So, it’s come to this. I’ve decided to kill myself. I’ve thought about it many times but I didn’t have a plan. Now, I’ve got one.
I’m here in London on business. Business, money, life. I’ve done well with the first two but life? I’ve been a failure at life. I became a cynic before the optimism of youth had its way with me.
I ate at Inigo Jones last night. Alone. Bleak. Waiters stand in the wings and wait to fill my water glass after every sip. The same at Rules the night before where old women sit at tables on each floor to compute your bill. Again at the Salisbury Pub the night before that. All recommended by the same friend. My friend could have told me the Salisbury was an Oscar Wilde hangout in the old days. At least I would have been prepared.
I’m off for Aberdeen by train, then Banff by bus. That’s where my friend lives. He knows why I’m coming. We have it all worked out.
Crossing Berwick-Upon-Tweed, the cliffs a dull grey. Smoke, silence. I don’t know where things went wrong, when or why this anxious nothingness filled my chest.
Historic Edinburgh Castle. That’s where Queen Mary gave birth to the future King of England before she was beheaded. Lucky girl.
On the bus to Banff. Finally.
A young girl sits in the front of the bus between her parents. She stands, turns to look at me, smiles. It’s snowing outside. Through the windows I see farmers in tweed coats slogging through the mud with their cows and sheep.
At first I’m uncomfortable, then warm, then curious. Who is this girl? Why does she smile at me? Where does she live? More to the point, why do I care? But, I do care, I think.
I stand and walk toward the girl.
He was a nice man, someone who always answered her questions in a way that didn’t make her feel silly, someone who helped her when she needed help. They had never met in person. She called him on the phone at his office. She was not a client, not really. But, she was a client even if she did not know how or why. He was generous with his time.
This time when she called, the secretary said he was out.
“Would you like to leave a message, Emma?”
“No.” She did not want to leave a message.
“I’ll call back another time. Thank you.”
When she hung up,she realized she had not left her name. Emma. Her name was Emma. How did the secretary know?
“Emma of White Rushes,” she had told the man on the bus all those years ago. All those years ago, and now this. How did it happen? Why?
She put down the phone. She sat back in her chair and looked out the window. It was snowing. She stared at the snow, lost in time.
A little girl walks into a dark room. She is afraid. She smells death. Her mother lies on her back, propped up with pillows. Sunlight comes from the hall outside the door. Dark and light shadows crisscross her mother’s face.
“Come, Emma. Take my hand.”
Her mother extends a hand. This causes her mother great pain but she does not show the pain in her face. Her face is stoic and calm.
Emma is afraid. She is hardly allowed to see her mother anymore. She has heard the moans and sometimes screams coming from her mother’s room at all hours of the day and night. Emma doesn’t look into her mother’s eyes.
“Come, Emma. Come to your mother. Don’t be afraid.”
Emma advances slowly, cautiously. She holds her mother’s hand but she keeps her head down. She feels the bones under the skin on her mother’s hand curl around her tiny fingers. Death lurks in the dark corners of the room where the sunlight does not reach.
“Look into my eyes, Emma. Don’t be afraid.”
“I can’t, Mummy. I can’t look into your eyes.”
“I know, Dear. It’s okay.”
Emma’s mother summons all her strength to pull Emma to her chest. Emma relaxes her head onto her mother’s breasts. She hears the faint beat of her mother’s heart. She closes her eyes. She thinks about what it was like before the sickness took over her mother. They walked in the woods and Emma ran from side to side. They picked little wild orchids, Lady Slippers, pink and white on straight green stems.
“Do you remember, Mummy? Do you remember the Lady Slippers we picked in the woods?”
There was no answer. Her mother was asleep.
The bus rolls through the fields and meadows from Aberdeen to Banff. Occasionally I see a farmer walk among a flock of sheep in the barren landscape. What’s the use, I think. What’s the use of anything? I’m destined to become nothing but a lump of rot buried in the cold dark ground. Isn’t that what we all come to? What’s the use of going on day after day filling up our time with the same old tricks?”
