Home > The Good Samaritan(19)

The Good Samaritan(19)
Author: John Marrs


Mary wrapped both of her wrinkled hands around a mug of chamomile tea and closed her watery eyes.

Her incessant sniffs as she tried to choke back another sob were getting on my nerves. I wanted to slap her around the face and tell her to get a grip. Instead, I gritted my teeth and placed my hand on hers and hoped that liver spots weren’t contagious.

We were sitting together on the sofa in the appointment room at End of the Line. It was a rarely used ground-floor space designated for visitors who preferred to talk to a volunteer face to face rather than anonymously by phone. Our surroundings were every bit as miserable as the lives of the visitors who came here to spread their doom and gloom. Faded reproduction watercolours hung on the walls above a white plastic rack containing dog-eared advice leaflets. A padlocked door linked our building to the derelict offices next door.

A barely visible green light attached to the security camera above us remained static, indicating our conversation wasn’t being recorded. Had Mary been a client and not the least threatening sap you could ever meet, one of our colleagues upstairs would be monitoring and recording our chat.

‘He was determined to end his life,’ Mary whimpered. ‘I asked every open-ended question I could think of to find something or someone to make it worth living, but he was adamant.’

‘You know it’s not your job to make them feel better about themselves or to change their outlook on life,’ I replied. ‘The last thing they want to hear is your disapproval. They’re often frightened to die by themselves and want their last moments to feel as normal as possible, though.’

‘I could hear him preparing himself in his bedroom and he sounded just so . . . normal . . . but then hearing someone taking an overdose and slowly dying . . . I’ll never get used to that.’

‘We’ve all been there, so we do feel for you,’ I said. It was a lie. I didn’t feel sympathy and, if anything, I was angry she’d got to that call before me. Death had fallen into the lap of an ungrateful old woman who hadn’t deserved it.

The extent of distress a volunteer feels after a particularly harrowing call is graded from one to five. And when Janine spotted the emotional state Mary had wound herself up into, she called a level four. The rules strongly suggested that Mary didn’t complete her shift and instead debriefed with one of her peers. As I was the only one not on a call, the job fell to lucky old me.

‘Towards the end, I’m sorry to say this, but I thought about hanging up on him,’ Mary admitted. I wanted to slap her again, this time hard enough to send her dentures flying across the room. To not hear his final breath would’ve been like waiting for hours at a concert and leaving just as the singer came on stage. ‘He started making this horrible, guttural rasping sound and I think he might have vomited. I wouldn’t be surprised if he choked to death. What a horrible way to leave the world.’

That would have been a new one, even for a veteran like me. Now, quietly, I was grateful Janine had asked me to debrief Mary. It meant I’d made her relive the pain of that call all over again.

‘I’m so sorry, I really am.’

I had no doubt that when Steven called back later that week and offered me his apology, it was heartfelt.

‘It’s fine,’ I replied.

‘No, it’s not. I shouldn’t have put you in that position and I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve felt shitty about it for the last few days and I really need you to know I understand I was wrong.’

‘Honestly, Steven, I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to listen to everything you have to say to me.’

‘Who listens to you when you need to talk?’

I paused. Once upon a time it was Olly, then Tony, and most recently David. Now the only ear I had was Henry’s. ‘I have friends and colleagues,’ I replied.

‘Do you have a family?’

We were discouraged from answering personal questions in case our answers made us sound self-satisfied. But we weren’t supposed to lie about it either, just downplay it. ‘Yes, I do,’ I replied.

‘I’m trying to imagine what you’re like in the real world.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘I was just building up a mental picture of you. I imagine you looking a bit like an older Jennifer Lawrence. No offence.’

‘None taken,’ I chuckled and felt my cheeks blush. ‘Even the “older” part is flattering. But alas, I’m not in her league.’

‘Do you have kids?’

‘Yes. Do you?’


‘Is being a father something you have ever considered?’

‘I didn’t have a dad, so I wouldn’t know how to be one. I’d just fuck it up.’

‘Nature and instinct have ways of leading us into parenthood.’ I read that once in a magazine lying on a table in a therapist’s waiting room. I didn’t believe it, but I copied it into the back of my notebook in case it came in useful.

‘There was someone once, I guess, who I considered having a family with,’ Steven said.

‘Would you like to tell me about her?’

‘She was sweet and kind and I thought that she really loved me, but suddenly she disappeared from my life.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that.’

I was happy to hear it, actually. Because the more open and vulnerable Steven made himself to me, the more I believed he was genuine. I’d tried catching him out by asking him to repeat stories he’d told me before and listening carefully for contradictions. But each time, they remained almost word for word identical.

It didn’t mean he wasn’t being dishonest, though. If somebody like me can portray an image of a person I’m not, there’s nothing to prevent anyone else doing the same thing. And frustratingly, I didn’t know enough about him to check up on him. Could I trust him like I’d trusted David?

With every conversation, Steven reminded me more and more of the friend I’d lost. However, this time I wasn’t going to allow myself to become so emotionally involved. The mistake I’d made with David was that I’d allowed him to get to me. I’d hoped that when he stepped over the cliff top and the tide swept his body away, that would be the end of our relationship and I could move on. But even now I heard his voice in the wind as it swayed the branches of the trees; it was inside the music I played to cover the silence and now it came through the telephone line in Steven’s voice. Perhaps Steven had been destined to find me and make me his offer. Maybe by being present as he hanged himself, I could actually free myself of David.

I glanced at Mary, across the room. Her eyes were still puffy as she slipped on her well-worn coat and picked up her bag, ready to return to an empty nest with a husband who hadn’t seen her properly in years. For the briefest of moments, I could see myself becoming like her, surrounded by people but so desperately alone, too set in her ways to take a risk. It scared me to death.

She couldn’t cope with hearing a person die, but I could. I also knew I could deal with watching it happen, too. So I made a decision and hoped I wouldn’t live to regret it.

‘I’ll do it.’

‘I’m sorry?’ replied Steven.

I whispered into the receiver, ‘If you are serious about wanting to end your life, then I will be with you in person when you do it.’


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