by Rosko Tzolov
Stan feels lonely and sorry of himself in his empty apartment after argument with his wife
The apartment was so quiet, irksomely quiet. I turned on the TV, but it couldn’t replace the sound of my family voices. Honestly, I felt lonely. I had a fight with my wife again; she packed up the children and went to her mother. That was her usual trick. She didn’t do it to show me how much I’d hurt her — she did it to hurt me. I missed my children, and I did not want them to think of me as the villain chasing their mother out of the house. It's true — I screamed at her, but she screamed, too. We had been shouting at each other quite a lot lately. We were choosing the wrong outlet to get rid of the stress —screaming at each other. But it was not a proper release — it was just like throwing a ball back and forth, with no resolution. That ball, all that junk, just kept accumulating. I suppose I could go and scream at a passerby, a vendor, or scream alone in my car ... and so I did ... maybe it was better — I don't know. There are many people I could scream at and many places where I could scream, but that shouting is not a means of coping with the problems. We each stubbornly refused to face the issues in our marriage, and they were festering. My wife and I were too busy concentrating on other issues — she was worried that her bosses were moving her to another department in the office, and I was worried that they were cutting off people in my office. My health was not good either — diabetes did not play games, and recently, two of my toes had been amputated. The children were teenagers — I had caught my thirteen-year-old son smoking marijuana, and my fifteen-year-old daughter was dating some older guy who could be well over eighteen.
I was alone in the empty house, and my mood was getting worse. I generally don’t drink beer because of my diabetes, but at that point, I wouldn’t have minded a good beer. Sadly there wasn’t any good beer in the house. The one in the refrigerator was terrible; my wife’s beer taste was awful.
Nothing interesting was on the news. I flipped through the channels, but I found only dull movies, and there was not even one documentary. I didn't feel like reading either. I sat for a while in deep thought, but I couldn’t stand doing even that after a while. Finally, I shrugged on my jacket and went out.
It was fresh outside. It was a nice autumn evening in mid-November. A slight breeze blew. There were scattered clouds, and it smelled of snow, or so I thought. It was a Friday night, and the city streets were full of people — young, mostly, but there were others — even older farts like me. I was going to sink into a bar, but I could not drink much — I had to control my blood sugar, and in the mood I was in, I would have gotten drunk. Also it wasn’t just abstinence. I did not want to just get drunk. I was looking to do something else, but what that was hadn’t quite formulated in my head…
I kept on roaming the streets, thinking about my problems, and I could not see a solution for them. They would probably fire me, and the issues between my wife and me — they were huge. I foresaw a divorce on the horizon.
I drifted to part of the city near the river. I had been walking for a while. It is not good for me to walk so much, because I do not feel my feet due to diabetes. If I get scrapes on them, they are difficult to heal. I wondered where to go. I did not feel like going either forward or backwards or sideways. I was not feeling like walking around the city anymore, but I didn’t want to go back home either.
The answer presented in the shape of a fire staircase that had been pulled down to the street from a nearby building. "Lucky me," I thought. That was what I needed — to get up and look at the city from there. The building was a dozen floors high, and there would be a spectacular view of the city and the river that crossed it. I started climbing the ladder. It turned out to be a much more difficult task than I thought it would be. I was obviously in bad shape because I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. Those cigarettes and that gut.
I finally climbed to the top. I sat down on the ledge of the building and looked back at the town below. This building was one of the tallest buildings in the city, and I could clearly see the streets below getting lost in the distance. The lights of the street lamps, which were like small suns near me, arranged in rows, merged farther into the city. The few clouds above were colored yellow by the city's lights.
Something about the beauty of that view made me want to smoke. As I tried to pull the cigarette box out of my pocket, it got stuck, and I somehow dropped it — it fell ten floors down. Well, I would have to go without smoking. I didn’t need to pollute the moment with the poison of cigarettes, anyway. As I silently laughed at myself, the thought of what I needed to do struck me, and whether or not the cigarettes would poison me was no longer of paramount importance. I just thought about how long it would take…
My thoughts were interrupted by a noise from the other side of the building, on the river side. Between me and the other side was the elevator tower. I got up, walked around it, and froze in place.
