Wesley stares at the blood on his pillow. He wipes his mouth. More of the red liquid comes off on his fingers. Wesley throws the covers off and runs to the bathroom in just his boxers. He feels the cold of the lino on his bare feet, but pays no notice. He rests his palms on the sink and gazes into the mirror. A rather frightened man stares back at him. His eyes wide and his brow scarlet, Wesley opens his mouth to find a red tongue. He turns on the tap and cups his hands, filling them with water. He tilts his head back and drinks. Tilting back further he gargles the water. After a few seconds of swirling he spits into the sink and watches the blood-filled mixture flush down the hole.
Terrible thoughts rush through Wesley’s head; cancer, some fatal lung condition. His time was up. His thirty years on this Earth would mark the be-all and end-all of his legacy. The insurance company he worked tirelessly for that treated him like dirt. The fifth-story apartment he lived alone in. None of it would matter anymore and yet it was all he had. If he died someone would take his job, and another would take his apartment. His big screen television and DVD collection of old school TV shows and foreign films would all be left to his parents who lived on the other side of the country.
Wesley turns on the shower and strips his remaining clothes. Once steam rises behind the curtain he steps into the downpour of scolding water. It hurt at first but soon his back and shoulders give into the gentle numbness of the cascading water. He looks up and down his body. The body that was now failing him. He had kept in shape. He never smoked. He watched what he ate. Betrayal. He puts a hand to his chest and feels his heart beat.
Wesley leaves the shower and walks into his room, staring at his closet stark naked. He considers ringing in sick, but his arm reaches out for the white shirt and navy blue tie resting on the coat hanger. He buttons up the shirt, and ties his tie. He slips on some underwear, pulls up some black pants and tightens his belt. Wesley pulls up his socks and ties up his shoes. He sticks a finger in his mouth and wipes the tip of each shoe. He flicks off the lights, grabs his briefcase, and makes it to the door. Without warning Wesley’s throat tightens and he coughs. Blood hits the door, dribbling down the white surface. Wesley rips a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes down the door.
Once at ground level Wesley walks the three blocks to his office building. Along the footpath he sees men in black suits clutching briefcases, and women in skirts and colourful blouses clutching handbags. He sees students in shorts and backpacks. Some wear earbuds. As he crosses the road he sees a male cyclist in bright yellow, and cars silver and black lining up down the road. He smells the richness of a coffee shop on the corner, and the greasiness of a fast food joint a few shops down. This world. His world. It would keep on going regardless of whether he was around or not. None of these people would mourn him or even notice if he was gone.
Wesley swipes his card and enters the building. He joins the crowd gathered inside the elevator and punches in the eighth floor. A man at the back is yakking into his Bluetooth headset. Everyone remains silent and walks off at their respective floors, until it is just Wesley and the Bluetooth man remaining. The eighth floor light flicks on and the doors open. Wesley steps out and into the foyer. He takes a deep breath and walks around the corner. At reception he sees Sandy on the phone. He exhales and walks past the desk. Sandy smiles as he walks by. Wesley forces back a smile and continues on to his cubicle.
He passes by his colleagues in their own cubicles, all in motion and in a world of their own. Some on the phone. Some stuffing papers into manila folders. Some tapping away on their keyboards. Wesley arrives at his own cubicle, immaculate and barely decorated. There are no photos of sons and daughters, or a smiling wife. Just your typical office supplies; a stapler, pens and pencils, sticky memo pads, and a letter opener.
Wesley puts down his briefcase and slumps into his chair. He sits there, unmoving, staring at his black computer screen. What was he doing here? He knew he was dying. He could feel his body slipping away from him. And what was he going to do with his final hours? Check his email? Handle some insurance claims?
Wesley stands up and walks out of his cubicle, leaving his briefcase behind. He walks past his colleagues beavering away inside their cubicles. He makes it to reception. Sandy is clicking her mouse at a high tempo. Solitaire most likely.
Wesley opens his mouth. He had nothing to lose. ‘Hey, you wanna get out of here? Grab a cup of coffee?’
Sandy’s clicking stopped.
‘I know it’s not the most original of lines but cut me some slack. I’m new at this,’ Wesley says.
‘Wow Wesley, I’d like that. I really would. But it’s just turned nine. I don’t go to tea until ten thirty,’ Sandy says.
Wesley was about to turn away but fought against it.
‘How many days have you had your tea break at the exact same time? Done the same old routine for that matter? Let the answerphone take your messages.’
Sandy looked hesitant.
‘C’mon, I’ll buy you one of those lemon muffins you always like.’
‘Oh now you’ve gone and done it,’ Sandy smiled. ‘Let me grab my coat.’
Wesley waits for Sandy to gather her things. The pair walk to the elevator and Wesley pushes the button to call one up. The numbers light up as the elevator passes by each floor.
‘So this is a little out of the blue. You wake up on the right side of the bed this morning?’ Sandy says.
‘Something like that’.
The elevator doors open. Wesley and Sandy step inside. The doors close and they stand silent watching the numbers go down.
‘Which coffee place?’ Sandy says.
‘I’m not telling. It’s a little further than Starbucks, but I think it’s worth the walk.’
