I find myself on a cliff edge, it will only take a little more to push me over.
The razor is sharp enough to slice with little effort, and the pain reminds me of both what I deserve, and what I am leaving behind. I have enough strength to cut, just. If I still have that power then I’m not over the cliff quite yet.
I need to try again.
. . .
I come round in a sitting position. Muted colours, beige, and greying-yellow swirl around me. Taken aback that there is anything here at all, I put my hands on solid ground to get my bearings. Dusty, dry, barren. I draw my knees up to my chin and push my back against its solid rest. It’s hard, rough, uneven. Shapes are forming in my vision; jagged boulders, earthy mounds, blackened tree trunks bereft of leaves.
My wrists show evidence of my earlier activity, several horizonal scars run across the veins on each side, but the wounds are clean. Everything here is dry. I cannot moisten my tongue. I wonder if I can even bleed.
I look around for my razor. I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes, just like I had been in the bathroom. But they too are faded. My jeans are more white than blue and the rolled up sleeves of my polo neck have turned from red to sandy orange.
Rolled. Up. Sleeves.
Best not forget what I was doing. I fumble around in the dirt, too weak to stand; too stubborn to rest. There's no razor here, just rock, stone and, oh, flint. Maybe I can chip that into a knife.
I pick up the flint and twist to the right, looking for the edge of the boulder I’m leaning on. My hand slips in the dust and the flint skitters a few inches and falls over an unexpected drop to the side of me.
I have moved from the edge of an internal cliff to the top of an external one. My gut reaction is to move away, find safer ground.
Surely this is an ideal way to finish what I started. . .
“Mandy. Why don’t you take a moment to. . . think on it?”
The silky, masculine voice is behind me, behind the boulder, behind the times! I have done nothing but think on it for four years.
“Nothing will change in a moment.” I strain my neck to look for who is talking but can’t see round the rock.
“Everything can change in a moment. Shall we play a game?”
“I’m not interested in games.”
“It’s an easy one. And if you are still not convinced then I will return you to your bathroom to do as you will.”
“What are the rules?”
“We each roll two dice. Highest score wins. It’s really very simple.”
“And if I win?”
“You get to choose. I can show you a memory, or I can show you how to finish what you started.”
“And if you win?”
“I get to choose. I can show you a memory, or I can show you how to finish what you started.”
“Doesn’t sound much of a game if winning and losing have the same result.”
“Whether they are the same is a matter of perspective.”
“OK, I’ll play, but let’s be specific. If I win then you have to show me how to end my life. This is my third attempt and the closest I’ve come, assuming this place is Purgatory or something. But I’m clearly getting something wrong.”
“Agreed. I’ll go first.”
A pair of black, six-sided dice roll into view. They stop next to each other just an inch from the cliff edge. My companion has rolled two threes.
“Six,” I say. “You rolled six.”
I collect the dice in my fingers and examine their surfaces. Instead of dots they have gold numbers painted on. Beneath each number is the shadowy image of a mask. One die shows Comedy, and one shows Tragedy.
I shake the dice in my hands and blow on them for luck.
A two and a three.
“OK you win. What’s it to be?”
The bland landscape fades to black from the edges in, and for a moment there is nothing. And then I see it. It’s 21-year-old me in Elizabethan dress. I'm Juliette on the stage at the Robinson Theatre. I’m taking a bow. The audience is standing, cheering, clapping. My mother throws a single red rose onto the stage from the front row and several more follow it. It’s closing night. My view focusses in on a small girl in the second-row stalls. Her voice is crystal clear in spite of the roaring crowd and she says “Mummy! I know what I want to do! I want to do that!” and she points directly at me, beaming with smiles.
“That girl is in drama school now,” the silky voice says. “She’ll graduate with a distinction next year. She’ll get her big break two years later and end up in the West End, living her dream.”
“Best of three?”
The dusty clifftop reappears in a disorientating swirl, and I steady myself with my hands either side of my hips. The dice have gone.
He throws two fours.
I throw a one and a four.
I am transported to the playground. I’m ten years old, running at high speed across the netball court towards Peter. He's cowering against the fence, arms in front of his face, fists clenched but not to fight.
“Stop it! Stop it!” I barrel full pelt into the gathering of bigger boys standing around him, jeering. I stick my elbows out and stiffen my arms, making myself into a weapon in Peter’s defence. I push and shove until I’m at the front of the crowd. “Leave him alone!” I help Peter to his feet and stand by his side, yelling back at the nastiness with all the strength I have. The crowd disperses and I offer Peter a hug and some tissues for his bloody nose.
“He’s a lawyer now,” comes the voice. “He gives Legal Aid, taking cases for people who can’t afford to pay. Usually, people he perceives as being bullied by someone bigger.”
The memories are making me think, about times I did well, times I wanted more, times I gave more. . . But two distant memories aren’t a counterbalance for all the horror of the last four years.
“Best of five?” I say as the cliffside hoves back into view, leaving me slightly nauseous.
He throws two fives.
I throw a two and a three.
I am shown the day I called the ambulance after my neighbour fell off his ladder. I stayed with him the whole time, in the ambulance, in the hospital. I stayed long after his wife arrived. I did shopping for her for weeks and picked their kids up from school several times.
“Best of seven,” I say. I’m starting to get addicted to this list of memories that make me want to live. The only way to see more of them is to keep playing the game and hoping that the other guy wins.
He throws two fours.
I throw a one and a six.
I find myself drinking vanilla latte in a cafe in London. Two men are sleeping under newspapers in the doorway of the building opposite. Christmas lights sparkle over the road between us and I have never felt more removed from humanity. I buy two take out teas, two bottles of water and four sandwiches and leave the cafe. The men are so grateful, but I walk away feeling I should have done more.
"Those men are alive because of you. They survived the night and were taken in by a shelter the following day."
"Best of nine."
“This cannot go on for eternity.” The silky voice sounds saddened. “We will have one last round. And no more memories; I grow tired of them. Whoever wins this decides the very final prize.”
I nod and hope to lose one more time.
The dice roll out from behind the boulder.
A four and a five.
“You rolled nine.” I say, directing my voice over my shoulder as I collect the dice.
My heart pounds in my chest.
It is a matter of perspective.
Can he see that my perspective has changed?
. . .
I find myself back in my bathroom, razor in hand, bleeding into the sink, tears streaming in after.
“It is rare that I let anyone win.” Comes the silky voice from behind me.
I look in the mirror. The figure watching over my shoulder is tall, cloaked, and faceless. He holds two black dice in his skeletal, left hand. A scythe rests in the crook of his arm.
“But you were just, so determined. No one ever plays more than twice.”
The pain from my wrists is overwhelming and I cannot speak through my clenched teeth and nausea.
“The secret,” he says, “is to make vertical cuts.”
The bony, white fingers of his right hand reach round in front of me and take the razor. . .
“Let me help you finish what you started.”