On the ledge of the building, facing out, was a woman. She was barefoot, dressed in a white dress that fluttered from the faint breeze. She had left her shoes next to the elevator tower — her purse, too.
А suicide! So she was the one who had somehow pulled down the fire stairs. I did not know what to do. If I approached, she could throw herself down. I wondered what to say without scaring her.
Instead, she spoke first: “Hello stranger,” she said and smiled – I could see her face slightly from the side.
“Hello.” I uttered cautiously.
“Ah, a man! Young, broad-shouldered. With blue eyes. Have you came to save me?”
“I’m afraid that you didn’t get about anything right with the description, Miss,” I said timidly.
“Oh, don’t bother being so polite — considering you are talking to a woman who is standing on the edge. Do we need such
“I guess you're right.”
“Of course. What brings you here?” the woman said, turning to me, smiling.
She was in her mid-twenties and pretty. Black long hair, her face pale and faint with dark brown, almost black, eyes and a nice smile.
“I came for the view,” I said and stepped back. I leaned on the elevator tower with my hands in my pockets. I did not know
what was to be done when one finds a suicidal person on the edge of a building, but I guessed the first thing was to assure
her that I would not try to get her off of the ledge. I regretted losing my cigarettes. I wouldn’t mind having one now.
“What's your name?” the woman asked.
“Amelia. Nice to meet you, Stan. I don’t know a lot of Stans.”
“And I don’t know many women named Amelia. I can actually only think of one...”
“Is she a friend of yours?” asked the woman with interest.
“No,” I laughed, “rather the heroine of a book. She is a little crossed-eyed, and maybe she is a he... but you do not look like her at all. Excuse me that I mentioned her. It just...”
“Came to you like that? It’s rather alright” said Amelia, as she turned away and made a cartwheel on the ledge that was
about ten inches wide. She stepped back to her feet and turned to me with a jump.
“Please do not do this!” I exclaimed.
“Why not?” she asked.
“It's dangerous ...” I said quietly.
“On the contrary. I am a professional. I train in my room every day. Tell me about yourself. If you want, of course. Is it just because of the view you are here or you were walking outside because ...”
The woman trailed off, strolling along the edge of the ledge and making a gesture for me to finish the sentence. I shrugged my shoulders and looked across the edge to the river.
“I wanted to get some air tonight. My life is — well, hell is the right word. I thought a walk would cheer me up, calm me down.”
“Did it calm you down?” the woman asked curiously.
“On the contrary,” I replied sincerely.
The woman laughed, “But why? Take a deep breath. Relax. There's a reason why you came here.”
“What is it?”
“So you can find a solution to the problems you did not find down there, so to speak,” she said and winked at me.
“Yes. Down there are buildings, streets, people. Here only the sky is above. Now you are close to the stars. Everything that stifles you is underneath.”
“Of course. Why don’t you come down from the ledge?” I tried to entice her.
“Come on, I’m not going to jump if that is what’s bothering you. I think I will not fall. It's destiny — you cannot be sure, of course.”
“I am not so sure about destiny," I argued, forgetting for a moment the situation.
“Hmm, I'm a real supporter of the idea of it. Every night I go to bed confident that fate is real,” Amelia said.
“What happens during the day?”
“Hmm, I wake up and believe in free will, of course. How else can fate be? The opposite would be impossible, wouldn’t it?”
I thought about it.
“I guess you're on to something. But why fate? Doesn't the faith in free will make fate redundant?” I questioned her, getting engaged in the conversation.
“You are astute! I believe in fate though — when I do believe in anything, of course.”
“Isn’t it enough to know that a man is forging his own life?”