‘As long as they have those muffins you promised,’ Sandy elbows Wesley.
‘Hey, I’m a man of my word. I wouldn’t trick a pretty girl with the false hope of muffins now would I?’
Wesley’s smile turns into a grimace as another cough takes him over. He pulls out his handkerchief just in time to catch the blood. He tucks it away into his pocket before Sandy can see it.
‘You alright hun? That sounded nasty.’
‘I’m fine. As long as we get that coffee in time, I think I’ll make it.’
The doors open to the ground floor. The pair leave the building and walk onto the street. They pass by the businessmen and women, and the college kids. Sandy clutches the jacket at her neck to escape the crispness of the cold outside.
‘Surprise,’ says Wesley. They stand outside Starbucks.
‘What happened to your place that’s ‘worth the walk’?’
They step inside and into the warmth. The place is well lit and apart from a few patrons it is mostly empty. Wesley orders the coffees and a lemon muffin which he gives to Sandy. Sandy picks a table and they sit down.
‘To tell you the truth I thought I was being cool and indie,’ says Wesley.
‘Ouch. Anyway there’s something comforting about chains like this. Take McDonald’s, you always know exactly the experience you’ll be getting.’
The waitress brings over the coffees. Wesley thanks her and moves Sandy’s coffee closer to her and does the same for himself.
‘Hey if this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?’ says Wesley.
‘That’s rather morbid Wes.’
‘I guess I would ring my folks. Go see my friends. Do something crazy. Skydive I dunno.’ Sandy picks up the cup and saucer and gently blows at the foam on top.
‘Well you know, it’s one of those things you wished you had the courage to do, but at the same time you still don’t want to risk it.’
Wesley smiles and sips at his scolding hot coffee. ‘I think I know what you mean.’
‘So how’s life in the brig?’
‘Same old, same old. Just when you think you’ve got an easy day someone has to go and jump in front of a bus.’
‘You’re telling me. I’ve got paperwork up to the ceiling.’
‘I mean terrible about the client.’
‘Oh yes. A tragedy.’ Wesley pauses for a few moments and wonders how he could be so thoughtless when his own life felt eerily similar.
‘How’s life as the figurehead?’
‘Figurehead?’ Sandy kicks Wesley under the table. ‘Look we better get back. We’ve been gone twenty minutes.’
‘Stay with me. Please?’ Wesley reaches out, covering Sandy’s hand with his own.
‘Simon’s not going to be very happy with us. I don’t want another F on my report card.’ Sandy withdraws her hand.
‘I’m not going back. Take the day off with me.’
‘I can’t I’m sorry. This was nice Wesley. We’ll do it again, sometime soon yeah?’
Sandy picks up her coat, pushes in her chair and leaves. Wesley watches as she walks past the shop window. Looking back at the table Wesley sees two half-empty coffee cups and a plate showered with yellow muffin crumbs.
‘Ring my folks…’ Wesley says.
He pulls out his cell phone and punches in the number. It was in his contacts but for years he had it memorised. The phone beeps as the number connects. The beeping stops.
A woman answers. ‘Hello?’
‘Wesley. So good to hear from you. How’s life in the big city?’
A cow moos in the background whilst machinery whirrs.
‘Is now a good time?
‘Oh it’s fine. Just doing the milk rounds. You didn’t answer my question dear.’
‘Um it’s good. Work’s been keeping me busy.’
‘You haven’t asked for that pay rise yet have you?’
‘It’s on my to do list’.’
‘Don’t let them walk all over you.’
Pumps suck and thud.
‘Your father’s out mowing the fields.’
‘That’s okay. Please tell him I called.’
‘When are you going to stop by? Please tell me you’ll visit us before Christmas Day?’
‘I’ll err, try my best.’
‘That’s what you said about giving us grandkids.’
Wesley’s cheeks flush red. He quickly glances around the cafe. No one gives any notice.
‘I’m just teasing,’ says Wesley’s mum. ‘But seriously, we haven’t got all the time in the world. I’ll let you get back to work. Love you.’
‘Love yo–,’ the line went dead.
Wesley stands up and puts the phone back in his pocket. He walks out of the cafe and continues down the street. Block by block he walks. Purposefully. After a few minutes he makes it to the harbour. He chooses a spot on the side of a wharf and sits, his legs dangling above the water metres below. Wesley looks out at the harbour.
The water lies mostly still. That is until a container ship slices through it. Kayakers splash through it too, well out of reach from the motorboats anchored along the wharves. The sun tickles Wesley’s skin. He loosens his tie. Seagulls cackle overhead and dive-bomb a couple and their two kids enjoying fish and chips down by the rocks. Wesley loosens his tie more still, and takes it off his head completely. He holds it in his hand for a few moments, and then drops it into the harbour.
Gently Wesley tilts forward. His backside resting on the gnarled wooden wharf. It’s the only thing keeping him from the water below.
And then there is nothing.
Wesley’s head hits the ice cold water first. Then the rest of him follows.
Wesley opens his eyes underwater and twists his body so he can see the surface above. The world is quiet. The seagulls no more than whispers. Wesley’s navy blue tie floats on the water’s surface. A dark shape amongst the sunlight.