The man had always been afraid. For as long as he could remember he’d been scared of the dark. Scared of loud noises. Scared of other people. Scared of himself. Now he stood in the darkness and let it hold him in its cold embrace. He let the wind whip up under his jacket and bite through to the bone. His jaw clenched against the urge to shiver but he held it in. He wondered if in another life he’d have been less of wimp. He looked down over the street below. It ran in zig-zags like a children’s toy, with the tiny glow of car headlamps and street lights casting thin spheres of light through the night. Another gust of wind blew and he pulled back from the edge of the building. He felt himself shiver. This time he couldn’t suppress it.
The girl had been their blessing. She’d been born just on time and with a healthy, happy little face that’d filled him with a warm kind of pride. They’d named her Karen, after his own grandmother. Both he and Elizabeth had been overjoyed to be parents. They’d needed something to really bring them together. With her long hours and his drinking habits, the baby had been a real breath of fresh air and new hope.
Michael dug his phone from his pocket and looked at the screen. He saw the multiple missed calls there, all from Elizabeth. He looked up into the night sky and across the city. His eyes traced through the lines and rows of lit windows, lamps, homes. They followed the light through the darkness and he found his view pulled towards the tower in the distance. The city hospital.
Karen had gotten sick almost as soon as they’d got her back from the hospital. Michael and Elizabeth had taken turns to forego sleep. They’d each spent nights in the darkness, holding the fragile child as it struggled to draw breath. He remembered her tiny heartbeat as he held her little form to his chest. It had been so weak. He had known real fear finally, with his infant child clinging to life in his arms.
Michael felt tears cut against the cold wind and sting his cheeks. He wiped them with the back of his hand. He shuddered involuntarily and moved closer to the edge of the building. He kept his feet as steady as he could and took a step up onto the raised ledge. The wind whipped again and he had to grab onto the metal railing to stop himself falling. His heart thundered in his chest as he looked down at the dark street. There were people walking by, ants in the distance. The man paused to think and found himself obsessing once again.
Leukaemia, they’d said. It came without warning like a storm ripping through a new field. Their tiny baby hadn’t had a chance. Elizabeth went numb for a long time, and the two went weeks without speaking to one another. They continued their night-time shifts apart, but there was no more baby to care for. Michael returned to the bottle. Returned hard.
He was oddly sober, now. He felt his emotions with crystal clarity. He felt the sadness and the guilt, the horrifying and maddening upset that the death of his daughter had caused. He missed and longed for the life that might have been. So he focused on the documentary. The show he’d watched and the books he’d started to read.
“Everyone has a coping mechanism, Michael.” His mother had told him. But she’d placed a hand on his shoulder and sighed. “But dreams like this won’t help.”
He looked back at his phone, holding one hand tight to the railing and avoiding looking down at the street below. Elizabeth had tried to call him again. He looked down and imagined what it would be like to call her back. To speak to his wife again for the first time in months. To talk. To laugh. To cry. They’d not done any of that in so long that he’d practically forgotten what it was like. But the idea was a fleeting one, and Michael dropped his phone back into his pocket.
One drunken night, when Elizabeth was far away in some bar or escape or wherever she ran to escape their mourning, Michael had watched the TV. There, he’d witnessed his salvation. “The many world’s theory stipulates that every event happens, and things branch off from that event to happen in an alternate time-line. A different universe.” That’s what the documentary had said. Michael’s eyes had flared alight. He began to weep. To hope.
And so the broken man stood on the edge of the building. He stood with his shattered life and observed the cars passing in the street below. In some world had each car hit a person, and in another they had not? In some world was he now stood with his daughter, who would be turning seven months old today? The thoughts had burned him for too long. But they burned far brighter, and far more warmly than the thought that she was gone. Or that a deity of some kind had not saved her.
Michael shivered once more in the wind. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He took in a deep breath and looked down at the street below.
In one world, he jumped.