Confidants

After the sudden loss of a … friend? coworker? … a woman wonders if she ever really knew him at all.

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Content warning: This story deals with a possible suicide.

Annie scanned each level of the ten-story brick building, cupping her eyes to shield them from the brilliant sun.

Which window had he fallen from? She counted up from the bottom.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Five. It didn’t seem to Annie a death-causing height, although the fall hadn’t ended Rick right away. The medics had managed to peel his face off the sidewalk, bend his broken limbs under a white sheet, and hoist him into the ambulance before his final breath.

Had his spirit left the world at the corner of 13th and 5th? Or on the Ivor Strong Bridge, crossing the swiftly flowing Bow River, ice still crackling along its edges?

Annie knelt and placed her hand where she thought Rick’s heart had exploded. The concrete, cracked and dry, showed no trace of Rick’s fall, long washed away by spring showers. She dug around in her jacket pocket, fingers finding the nub of chalk she’d stolen from the coffee shop where she sometimes mixed up the decaf and regular grounds, but mostly wrote the daily, weekly, and monthly specials on the great chalkboard behind the counter; lattes and fraps and mochas articulated by butterflies and smiling suns and happy flowers. That’s what the patrons wanted to see, Annie’s manager had said, erasing the crossbones and guns Annie had drawn around Iced Peppermint Latte $5.96. She was just trying to be real. Annie’s manager had said, “Less real.” So, Annie drew “less real.”

But here, where something very real had occurred, Annie was free to press the blue chalk into the warm sidewalk however she pleased. She examined the southwest-facing windows, imagining the directional lines of Rick’s descent. She drew the outline of Rick’s head around a dark spot about the size of a head. It might’ve been oil or grease, but Annie used it as a point of reference as she dragged the chalk down to outline Rick’s long neck, his bumpy shoulders, his big hands, all five fingers splayed out, like he was waving or giving a high-five. At his stomach, in the spirit of realism, she bowed her line.

Annie glanced at the row of fifth-floor windows, uncertain which ones looked into Rick’s apartment. Had someone cleaned out his snack cupboard? Maybe the next tenant would find his bags of ketchup chips and Skittles he had often picked up from the convenience store on their street. They’d only ever said goodnight on the sidewalk and then Annie had speed-walked the last block alone, glancing back over her shoulder every few feet just in case.

She continued the bow down to his hips and then narrowed the line again at his thighs and drew two short parallel lines for legs. Barely a foot taller than her. He hadn’t laughed when she’d asked to borrow his soft maroon sweater — had she offended him? But then he’d laughed and lightly punched her shoulder and asked if he could borrow her ripped skinny jeans because there was someone he wanted to impress. Annie didn’t know anyone Rick knew outside of work, so she couldn’t pick out the someone at the funeral. Roughly one hundred people had come to wish Rick well on his travels to the afterlife, more than Annie thought she’d get at her own. Her mother was long gone and she and her sister weren’t on speaking terms that year. Maybe next year. Annie hoped her sister would start talking to her again around Thanksgiving. She missed her sister’s little sweet and sour meatballs.

Rick had only worn sneakers, specifically Converse, so Annie outlined his shoes and criss-crossed the laces six times, although she couldn’t recall how many criss-crosses equated to suitably tied. She just remembered Rick had to sit multiple times during his shift to retie all those laces as they always managed to come undone.

Annie mirrored the left side and drew her way north up the right, sneaker to neck. She stepped back and examined Rick’s form. His right leg was longer than his left, and a crack in the pavement conveniently worked as a belly button. He was missing his big ears, so Annie added those, but after that she was pretty happy with her Rick and she doubted the cops drew such a good outline, if they’d drawn one at all.

Annie knelt and crawled into Rick’s outline. She laid on her back, on Rick’s stomach, her head on top of Rick’s head and looked up at his apartment building. Sunshine reflected off the windows, preventing Annie from seeing inside. She pictured Rick on one of the balconies, leaning over and smoking a thin joint, leaning too far and …

No one had actually told Annie what happened. Nothing on Facebook or the news about it. But she figured that might be the way he’d gone. He was always leaning over things he shouldn’t have been, like a wobbly fence or a customer’s shoulder or the yellow line on the C-train platform.

