Anthology

An Aversion to Popular Amusements (shortlisted – CW: SUICIDE)

J.L. Willetts

Credit: Unsplash

It’s not my first time. There was the time I tried to hang myself but got it wrong and spent weeks wearing a polo neck jumper in the dead of summer. Then there was the paracetamol that wouldn’t stay down, came up like I’d been force fed a box of chalk. You said dying was easy, but it was hard for me. 

The clifftop car park is almost empty, thanks to the relentless drizzle.  A silver estate is pointed seaward, inside an old anoraked couple are sharing a flask. They’ll be home nice and cosy for the evening news, or I’ve got them all wrong and they’re working up to doing themselves in, a big fuck you to their respective illnesses. The joke’s on me if they beat me to it like you did. I’m tempted to accelerate, drive over the edge, but I’d probably survive, unable to do myself out of despair. I open the bottle of whisky I saved for the occasion as the radio static battles the weather lady. She reckons there’s a storm coming in, and I drink to the strange comfort. The beach is soulless and grey.

I watch the birds near the cliff edge and wonder how long it would take them to eat me if I was cold and still. They’d pick my eyes out first. The windows of the soul reduced to chicken nuggets. Yours were open when I found you. You were staring like a china doll.

The scavengers quarrel over scraps, and I think of the people at the abysmal fairground. They’d be eating filth now, throwing darts for stuffed toys, picking out their fights and fucks. We went there on one of your good days, but I struggled to keep up with your merry-go-round moods. I said no to the rollercoaster. You said I had an aversion to popular amusements. You did too, but you also had a handbag full of single servings to help you on your way. When I caught up, we had fun – on the beach – eating chips out of the bag – going for a ride on the waltzers. I can see you now, head back, laughing, a perfect polaroid picture in a lifetime of blacked out memories. Sometimes I wish we had just kept spinning around so nothing could catch us. It caught you when I wasn’t there. A game of hide and seek, I couldn’t win. 

I try to write a note knowing nobody will read it. Maybe I’m writing one because you didn’t, and I was insulted that you had nothing left to say. People question suicide as if the dead can answer. They can’t, so reasons become guesses. Loss. Love. Top answer, flashing neon, is I can’t take this anymore, and I can’t.

Down on the beach, the rain batters me with last rites. I watch the water for a long time. The sound is beautiful, ordinary, and I don’t think I’ve really listened to it before. You only notice when it’s too late. I was so used to your sadness. I didn’t notice when it consumed you. We were supposed to help each other. I wanted to keep trying, but you said it would be better to end things. You talked about death all the time like it was a holiday we could look forward to. I looked at postcards of golden sands and sunsets and wished we could go there instead. 

My whisky tastes of salt and fear. I use it as a timer, a countdown to something unknown – heaven, hell, nothing. I drink quickly, afraid I’ll talk myself out of it and fail you again. I take off my shirt and shoes, post my note inside the empty bottle and push it into the sand. It stands upright like a glass soldier, saluting me.

Water trickles over my numb feet. I keep walking, and my jeans conspire to drag me to oblivion as I look out into the never-ending darkness and think of all it has consumed, a liquid grave for lost things and lost souls. I’m neck deep, and there’s no light, except the morse code dots and dashes of life going on indifferent in the distance. I swear I can hear that old rollercoaster rattling around and music, but I can’t quite catch the song, and then I realize it’s in my head, a lullaby that haunts me. Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green. Your voice, calling me home. I try to swim, but I feel too small, like a Lego man stuck in a washing machine. Each wave washes over me with a fresh hell of memories. The fights, the love, my absolute devotion, the impenetrable cold Christmas without you. I go under, and the water fills me up like an empty bottle. There’s no way out, so I let go. I’m coming to find you, pinky promise. As I surrender, everything slows, and I think I’m dead, but in thinking it, I know it can’t be true. 

There is a calm now. The sky has turned a purple that defies logic, and the sea stills, dancing to a melody I know by heart, as it gently delivers me back to the living like an unread letter. I stumble and trudge back into the world. I throw the bottle in, in place of myself, and there’s not a soul to witness the spectacle of my breaking heart, my latest attempt to please you, to grant your last request, and I talk to you as if you can hear me because I can’t bring myself to think you’re completely gone. I shout out, but the words feel borrowed, misplaced, and I realize they are the ones I needed from you. I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I cry, and finally, in a whisper, the words come, so simple and so hard to say. Goodbye, mother.

J.L. Willetts is a writer from Llanbradach, a strange, beautiful village in South Wales. He writes about extraordinary characters in ordinary worlds and has a penchant for unreliable narrators. The Green Indian Problem, his first novel, was longlisted for the 2020 Bridport Prize in the Peggy Chapman-Andrews category. All his stories are available for adaptation, should Wes Anderson be interested. You can find J on Twitter @JL_Willetts.