So this is something I wrote for reedsy.com for new years. It was based on the prompt “Start your story with one character making a vow that they never would have made the year before.”. It is a tragically sad piece, warnings include suicide, depression, drug and alcohol dependence. This is a tragedy, so be forewarned. Please tell me if I missed any warnings.
“I choose myself’”
Les sighed as he made the vow, and he turned his collar up against the harsh wind. He looked down over the edge of the building. This building was 100-126 feet tall; he knows that because stating the estimated building heights from the number of floors was something Cal used to do as they walked by them. Every time they walked by one over 8 floors actually. It was a little-known fact but if you fall from a distance 48 feet you have a 50% chance of dying, if you take that up to 98 feet it increases your odds to 90%.
On one of his darker days Cal had come up with the idea height of at least 100 feet, and mapped out every building above that height within walking distance of their 1-bedroom apartment. Then during his daily walks, he had visited each building, went to the top and scoped out the view. His reasoning was that if it was the last thing you were going to see you wanted it to be good. While some stuck to the more prominent, and taller buildings, Cal argued that they were heavily monitored for just this reason, and that he wanted to be sure to get it done right.
When Les had found out what Cal had been up to on the walks his therapist had recommended as an exercise to help with his depression, Les made an effort to make sure Cal no longer went alone. To the point where at one time Les had almost lost his job after too many call ins to go walking with Cal, and had tried to set up a rotation to trade off with a few of their closer friends.
It didn’t matter though, because Cal had stopped walking a few weeks later, and gotten more involved in his art. Les had seen it as a good sign at the time, but looking back, it was the beginning of the end. If you had asked Les then what he would do if he lost Cal, he would have said he wouldn’t be able to go on. Back then, maybe he couldn’t have.
It wasn’t the first time they had gone down that road, with Cal landing himself in the hospital, and Les following soon after. In fact, twice in the 8 years they were together it was the other way around, with Les OD’ing, and Cal following to a locked ward days in. Dangerously co-dependent was the clinical term that the doctors used to describe it, madly in love was how they described themselves. Like Romeo and Juliet, Les used to say, I choose us over everything else, even life.
This past year had been different though, in that Cal had actually asked that Les start going to therapy again. That he quit the day drinking, and focus more on doing what he loved, on being happy as a New Years resolution. He went along with it, not because he believed in it, just because Cal has asked him and Les never could say no to him. Cal who followed through by walking Les to his weekly appointments, and holding his curls back in a make shift ponytail, and out of the line of fire as he spent countless nights in the bathroom drying out.
Cal who organized Les’s leave from work, through the company’s employee assistance program. Being self employed, Cal had given a few of his better works, the ones he had always refused to sell off before now to his agent, and made a pretty penny. At the time Les had seen it as a great sacrifice, looking back it was another sign of what was to come.
It was a harsh few months, but things looked up. Les, who had always been told by his family that he wouldn’t make it to 30 and spent the last decade doing his damnedest to make sure he lived up to that, was, maybe for the first time since he left home at 17. He went to the same job each day, but it was such a different experience that after a week back at work, rather than putting in his two weeks notice, he put in for extra hours.
It seemed that the mind-numbing monotony wasn’t the job, it was him. It wasn’t just work, it was everything, he felt like Dorothy, living in a world that was black and white and just now discovering color. Food tasted, better, more, everything was more, even the bad things, but something about them being more real made it easier, and Cal, Cal was better than he had been in years.
They started planning a life together, 8 years and they had never planned, well anything. They called it living in the now, but really it was another way of saying dead broke in a shitty apartment full of too much booze and not enough food. Now though, they were saving money, between Cal’s commissions, his newer works flying out the door, and Les’s extra hours meant that they could look past just paying the rent. They were looking at nicer neighborhoods, they spoke to a financial adviser, they were adulting, and for the first time with some degree of success.
They moved at the end of the summer, or the beginning of fall depending on who you asked, into a place that was a bit more suburban than Les thought they would ever end up in. It was in a nicer neighborhood, the place bigger and more done up than the one they had left, and for a rent that Les could afford on his own. Cal had said it was so that he could rent a studio, keep his art out of their place, so that they could get that dog they always wanted. When he showed up with Teddy, the 5-month-old chocolate lab mix that had just enough pit-bull in her to be abandoned by owners looking to start a family, Les let that last nagging doubt leave his mind. That had been another mistake.
Despite being the one to bring the dog home, Cal didn’t seem to want to spend much time with their new fur-baby. He rented a small studio space, a room basically, with a sink, a 20-minute bus ride from their apartment, and started to spend his days there when Les was at work. The commissions kept rolling in, and so Les didn’t question the change.
