As I step to the edge, an absurd feeling of vertigo creeps across my skin, raising hairs beneath my shirt sleeves and lingering in my palms as a tingle of cold sweat.
To remain steady, I look toward the horizon but instead catch my reflection in the windows of the building across the street. A man-shaped outline seems to spoil the brilliant blue glazing. A well-dressed imposter, standing motionless amongst the endless conveyor belt of reflected clouds and sky.
London is quieter from the rooftops, as though playing through headphones hanging free around my neck. The familiar roar of commerce and infrastructure quelled to a whisper, diluted by the wind as it whips around the uppermost levels of the capital’s iconic structures.
With one hand, I loosen my tie, working a finger into the pinstriped knot and pulling harder than the poor thing deserves. It is a magnificent tie. Oxford Blue with grey detailing. Fine quality silk with wool interlining. Hand-finished stitching. Dry clean only.
As the knot surrenders, I tug the length of blue silk out in front of me, pausing to enjoy the warm glow on my neck as the material skims the underside of my collar. It fights my grip like a captured creature, urging for me to release it into the wind, flapping with wild abandon, desperate to fly from its troubled master.
I ignore its plea and pocket it before taking a moment to consider my watch.
On an average day, I would be tipping the wrist a dozen times to see its familiar face. Double that, if a deadline approached. It had become the master of delivering reassurance-at-a-glance, rewarding an extra hour in bed, or a moment to grab a coffee.
But it could also be cruel.
Without words, it could bestow panic and distress. A firmer press on the accelerator pedal, a dash to beat the red light. It’s the Jekyll and Hyde of modern chronology, and a gift from my two-faced wife.
The watch tells me I’ve been away from my desk for one hour and forty-eight minutes. I’m late back from lunch but feel no urgency. Who cares where I am? There’s nothing for me here anymore, and even less at home. Good timekeeping no longer matters.
The irony of that is palpable, a bitter taste that interrupts my daydreaming. The most significant event of my life had occurred last month when I arrived home earlier than she expected.
Without allowing myself to dwell on that memory, I turn my wrist upwards, pinching the clasp to release its grip. I pull the watch from my wrist and, without pause, cast it into the air ahead of me.
After watching the billowing of my tie for so long, I expected the watch to blow away in the breeze, but it falls, without ceremony, toward the street below.
My wrist appears bare for the first time in years, a slight mark on the skin where the pigment differs is all that reminds me of it ever being there. I hold up my hand, covering the sun with my palm, allowing the rays to flick between my fingers.
A glint of gold directs my attention.
“That has to go,” I say while eyeing my wedding ring.
Before I can attempt it, the feeling of vertigo comes back. Looking into a moving sky makes me feel weak, I feel off-balance. I close my eyes and plant my hands on my knees while I regain my composure. A few deep breaths and I decide not to look up again.
When I open them, I can see beyond my brown leather shoes; a crowd has gathered some thirty or so floors below me. A halo of people surrounding what I can only assume are the skeletal remains of an Omega Seamaster. For a moment, I think I can hear it ticking.
As the tremble subsides, I open my palm once more to examine my ring finger. It looks tight. I knew that already, but I look at it now with different eyes. I don’t see the love anymore. It no longer lives there as a token of our bond. It is just another reminder of all that she has taken from me.
“It’s a lie,” I say with a contempt that threatens to choke me.
I grab at my finger and pull the ring. It doesn’t budge. My finger only fattens as the ring bunches my loose skin together. I can feel warmth building in my cheeks as I am seized by a frustrated determination to rid myself of the promises I made nine years ago.
Promises I kept.
Without thinking, I shove my finger into my mouth biting hard on the base in a final act of bitter resentment for my wife. My beautiful, cheating wife. I taste blood, but I continue to clamp down as pain floods my hand. I struggle against bone as I grind my jaw back and forth hoping to saw through.
In the end, the pain is more than I can bear. I withdraw my hand. The bite mark is moist with what little saliva I have, blood fills the dents where my teeth have sought to liberate my finger. Maybe that will be enough to show my intention, but I am ashamed I can’t finish the task.
In a glimpse of regretful hindsight, I wonder why I didn’t fill myself with scotch before coming up here. I am too sober, and now my hand throbs with a pulsing reminder that I can’t even get that right. I have not had alcohol for years; it had not occurred to me that this might be the time to get off the wagon.
I look beyond my feet once more; there are lights now. Flashing blue lights and the yellow box of an ambulance. I am too far to see details, but I can spot police as they usher people away from the building. Arms spread wide, shepherding my colleagues behind a cordon.
Out of the splash zone.
Will this hurt? I don’t imagine I will know. It can’t be worse than the pain I have suffered these last few weeks.
A loud crash behind me as a door is flung open; the access has been kicked in. I turn around and face the three people now sharing the roof with me. I don’t recognise two of them, just police officers, generic faces in black and white.
But the third. I knew her …
She had been a happy-go-lucky college student, a formidable artist, a wild lover, a blushing bride—
“Sir, we are going to have to ask you to come down from there, you can’t be on the roof.”
— A distant stranger, a selfish liar —
“Sir, we need you to come down, we would like to talk to you.”
— My wife. My beautiful, cruel wife —
She screams something, her face more alive in this moment than it has been in months. I must have been crying. The tears that had clung to my cheeks make a drastic whip sideways as I let myself tip backwards into the London air.
The sky looks peaceful as I see my favourite tie, rippling on an ocean of endless blue.