“Harold Lawrence! Have you any idea, Lawrence, of…” Hearing the voice of his employer, the man sinks to the floor, even though he can still hear the shouting through the hanging earpiece. He can almost see the flecks of spittle flying from the fat man’s lips as he enunciates the final words hissed through the telephone: “Do not bother showing your filthy face at my company again. You are fired, Mr. Lawrence.” The man wonders why he is even the slightest bit surprised. With sinking apathy, he rotates the phone dial to the teller at the bank to inquire about his funds.
“Zero dollars and zero cents precisely,” was the professional reply.
“Thank you,” sighed the man.
“And you have a good day,” chirped the teller. “From what you’ve told me of it this morning, things seem to be going your way!” The man slammed the earpiece into its receptacle, threw his head into his hands, and sunk to the floor.
The man closes the door of the apartment and descends the stairs to the city streets. He falls back on his usual habit of aimlessly walking around the block when troubled. On every rotation he looks up to his third-story window, half expecting to see his image behind the pane. He continues on, his thoughts drowning out the sounds of the pedestrians, the birds, the traffic, sirens… Sirens. The fire trucks reach the corner before he does, though he runs as fast as he can. As he rounds the bend, he can see a crowd gathered around his apartment where flames leap from the windows of his apartment alone. The firemen are attempting to hook a hose to the nearest fire hydrant, though one person is obstructing them. The man can hear snippets of a raised voice.
“Mr. Lawrence, if you do not move… for God’s sake, it’s your own apartment!… I will be obliged to lift you myself.” The man stands paralyzed as the fireman moves to lift the figure, but the fireman’s arms only go straight through the figure’s middle. The fireman withdraws his arms as if they have touched hot fire and his face pales to a ghastly white. The figure turns, casually gives the fire hydrant a swift kick, and disappears.
The man turns from the scene, feeling sick, listening to the distant cries of the firemen attempting to withdraw water from the newly dead fire hydrant. The thick clouds above frequently flash, but threaten no rain, nothing to potentially extinguish the inferno engulfing the man’s home, he notes to himself. The man looks to the dark horizon, to the bridge in the distance. His body drags itself in the direction of the bridge, his mind knowing full well what it must do.
Night has descended, and the cables of the bridge stand fast against the howling wind, unlike the swaying man clutching a beam and staring down into the black waters below. His hands and the metal seem to merge he has stood there so long. He closes his eyes but feels a presence beside him. He blinks, and in his peripheral vision, he sees the same figure he has come to expect. He sees himself. “What do you want from me?” he asks.
“I don’t want anything,” comes the reply in a mimicked voice. “I am simply dealing with what must occur. You saw me, you spoke to me. Now you must die.” The man’s view of the figure becomes blurred with moistness.
“I don’t want to die. I thought I wanted to, but now I’m not so sure..,” he chokes.
“I think you are sure. In fact, I am sure you are sure.” The man looks to the figure, who stands in the same position as he, clutching an identical beam. “You will die. You want to die. It is perhaps the most brilliant idea you have ever had.”
“You’re wretched, freakishly wretched.”
“Don’t say such things about yourself, Harold,” says the figure. “It’s unbecoming.”
“You are wretched! You are!”
“You are! You are!” comes the echo.
“I am! I am!” the man screams, stepping to the very edge of the bridge. “As I destroy myself, by all means, I destroy you as well!” He relinquishes his grasp on the metal and leaps forward into the night, plummeting through the cold mists below. There is a distant sound of body on water. The figure stands unwavering, clothes and hair ruffled by the wind over the bridge.
“He is delivered,” mutters the figure. He straightens his tie. “My work here is done.”
About The Author
Luisa Barbano lives in Rhinebeck, New York, where she is a bookseller at the local independent bookstore, Oblong Books. She also does library work at the neighboring Bard College, from which she graduated with a degree in Medieval Studies.
The pandemic has given her time to pursue her writing, and she is working on preparing a medievalism-infused memoir manuscript for publication.