Frankie took a deep breath as he inhaled the last bit of his cigarette. He bent his head back, gazed out at the stars above, and exhaled until his throat produced a cough like thunder, forcing him to hunch over and take in the view of the steep drop just a few feet in front of his dirt-covered sneakers. He flicked what was left of the cigarette over the edge, and watched as the light flickered until the night sky performed its magic and made it disappear.
Frankie shuffled forward another foot, and while trying to catch his breath, he took in the view of the city lights below him. The same city lights he helped design some forty-years ago, when he was an enthusiastic, Civil Engineer. He remembered how happy he had been the day he got that job; and how it brought him even more joy when he told his wife, Pam.
His memories were now a stream flowing from his head to his heart. He thought of Pam on their wedding day, twirling about in her pure-white dress. He thought of their only child, Frankie Jr., and how he looked just like Pam: green eyes that looked like the Earth from far away; fine, wavy hair that waved in the wind; and a smile that couldn’t lie if it wanted to. “Why did you take them, God!” he screamed toward the sky. The sky didn’t answer. “Why would you leave me all alone! They didn’t deserve to die!”—he was interrupted by his own heavy cough—”Fuck!”
Frankie took a step forward with his left, then matched it with his right; toes over the edge like a kid testing the water before taking a plunge. He took a deep breath. He looked up toward the sky and whispered: “Pam…Frankie….I’ll be home soon.”
It seemed as if everyone had a place to escape to on this dreary night: the citizens of New Falls escaped to their beds; animals of every kind escaped to their burrows and dens; the sun dipped below the horizon—even the moon hid behind the clouds. But for Frankie, his escape was much different. He planned on escaping his life…forever.
Mark decided Lookout Mountain would be the best place to end his life. It was after dark, so no one would be around to ruin his plan. It was about 30,000 feet; which would be enough to turn him into a human pancake. And it was where he met his wife. His cheating, whore of a wife. He figured, if he was going to kill himself he might as well make her suffer in doing so. The plan was as simple as a plan gets (killing oneself doesn’t tend to need an elaborate plan): walk up the mountain after dark, and jump down the mountain. Simple. In fact, the hardest part of the whole thing was the tiresome, 30,000 foot climb up to the top. I should of just bought a gun, the young man thought.
Mark was near the top of the mountain, when his phone rang. “Dammit. Who would be calling me? And now, of all times.” He glanced down at the cracked screen of his IPhone, and with his thumb that looked like it was hit with a hammer, he hit accept.
“What do you want?” he said.
“I want to know where you are.” Her voice was voracious. “You think you can just leave like that! Don’t even bother coming back, you piece…of…SHIT!”
Fuck you, is a phrase you don’t normally hear when you’re alone on top of a mountain in the middle of the night. But it echoed loud, and pierced Frankie’s old ears that apparently still worked.
“Wh…who’s there?” The old man named Frankie, said. His knees were trembling in fear, hands shaking as if he was playing a tambourine, feet so close to the edge, even a sudden sneeze would do the trick and send him over. “Who’s there!”
“Frankie? Frankie, is that you?” Mark said as he reached the summit.
“For god’s sake.” he said under his breath, before saying aloud: “Depends who’s askin’!”
“It’s Mark. Mark Belton. What the hell you doin’ up here? It’s almost midnight.”
“Thanks for the information; I thought it was noon.” He wasn’t even hiding the sarcasm.
“Sorry, Frankie. It’s just”—he paused to assess the situation—you being up here this late…it’s a little strange, don’t you think?”
“Well, when you get to be my age, everything seems to have an answer.”
Mark could now see Frankie and the edge-of-the cliff in whole. What a sad, stubborn old man, he thought (forgetting that he was on the mountain to do the very same sad thing). He was now close enough to see Frankie’s eyes swelled-up like a hot air balloon.
Both men were now standing side-by-side at the edge of the cliff; both men carrying heavy burdens on their backs; both men understanding each other with completeness; yet, both men unwilling to talk about the suicide act they both planned on performing. So they both stood, taking it all in—the shine of the city that raised them, the sky that was painted with stars, the baffling belief that both men would be dead had fate not intervened—for what seemed to be an hour.
“Walk you down, Frankie?” Mark said, snapping Frankie out of his mindless trance.
“Huh—what? Wha’d you say?”
“I’m headed back down. Why don’t you come with? I could use the company.”
“Oh, well…I’ll be alright. You take care of yourself, Mark.”
“I’ll see you around? Mark said, wanting some reassurance that the old man would be coming back down. He didn’t get it. All he got was a light grunt from the old man named Frankie; but that was all the comfort he needed to leave the old man be.
Years later, Mark would speak at schools and events and conferences; he would speak to anyone that wanted to hear his story of the old man that saved his life. “Sometimes,” he would say, “ all you need is an ear to listen, or”—he could never hold back his smile when he said this—”a stranger to sit by your side in a time of despair.”