I see the girl look out at the barren fields. She is just a child. Her father has dozed off. Her mother looks anemic. Her mother’s arms, legs, and neck stick out of an amber woolen coat as if she is a bird trying to escape its ruffled feathers. The girl wears a plaid woolen coat with rectangles of black, brown, red, orange, gray. I hear them call her Emma.
My plan changes, but I don’t know it at the time. I write my name and address on a slip of paper with a note to Emma’s parents. I slip it into the mother’s coat pocket when they exit the bus.
My friend is waiting at the station.
We walk through the cemetery on the way to my friend’s office.
“Have you picked out your plot yet,” quips my friend with a sardonic smile.
“Change of plans,” I reply. That’s when I realize what I’m going to do.
The next day Emma called the man again, the solicitor.
“Oh yes, Emma. I have some news. Good and bad I guess.”
“I’m very confused,” said Emma. “I can’t understand why someone I don’t know sent all that money to pay my college expenses and all the rest. I’m worried about it. This is all too much. It has to stop, the money I mean. That’s what I want. Is it even legal?”
The solicitor did not respond.
“Excuse me, are you still on the line?”
“Yes Emma. I can assure you that everything is legal. I’m afraid there is no stopping it now. You see, a friend of mine met you some years ago when you were very young. It was on a bus from Aberdeen to Gardenstown. Your mother was still alive. You probably don’t remember. Anyway, this man, my friend, he credits you with saving his life. He had resolved to do himself in because he had nothing to live for. You gave him something to live for. In fact, you were the only thing he lived for.”
Emma’s stomach tightened.
“I don’t understand. What does he want in return?”
“You gave him all he wanted, a reason to live. He died last month. He is buried here in Gardenstown, a little later than he had originally planned.”
Emma was stunned. She hung up the phone. She didn’t even say goodbye.
After the shock settled, Emma realized the responsibilities that came with the Trust. Someone else might have acted differently but she had grown up poor. She felt an obligation to manage her unexpected riches prudently. There was real estate, stocks, and she had to keep up with the tax laws to make sure the government didn’t end up with everything this stranger had left her. She owed him that much. Didn’t she?
She hoped to marry and have children some day. She wanted to be sure they had all the advantages she had.
She became distrustful of her friends. She learned the power of silence, keeping to herself, hiding her inner thoughts.
Over time she doubled, tripled and quadrupled the monies in the Trust. She created businesses, sold them, and created more.
Something eluded her, something she could not fathom.
One day in a grand explosion she understood everything. She understood why this man she never knew nearly killed himself, what he saw in her, and why he did what he did.
But, it was too late.
She had no husband, no children, no … life. What she had, or thought she had, was endless energy, an unshakable belief in some elusive responsibility, a need to justify what she had been given, to pass it on but to whom? Why?
She had her Trust. She was a slave to that Trust. But that was all she had. She didn’t have trust with a small “t”, the trust of friends, of a lover, of a family.
She was nothing more than a money machine.
My God, what’s the point of it all? I’m hooked on a drug like cocaine, she thought. Once you start, you can’t stop. It consumes everything.
She knew now what that poor man on the bus had done to her. He had transferred the pain that nearly drove him to suicide. He had transferred it over to her.
Well, my God I’m going to transfer it back, she vowed. But how?
There is a town in Aberdeenshire that never sees the sun. It’s in an inlet below a steep cliff where Emma stands facing the sea.
A little boy with his father and mother walk toward her. They pick wildflowers as they approach. In the distance a fishing boat bobbles in a choppy ocean.
She thinks how one small event can change your life forever.
She greets the family when they draw close. The boy hands her a bouquet of wildflowers. She gracefully courtesies.
“Thank you, my Lord,” she laughs.
She asks for the family’s address so she can send the boy something in return. They live in Edinburgh.
The family goes on their way. Emma stands at the precipice. She contemplates her future. She backs away from the abyss. It’s not too late. Not yet.
At the solicitor’s office she arranges for the entire proceeds of the Trust to be transferred to the boy in Edinburgh. All of it.
The bus comes to an abrupt stop at the station. I am awake.
The girl in front exits with her parents. Soon they are out of sight.
If only, I think. If only.
I look into the crowd for my friend.