A Coward’s Exit

Waves crashed against the shore. The sky grew darker and darker. A storm was brewing.

Harry didn’t care. He had lived there long enough and was used to the weather. He cracked open his beer. The old sofa creaked under his weight. The vast expanse of the sea brought back memories. Each wave flooded his mind with new images. Usually, he managed to forget about them. But now they were clear and vivid. The sound of brakes screeching. The flashing lights of the oncoming car. The smell of the smoke.

This was how it always started.

He gulped down his beer, looking at an old photo that stood on the chest of drawers. Helen looked back at him. Her long hair had been the first thing to attract him to her. It was a deep red and flowed down her shoulders in waves. Harry’s fingers ached to reach out and touch it. Her green eyes pierced through the picture. It was like she could see him. For one moment, Harry felt slightly less alone.

Her wedding ring flashed gold. It had been the best day of Harry’s life. Looking into those green eyes, he remembered the warm feeling of pride. Vowing that he would love Helen for the rest of his life. He had never meant anything more.

“‘Till death do us part.” The sentence rang in his ears.

Tom was smiling at him too, with his mother’s emerald eyes. He was wearing his favourite football shirt. Harry had planned to take him to his first real football match that summer. A pang of guilt stabbed his chest. If only he had taken him sooner.

Harry sniffed and rubbed his eyes, averting his gaze to the sea outside. He would need another can of beer soon. Alcohol didn’t lessen the pain of his memories but it gave him something to do with his hands.

It had been two years. They were on one of their family day trips, shopping for a school uniform. Tom was starting high school that September. After getting him fitted for a new pair of shoes, Harry bought them lunch at the nearby burger bar that had just opened.

He crushed the can and kicked it across the floor. If only he hadn’t decided to take them for that stupid burger. If they had just eaten at home…

He buried his face in his hands, experiencing it for the first time all over again. He couldn’t take it anymore.

The car suddenly appeared, a bullet out of a gun. Harry’s ears rang with the sounds of the roaring engine. The screeching tyres. His eyes held the vision of Tom. Tom! Stepping into the street, unaware. Helen! Instinctively following to pull him back. The roaring. The screeching. There was nothing he could do.

It was too late.

It hit them both at full impact. There was no time for either of them to react. They were thrown across the ground. One of Tom’s new shoes flew into the air and landed on the car bonnet.

In that moment, Harry was numb. Out of touch with reality, a ghost in a bad dream. People stood around, horrified expressions on their faces. Somebody yelled to call an ambulance. He recognised the voice as his own.

A single crow landed beside Tom and Helen.

Harry wiped his nose and face. His body was shaking as he sobbed.

Since then, Harry had holed himself up in the holiday hut that he had once shared with his wife and son. At home, he could still hear Tom’s voice, skidding through the hallway in his socks. His certificates from school were still stuck on the fridge door.

Helen’s shoes were neatly stacked in a row by the front door. Her favourite pair was missing. She had been wearing them the day she died.

Stars dotted the sky. Harry had never been big on the afterlife, but a part of him couldn’t help but wonder if, in some bizarre way, they could see him down here. What would they think of who he had become now?

He was about to find out. Living was too tiring. Now that they had gone, he was kidding himself to believe that he could keep trying.

Groaning, he lifted himself up from the sofa and went out onto the balcony. The wind was howling and rain fell down in sheets. Within moments, Harry’s clothes were saturated and his skin was numb with cold.

He climbed up onto the wooden railing. Beneath, the sea roared. Salty spray blew up into his face and stung his eyes.

Harry looked down into the vast depths of the water. How would it feel to just drop? To let the wind rush past his face, to feel the impact of the water. It wasn’t like there was anyone here to miss him anymore. Nobody would even know he had gone.

A flash of colour caught his eye. Tom’s old football had rolled across the balcony in the wind, landing against the railing with a clunk. A face, drawn in black marker pen, glared up at Harry.

Coward, he thought to himself. That was all he was. As much as he was too tired to live, he didn’t have the courage to die. Maybe tomorrow would be his last day.

Stumbling into the hut, he made for the kitchen fridge. It was time for another beer.

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Image by @vaughndemont.

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