He didn’t question it when Cal wanted them to get involved with the local community, even though neither one of them had ever been what you would call joiners. Cal had joined a few of the local artist groups, and Les had joined a monthly book club and started dropping in on various writing events. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around Les was invited to no less than three different dinners and a potluck at the community center, having made quite a few more friends in the area than he expected.
Cal joined him at two of the dinners and the potluck, and begged off the third saying he was heading to an art opening with a few of his new friends, but didn’t want Les to miss out. Les was so drained from the jam-packed weekend, it was the first year he didn’t think about the fact he wasn’t welcome back at home. He didn’t even have the energy to question the fact he hadn’t met any of these new friends of Cal’s, the ones he had spent so much time with in the weeks leading up to and out of the holidays.
He didn’t question any of it until that dark wintery day, he got home from walking the dog after work, and was greeted by a pair of somber looking police officers. Then he questioned everything, why he hadn’t seen it all. The rent he could afford alone, the dog Cal never let get attached to him to share the space, the community he was now deeply entrenched in with new friends, a support system, Cal leaving him for increasing amount of time to get him used to being without him, and the studio being on the 5th floor of a building that was over 100 feet tall, and had an amazing view from the roof.
It was all there, staring him right in the face, and Les knew that a year ago this would have broken him. Sure, he took a leave from work, rounded out the year laying in bed crying, but the dog made sure he got up if only to take him for the requisite bathroom visits. The therapist called when he didn’t show up, and the new friends brought him food and visits even when he didn’t want them. Slowly, but surely, he went on, and that bitter Saturday morning in February when he got the call from Cals’s studio’s landlord explaining that he would either have to re-up the 6-month lease, or move out, Les actually answered the phone and had the energy to go meet up at the unit.
It was emptier than Les had expected, Cal had always had a habit of buying more supplies than he could use, canvases of all shapes, he was “saving for just the right piece. There wasn’t a single blank canvas in here, and Les wondered if that was why he had chosen to do it when he did, did he wait till he used the last one up. Did he donate them somewhere? His easel was still there, with a drop cloth over it, the kind Cal only put when he was planning to be away for a while. The lone stool sitting in front of it made Les wonder if Cal had actually gone to any of those local artist meetings, had anyone else ever even been in this space?
The only other furniture was a cabinet, the bottom of which had a small crate with Cal’s agents’ names and address on it, postage paid stamped across the side. Les knew if he opened it, he would find finished canvases inside, ready for sale. The top shelves contained Cal’s brushes, cleaned and sorted by size, tidier than Les had ever seen them, and Cal’s favorite palette, paint covered as always. Les half wondered where the new one he bought Cal as a “studio warming” gift had ended up. There was less paint than Cal had ever kept before in the cabinet, mostly nearing empty, all dried up, all garbage now.
Les took a deep breath, at least it would it be easier to clean up than he expected. A text to Cal’s agent about the paintings yielded an instant response, he would be there in less than an hour, no need to ship them. Les laughed bitterly, dead artists always did sell well. Les picked up the palette, the rest he would ask the agent to get rid of, he would take care of if it meant getting the work in the bottom. That left the easel.
Les hesitated as he reached for the dustcover, memories overwhelming him. Memories of the day he bought this for Cal, 10$ they couldn’t afford, but the way Cal’s face lit up when he came home and saw it sitting in the middle of the floor of their one room apartment made it worth the fact that he wouldn’t be able to eat anything but ramen till payday.
He pulled the cover off, tossing it aside, and when he turned back towards the easel he gasped. There was the palette he had bought cal. Not clean like when he gifted it, and not used like the one he held in his hand, but painted, a work of art.
It was…goodbye. In abstract, not a style Cal usually favored, but dabbled in sometimes when he was depressed. It was dark, and then it got brighter, and over it, so faint he wasn’t sure he was seeing it at first was his name, three letters, LES.
He choked back a sob, and picked it up. He couldn’t breathe, he had to get out of there, and then he reached the stairwell he found himself going up instead of down. Then he was on the roof. He stood there, holding the two palettes, the winding biting at his tears. He looked down at the palette bearing his name and flipped it over not wanting to look at it any longer. It wasn’t blank as he had expected. It had 5 words in marker on the back, scribbled in Cal’s untidy scrawl. “It’s time to choose yourself.”
Les gave a watery sigh he made the vow, and he turned his collar up against the harsh wind. He looked down over the edge of the building, and then he turned and headed back down the stairs, handing the keys to Cal’s agent as he passed him in the lobby “Do what you want with it.” And as he stepped out the double doors the brisk cold hitting him all at once, he felt lighter than he had in months. He could do this, he chose himself.
For a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!