“A child saves a person’s life. Does that alter the child’s perception of life, of how arbitrary it is, yet at the same time instilling the notion that they have the power to stop death simply by reaching out their hand?”
We stayed off school that day because even two eight-year-old boys can sometimes have the courage to say no to the rules imposed by their elders. And the consequences that tomorrow would bring seemed a small price to pay for a day of freedom. The abandoned quarry was a natural hiding place – not too far from school and with a dense cluster of tall trees immediately beyond the perimeter fence. We climbed easily to the top of the wire-mesh fence. I had never been past this fence but my friend, who claimed to have been here on numerous occasions, said that there was never anyone around, and that there were actually empty buildings inside worth exploring.
I jumped down onto the grass from the top of the fence, but fearing someone could still see us from the other side of the fence I began to run through the trees before being violently pulled to the ground.
“What are you doing?” I shouted.
“You can’t run this way.” My friend said. “Slowly. Follow me.”
We walked for a few seconds and then emerged from the darkness of the cluster of swaying trees into the sunlight to stand at the edge of a small stretch of tall grass that led to…nothing. A sharp decline. The edge. Lying on the grass we peered down hundreds of feet below us to the rubble-strewn quarry-bottom. In the distance were the streets and houses of our neighborhood.
If my friend hadn’t been here before. If I had continued to blindly run. If he hadn’t pulled me back.
At the age of eight, a near miss with death means nothing more than momentary relief and then laughter. A good story to tell school friends the next day and then…forgotten.
The story I heard about that friend, some years later from a mutual friend, was that he had succumbed to hard drugs, spent some time in prison, cleaned up and had ventured into a career with a religious charitable foundation, one that helps others in need. He seemed to have come full circle. Maybe saving others was something that had been in him from the start but he had become lost along the way, as people do, and he had to hit bottom before he could save himself in order to once again save others.
A child saves a person’s life. Does that alter the child’s perception of life, of how arbitrary it is, yet at the same time instilling the notion that they have the power to stop death simply by reaching out their hand?
I did see my friend once more, many years later, during a night out with friends in a bar. It was not too long after his release from prison when he was living in a half-way house. He was free from drugs, and during that night out he refused any alcohol offered, and I noticed that each time a drink was bought for him he would sniff at the contents of the glass to ensure no alcohol had been slipped in.
During that night in the bar we never discussed the incident in the quarry, probably because we had forgotten about it. We also didn’t talk about the email conversation we had shortly after he was released from prison, in which he’d asked if I’d like to meet up for coffee, an email to which I never replied because…because I didn’t need any more trouble in my life at that point and I simply shut down communication instead of offering a hand to the person who had saved my life as a child.
I remember little about that drunken night, a mini-reunion of sorts with a few other friends from the past. But I remember one thing he had said, which I thought at the time was in response to my habit of injecting my brand of cynicism into discussions. And it’s only now, driving through the darkness towards Oslo that his sentence seems prophetic, whether he meant it as such or not. It now sounded like a warning from someone who had seen the depths and come back. He said it without any apparent malice, without self-interest, without the implication that without him I wouldn’t have been in the bar that night, touting my cynicism.
“You seem to have developed an attitude of someone who would rather be dead.”
*Taken from the forthcoming novella ‘Red Lights’
About the Author: Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal is a freelance writer living in the UK. His short stories and articles have appeared in print and online including Expats Post, The Andirondack Review, Turnrow Journal, Roadside Fiction and Orato. br> His first book Leaving London is available on Amazon and other retailers now. br> View My Profile