“I see things differently. A person has a fate. He has no control over his life. The one thing he has control of is the way he experiences his life. So to speak, this is the responsibility of, let’s say, the soul. That's all it can do. Your soul stays locked in you, always observing, feeling fear at times, or other times, courage.
“If you believe in fate, why don’t you just go to bed and lie and wait for something to happen — whatever fate brings you."
“Of course, there is that. The fate of a man is to not believe in his destiny, anyway, but to instead believe in free will. Maybe just before bedtime, we can believe a little — then belief in fate is even good for us. And now it's time for me to go to bed, I believe... Oops,” Amelia uttered. She lost her balance for a moment, paused, and balanced with her hands. “See, I did not fall. Fate.”
“I don’t know about that, I wouldn’t test it too much.”
“You're freaking out easily. I don’t want to scare you. Here, I will sit.”
She sat down with her legs dangling over the edge. I approached her and sat down on the ledge next to her, but with my legs on the inside.
“Look how beautiful it is — the river, the bridge. You have to enjoy your life. Accept what you are and rejoice at what you have. But before that you have to understand what you don’t have. Right?”
“I guess. In order to know what you’ve got, you need to know what you don’t have. I like that thought. Simple but true.”
“Isn't it? So what is it?” she asked, looking at me questioningly. “What do you miss that you had yesterday... or last year?”
“Hmm, I think I miss my wife's love. Or at least the ability to reach an understanding with her. I think ... she’s going to leave me.” As I said this, the weight I had carried inside my chest all night lifted.
“That isn’t good. Can you do something?”
“I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe it's too late.”
“That is sad. Do you love her?”
“Once I did. Now, maybe, but we hurt each other a lot. Staying together would be hard.” I felt more relaxed, lighter. It was like as I said it, I realized that whatever was going to happen, it was out of my control. Fate or not, it was relaxing to let go.”
“Well done. We share. A real conversation. What can a small exercise on the edge do, ha? It predisposes people to an open conversation.”
“And you? What's your story?” it was my turn to ask.
“Me? I suppose I have my problems as well,” Amelia said and fell sullen. For the first time, I saw sadness on her face.
“Well? A bit of cancer in my breast.”
“And you decided to make it quick?”
“No. Things are a bit more complex. I was at a party tonight. Everyone knew and stared at me, which is fine. And, a few weeks ago, my boyfriend left me in a very nasty way. He said he was not ready to get into a serious relationship, but then he started dating my friend. I saw them at the party. Destiny, right?
“Destiny.” I agreed after a moment's silence.
“Well, that’s all that wrong with you? Your wife? I win. My situation is way worse.”
“I have advanced diabetes. Two of my toes were already cut off. The doctors might cut a leg soon. I'll probably be fired from my job.” I started listing.
“Oh. You have potential. Apparently, only people with real problems are getting up to talk on the roofs at four o'clock in the morning.”
“Hmm, problems. Fate rather.” I laughed bitterly.
“You’ve heard that prayer, haven’t you?”
“Which one exactly?”
“To accept the things you cannot change, change the ones that you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
“The Serenity Prayer...”
“Yes. You’ve been stressing out, I think. Tie it as it comes...”
“My forefathers bred cattle... The point of the saying is — do not think so much about things. They take care of themselves.
If they don’t take care of themselves, it was fate, and you could not do anything,” Amelia shrugged.
“You’re very good at counseling, but you’re the one making pirouettes on the edge of the ledge. Why are you here? You have to fight this cancer off. Your ex-boyfriend is not even worth talking about.”
“No?” Amelia asked. Tears glistened in her eyes.
“No. I'm not even going to start with the triviality of how time will pass and that you are young — and, perhaps smart — nevertheless, that walking around the edge is not very smart.
“Do you know how it helps release the stress, though?"
“Should I try it?”
“How do you feel —confident in your fate or free will?” She asked me seriously.
I laughed. Amelia looked at me cheerfully, then said seriously.
