The Good Samaritan

Page 17


I was pleased to hear from Steven now he’d finally found me again, although he took a little longer than I’d expected. He seemed more serious than ever about wanting to die, as if he’d taken the time between calls to really consider how he might go about it.
The door to the office opened and Zoe entered. She gave me one of her lipstick-on-her-teeth smiles and a thumbs-up, then took a seat a couple of desks away from mine and unpacked her bag. It was a satchel I hadn’t seen before. If there was any doubt she was a lesbian, she’d just answered it. I moved the receiver closer to my mouth and chose my words carefully so she didn’t overhear me.
‘Why would you choose . . . those means . . . over any other process?’
‘Because I reckon it’s quick and it’s easy and not much can go wrong.’
I shook my head. This was precisely why people like Steven needed people like me. He was naive. Only if his method was meticulous and well researched would it be ‘quick and easy’. There was so much he hadn’t taken into account. If he chose a drop hanging, he’d instantly fall unconscious and death would soon follow. Now that would be ‘quick and easy’.
But chances were the beams in an old cottage weren’t high enough for that, so Steven’s drop would likely be just a few feet. If he got it wrong, he could suffer a long and drawn-out death. I had so much to teach him.
‘I’ve bought some rope and I’ve been practising my knots by watching YouTube clips,’ he offered.
‘I don’t think it will be as easy as that.’
‘Why not?’
I glanced over towards Zoe. She was engrossed in a Snapchat conversation, sending silly pictures of herself with rabbit ears and a dog’s snout to some equally juvenile-minded fool.
‘Because there are a lot of complications involved in your method, if that’s what you choose,’ I whispered. ‘But we can work through that another time if it’s the direction you decide to take.’
‘So you’ll help me?’
‘As I’ve explained to you before, it’s not my job to try to talk you out of anything or into my way of thinking. I’m just here to listen.’
‘What if . . . ?’ His voice trailed off.
I waited for him to finish his sentence, but he didn’t. ‘David?’ I asked. ‘Are you still there?’
‘Sorry, I meant Steven.’ I pinched my arm hard. ‘You were saying, “what if ”?’
‘What if you were with me when I did it?’
My stomach somersaulted like it did each and every time someone asked me that question.
‘If you need someone to be with you, then I’m happy to listen and keep you company.’
‘I don’t mean on the phone.’
His question caught me off-guard and I wasn’t sure if I understood him correctly. He was hesitant before he spoke again.
‘What if I asked you to be with me, Laura, here in my house, when I hanged myself ? Would you come?’
I slept through my alarm and no one had thought to wake me up, so the house was silent and empty by the time I left my bed.
I passed the spare room that Tony had taken as his own, and wondered if I’d ever feel his breath against my neck again as he slept. My arm brushed against the staircase wall and left a black mark on my white dressing gown. I cursed the wall and threw the gown into the washing machine. And as I waited for the thirty-minute cycle to finish, I sat at the breakfast bar in my pyjamas, tucking into two strawberry yoghurts that Effie loved but were soon to go out of date. The machine’s drum tossed my dressing gown around in all directions. It resembled how the inside of my head had felt since Steven’s last phone call.
His request for me to be there for him in person as he died was all I could think about. For the last thirty-six hours, every time I tried to process one thought, another would come crashing down upon it, and they generally involved him.
Often, people don’t like to die alone. Many I’d assisted had shown their gratitude by asking to share their final moments with me on the other end of the telephone. A minority had been too self-centred to think about my needs, and I’d only learned of their deaths through notices in the local newspaper. But no one, not even David, had asked me to be there in person when they died. Until Steven.
What if I asked you to be with me, Laura, here in my house, when I hanged myself ? Would you come? His question still echoed inside me.
At the time, I’d blinked hard and shaken my head, taken aback by his offer. I’d attempted to retain my calm, professional veneer.
‘I don’t think that would be appropriate,’ I replied.
‘Sorry, I’m just . . . scared that I might get it wrong.’ He sounded disappointed in me.
‘I understand that, and I’d probably feel the same way if it were me. But I can be with you by phone for as long as you want.’
‘I need you here, to tell me if I’m messing something up and reassure me it’s all going to be all right. And to be there for me . . . you know . . . at the end.’
‘Are you having second thoughts?’
‘No, no, I’m not. But it’s just that you, like, get me. You aren’t like those therapists and counsellors who try to tell me how much I have to live for, or dose me up on a cocktail of drugs so I can’t think straight anymore. You properly care.’
‘I do.’ I was flattered he saw that in me.
‘Would you at least think about it?’
‘I can’t, Steven. I’m sorry, but you’re asking me to do something that’s illegal and completely unethical. I could get into so much trouble.’
An awkward silence surrounded us, neither knowing what to say next.
‘You’re right and I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked,’ he replied. ‘I won’t do it again.’
‘That’s okay.’
‘I should go now,’ he said and hung up.
I’d remained rigid with the receiver clamped to my ear as the end-of-call tone sounded. The rational side of me bristled at his invitation. I was annoyed with him for putting me in such a difficult position. But I felt excited, too – and that made me anxious.
‘Is everything all right, Laura?’ asked Sanjay. ‘You’re away with the fairies.’
Bugger off and leave me alone, was what I wanted to say. I needed space to process Steven’s request.
‘Yes, I’ve just had a difficult conversation,’ I replied. ‘Rape, you know.’
‘Do you need a time-out in the appointment room to talk about it?’
‘No, I’ll be fine. But thank you.’
I gave him a half-hearted smile and hurried from my booth to the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face, then patted it with a paper towel. I stared at my reflection in the mirror as I reapplied my lipstick and foundation.
Of course you can’t do it! Why would he think you might? You’re a mother, for God’s sake. He has nothing to lose, whereas your children and husband need you. You have no idea who he really is when he’s away from the phone. He could be a lunatic. You’d never be so stupid as to say yes.
Suddenly the washing machine beeped to inform me the spin cycle had finished. I put my damp dressing gown in the tumble dryer and shoved a cinnamon bagel in the toaster.
I’d made the right decision to refuse. Being present for Steven’s death was a ridiculous, dangerous idea.