Annie’s manager had told the entire staff just minutes before the coffee shop opened. She didn’t want to keep them in the dark in case the cops showed up, asking questions and complaining about eight-dollar scones. Hearing the news, Annie had thrown up in the customer toilet, but cleaned it right away so no one would notice. Five years working alongside him. Rick had walked home with her almost every night after their shifts ended, except the time he’d gotten pneumonia and spent a week in the hospital.

Who would walk her almost home now? She was sure to get murdered or kidnapped. She was small and easy to bury in a shallow grave or shove into an unmarked van. Would anyone miss her? Everyone missed Rick. The staff had drawn hearts and crosses and We Miss You!s in washable marker on the coffee shop’s front windows. Annie’s manager said it was okay. But Annie’s manager said it was not okay for Annie to draw a gang of meerkats. “Weren’t you friends?” her manager asked, wiping away Annie’s meerkat burrow.

Would Rick have said they were friends?

Confidants.

Annie knew Rick had liked Animal Planet and drank half a bottle of chardonnay every night. She knew he’d flunked out of high school and sold meth for three years before driving over a kid on a bike. She knew he’d gotten off because the parents didn’t press charges if he went to rehab. She knew when Rick was about to cry because he pinched his left hand and gulped air. She knew that when he did cry, he sounded like a barking sea lion. She knew he used dandruff shampoo because when he curled his head into the crook of her shoulder, she could smell the familiar blue. She knew weed made him forget, but only long enough for him to remember. She knew he stole gingersnaps from work, but only because he split them with her on their way home. She knew he wanted to go to Paris and start over, but he spent too much money on weed. She knew his parents loved him, but he didn’t think they’d forgiven him. When Rick was 12, he’d laughed so hard he farted and was sent to detention. She knew everything about him, but did she really know Rick?

Annie hadn’t known he was thinking about using his balcony for something other than smoking and waving. He hadn’t mentioned that on their last walk. Not even a hint. Although he had given her his last stick of Juicy Fruit. But he’d said, “Later, skater.” He always said that, even though she didn’t own a skateboard or skates. Had those been his last words? No one had told Annie they were planning to end their life before, so she didn’t know what it sounded like, if she should’ve noticed a look in his eye or if there was a telling hand gesture to watch for.

A woman jogged up and, running in place, asked if Annie was all right. Annie lifted her head off Rick’s. “I didn’t know the signs,” she answered. The woman frowned and jogged away without inquiring further. Maybe she didn’t know them either.

The weight of Rick’s secrets pulled Annie closer to the sidewalk. Now that he was gone, the secrets held no value. She was no longer Rick’s confidante. She couldn’t lay there forever and neither could Rick.

Annie slowly began moving her arms and legs up and down, erasing Rick’s outline, freeing him from the sidewalk. Her jacket and jeans scraped against the concrete and as she pumped faster and faster in all directions, Annie imagined Rick standing on the balcony railing in her skinny jeans, looking down. His arms outstretched, his wings spread wide.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. A well told story that leaves more questions than answers, Ms. Johnston. It takes us through Annie’s thought process as well as grieving and coping mechanisms she used. A fall from a 5th floor balcony certainly would seem high enough to be fatal to me just hearing the height, much less having it confirmed.

    I would say their relationship went beyond just being acquaintances, closer to lite friends, confidants. We know Rick had run over a kid on a bicycle and then sent to (presumably) drug rehab. Also that he flunked out of high school, sold meth, and currently still smoked pot. She knew which snacks he liked, where he bought them, details about his Converse sneakers, the fact he was always leaning over things he shouldn’t have been, and more.

    We know his death was caused by this fall off of the balcony. Having said that it’s unclear whether it was intentional or not. My instincts lean more towards it being an accident. Perhaps being high at the time and leaning too far over the railing this time caused the fatal fall. It could have been intentional on a subconscious level. Annie doesn’t indicate any recent signs she noticed that he wanted out of this life though, so we simply don’t know.

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