“Hmm, fate has spoken. You appeared. My knight in — a red-and-black jacket,” she looked me over as if for the first time.
“And what will you do? What does fate make you do from here on and will you listen to it?”
“I think I will listen to it — and what other choice do I have? And I will go on, or at least, I will accept what is offered to me.
Do you know, it’s nice to have someone to talk to in difficult moments?” she admitted.
“Mmm yes. Somehow, when you are locked in your head, you come up with some ideas…" she said, looking downwards over the ledge.” And what will you do, my savior? Has this conversation in the night on the roof helped you at all?”
I shrugged and looked at the well-lit bridge over the river.
“I guess I'll follow your advice. I’ll remember that prayer or the shorter saying — tie it as it comes...” I laughed. I had thought that if she could get off the ledge, I could go without getting on it. But I did not want to tell her that.
“Do you want to go down to the street?” I asked her.
“On the street? No, stay here. It'll be dawn soon. Will you wait with me? I promise you — the sunrise will be magnificent — the sun over the bridge and the river, and these clouds. Stay with me, please.”
We stayed on the roof until morning. The sun rose. It was just as pretty as she had promised me it would be. The sun appeared like a huge orange on the horizon. For a long time, I had not wanted to walk under the sun, under that orange hanging over the bridge, like that morning.
Amelia and I looked at the sunrise and then descended to the street. I sent her home and then went back to my empty apartment.
Six months later, in the afternoon, I was walking down the main street after getting off work. April is a beautiful month in our city. The trees on both sides of the streets were blooming, getting green, the birds were chirping happily. People were dressed in colorful clothes and were almost pleasant to each other.
I went into a café where I was a regular, ordered a tea without sugar, and sat down at a table in the corner. As I was looking outside at the cars, someone sat down across the table. It was Amelia. She was slimmer, her hair short, but I immediately recognized her.
“How is life?”
I shrugged and smiled, “I guess well. How else can life be in the spring?”
“You don’t wear a ring?” observed she.
“I divorced. Couldn’t be helped. How are you?” I asked her seriously.
“Are you asking about the breast cancer? They operated on me. Then I had chemotherapy ... thus the short hair. How do you find it?” she asked, and turned her head so I could see it from the side.
“Yes. I like it short, too. The important thing though is that it didn’t metastasize.”
“Congratulations. I'm glad things are going well.”
“Thank you. How about you?”
“I am fine. I’m healthy ... healthier. If you have not noticed, I've lost weight. It helps with diabetes. I got fired from my job,” I
“I'm so sorry.”
“No, no, don’t. That's how it’s meant to be. I did what I could, but it did not work. So it was fate, right?” I winked at her.
“Of course it’s fate. What are you doing — for money, I mean?”
“I have a worse job, but it doesn’t matter. I make ends meet.”
“What about your family?”
“We sold the apartment, my ex-wife and I divided the money between ourselves, and now I rent. We share joint custody —
one week the children are with me and one week with her. Such is life. Things don’t always go as you want to, do they? And you have nothing else but to believe in fate late in the evening and free will early in the morning.” I spread my hands.
“To balance on the edge.”
“Yes, I'm glad you're saying that.”
“It is good. It is good to have the courage inside to push you forward. Honestly, I now accept life as it is. I follow what I always knew I should, but a young woman on the edge of a roof had to tell me that one night to remember it.”
“Probably the situation made the advice easier to remember, didn’t it? Do you get up on many roofs often these days?”
“Not really,” I said seriously “I hope you don’t either.”
“No, I don’t” she laughed. She then put her hand over mine and added seriously, “You know, Stan, you saved my life. I had
decided to jump that night.”
“How did you do it?” she asked.
“I do not know about that. We just spoke frankly to each other. We helped each other.”
“So you too?”
We got out of the café. We hugged, said goodbye, and parted. I started walking down the street. How nice it was to be alive
in April! The bees buzzed, the birds sang. And the sun was like a huge orange hanging there at the end of the street — it made me want to run after it.