to let Sarah down; there’s still some part of you that wants to be happy. Come to your senses mate.”
“I’m more sensible than I’ve been all my life, and it feels damn refreshing.”
“Then you’re a damn fool!” I exclaimed.
Looking me dead in the soul, Danny countered, “I’m a damn fool with a gun. You think you’re the only one who sees the world in a special way? I can read you Aidan, and more importantly, I can read myself; we both know that this ends here.”
As Danny brought the pistol to his head I bounded towards him, and dove in time to pull the gun from his hand, unfired. Caught in momentum’s swing, I also grappled Danny away from the edge, and gave him a rough push to a more central part of the roof.
“Well that’s one way to say goodbye,” Danny said with a twisted smile as he regained his balance, staring into my soul.
Pointing the pistol at Danny’s legs, I said, “So help me lord, I will ruin your life if it means saving it.”
With the ring still tight in his grasp, Danny walked towards me, unaffected by the threat. Only a few steps remained between the two of us when I had a thought. Danny saw it, and his feet stopped dead.
Inhaling deeply, I shifted my aim from Danny’s legs to my own head.
“So help me lord, I will ruin your life if it means saving it.”
Both his heart and his mind were caught in a frenzy, and Danny lunged for the weapon. He knocked it out of my hand, but in doing so, so he lost his footing. Danny cascaded over the edge. I reached out for him and our hands connected, as did our minds. I understood all of the questions he could never answer. Even with his earthly wealth, and even with his divine vision, there were things he didn’t know. That profound uncertainty had been draining him of life for the last ten years. When I took his hand, I took his burden; we both fell.
I laid on the sidewalk, facing the churning sky and watching Danny become a part of it. His body sat beside me, his neck cracked and his skull fractured. Letting out a wordless scream, I reached to my friend and took hold of a limp hand. The same hand which held his ring. I felt him die. I felt the pain leave him.
And that’s where the story should have ended. Danny was dead, and I was broken. Boohoo, tragedy, tears all around. But of course, that’s not where the story ends at all. It’s where the story begins.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, July 2015