The Nonpareil by James Dalrymple

According to Martin, people who talk about killing themselves never actually do it. It's just one of ten- thousand 'opinions' he's absorbed from the least credible sources. If he didn't surround himself with knuckleheads and bootlickers, someone might say, "Is that a fact? Not once?" or even "how the hell would you know?" Instead everyone in the vicinity nods thoughtfully as if his statement was based on years of personal research. "Look at what happened with John," he adds, referring to the time it took half the Carver Police Department six hours to coax our brother off the ledge of the South Street railway bridge. "The whole town was watching and he just fucking stood there." As far as Martin's concerned, John's gutlessness vindicates everything he's ever said on the subject. "Don't talk: jump. Otherwise people are just going to be embarrassed for you! How do you deal with someone who's been led off a bridge by the fucking hand?" From Martin's expression, no-one can help but reach the conclusion that John let everyone down very badly. Ten years on, he still feels the humiliation as if it was his own. He can't help bringing it up. It either doesn't occur to him that the topic makes people uncomfortable or, more likely, he doesn't care. Looking at the way he chews on his lip when he talks about it, I'm reminded of Dad. It makes me think of the Sean Milligan fight. In my mind's eye, I can still see the old man, pounding on the canvas from the side of the ring, shouting, "Get up!" while John, eyes clear but fearful, settles on one knee and stares disconsolately at the canvas. "Get up!" shouts Dad as the referee's count drags inexorably toward its conclusion. John doesn't even look at him. Twenty years on, a couple of drunks passed the time by pelting him with empty beer cans and cigarette ends from an apartment balcony overlooking the South Street bridge. "Just fucking jump and get it over with," they shouted. John didn't so much at glance at them, not even when a can hit the back of his head. The next week one of the drunks was thrown off the same balcony. Martin might have agreed with the sentiment, but it certainly wasn't theirs to express.

There's etiquette for dealing with unsuccessful suicides. You have to jolly them along a bit, make them feel good about themselves without going over the top about it. Anyone who's been in the situation will know what I'm talking about. However embarrassing you might find it, you have to act as if talking to them is the most natural thing in the world. Don't skirt the topic of their death wish, just get it out of the way and move on to something else. Whatever you do, don't get emotional about it, just treat it like any other topic of conversation. The first time I visited John in hospital, I couldn't think straight: I ended up blurting out that he was my hero. This was definitely a mistake, I just couldn't think of anything else to say. We both knew it was a lie. "People shouldn't have heroes," John chided. "Not at your age at any rate." Despite everything, it irritated me that I was being lectured by someone who'd only recently made such an ass of himself, particularly when I was just trying to be kind. That's just John's way, though. He can't help pontificating. I resisted the temptation to admit that I had been lying and that I'd always thought that he was kind of a joke. "You're probably right," I conceded. "But everyone needs someone to look up to. I've always looked up to you." I've never been a good liar. On this occasion, I could feel myself reddening to an extent that I excused myself and went to the washroom. It was such obvious bullshit that I was angry with myself for saying it and irritated with John for making me feel that I ought to.

Martin, who actually had idolised John, didn't even visit him. As far as he was concerned, the entire exhibition was a sham. "Why does everyone keep talking about a suicide attempt? He didn't try and kill himself," he said. "What was stopping him? He only had to take one step forward. I'm telling you, if no-one had called the cops, he'd have sulked there for five minutes feeling like a fucking martyr and then he'd have climbed back over the railing." With hindsight, he was probably right. John's always enacted these private dramas. He's never really needed much of an audience. God alone knows what fantasies unravel in the theater of his imagination. For all I know, perching on the ledge of the South Street Bridge might have been a secret ritual indulged for years without interference. On this occasion, unfortunately, someone called the cops. To make matters worse, Ryan Derrick of the Gazette got a hold of the story. I'm not sure how, but I suspect Dad called him. Three days later the banner headline 'Tragic John's Suicide Bid' was all over Carver.

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