Stefan Gorzynski scooped up a handful of Lucky Pigeon Conditioner and breathed in its malty perfume of barley and corn. Lifting the sack up by its waist, he felt it swoon in his arms as he began pouring the seeds into a large, circular bird feeder. Twenty-five fantail doves cooed from their various perches on a balcony, as a golden river of grain fell through the air and landed with a sigh in the bottom of the dish. Stefan crouched down and smoothed the seeds over with his fingers, leaving furrows across the surface. There would be enough, he hoped, to keep the birds going until they were found.
“All ready now,” he said to the doves, who crooned in anticipation of food.
“And so am I,” he whispered to himself, feeling a warm rush of air, as the doves descended and began to peck at the seeds. Stefan watched them for a while, then, slapping his hands against his sides, he slowly stood up and straightened his braces. There was nothing left to do. His bills were all paid. A letter written to a distant cousin back in Poland was propped against the toaster. He was ready. Prepared to meet his maker, as they say. He stared at his hands. They were shaking and his palms were covered in sweat.
“Cortisol secreted by the adrenal glands, that’s all it is,” he whispered to himself. “Merely the body’s anticipation of death.”
He took a deep breath and looked out at his last morning on earth. A shy sun was rising slowly over an East London skyline a muddle of broken contrails stained amber in the light. He scanned the horizon, taking in the dreary concrete silhouettes of tower blocks. The Plane trees across the street were stained with soot and the usual collection of takeaway boxes skipped along the pavement in a brisk wind. A figure walked unsteadily along the street below, like a wornout clockwork toy, kicking a can and singing tunelessly. There was the usual low rumble of traffic noise from the busier streets, but at least at 5:30 in the morning, there was a little peace.
Of course, Greenacres Tower was not the place Stefan would have elected to die. But then again, his was not an existence he would have chosen. And that was the only thing he, and the residents of this grey, concrete council block had in common; they all had lives that nobody else would have given sixpence for.
Death was not an unusual event. Nothing special, Stefan kept telling himself. He had tried to die a dozen times before. As a logical man of seventy-five years, he should not be considering these things. Instead, he returned to the matter in hand calculating his flight from his balcony.
Being a scientist, he had assessed the equation of his death, including the drag coefficient of his falling body. He had calculated that after 4.5 seconds, he would reach 120 miles per hour, which of course depended on whether he was falling head or feet down, or belly up, because this changed his area and shape factor exposed to the rushing air.
Of course, his fear of heights would prevent him looking down before he jumped, but as long as he kept his eyes closed, it would work.
Just as he was contemplating his final minutes, a great sonic Ska boom of sound erupted from the floor next door. There was a roll of drums followed by a scratchy rhythm guitar and a syncopated blast of saxophones, as Bob Marley and the Wailers filled the air with song:
If I had the wings of a dove,
If I had the wings of a dove,
Well, I would fly away and be at rest.
“Bloody Chubbs,” Stefan muttered, “God damn you and your oversized speakers.” He could have yelled: ‘Listen, I’m about to jump, give an old man some peace for once,’ but his neighbour, Delroy ‘King of Jamaica’ Chubb, was not the sort of man you’d want to be messing with. No Sir. He heard the screech of a woman’s laughter followed by Delroy’s basso drawl, as the family joined in the chorus:
But, since I have no wings,
I’m gonna sing, sing, sing.
On the next door balcony, Mrs Chubb appeared and began to hang out her washing long banners of cotton, golden in the rising sun. Closing his eyes, he edged his bony backside onto the cold concrete balcony until he was sitting with both legs dangled over the edge. Suddenly, each breath he took seemed to hold meaning. That extraordinary osmosis, that alchemy of air which transforms one gas into another. It really was quite a miracle he existed at all. But it was too late now to change his mind. He must go. Now or never.
Just as he was about to push himself clear, his face was engulfed in a cotton sheet. He took one hand off the ledge and began to untangle himself from his lavenderscented snare. How could he jump with someone’s washing blowing in his face? He saw Mrs Chubb’s hand adding a pillowcase to her chorus line of flapping laundry. It was now or never. He cleared his throat, he hadn’t spoken to a soul in months.
“Er, excuse me?”
Mrs Chubb leant over her balcony: “Mr Gorzynski? Is that you?”
Suddenly, he felt ridiculous. He tried to appear casual, or as casual as a man could be who was about to plunge to his death.
“I wondered if perhaps you might kindly remove your washing. I’m about to jump and one of your sheets got loose.”
A big smile crossed the woman’s face. “You tryin’ to kill yerself again, Mr Gorzynski? I told you before. You ain’t gonna get very far.” Mrs Chubb laughed, “They moved you to the ground floor, remember?”
Mr Gorzynski began to shake as his eyes moved slowly down to his feet, dangling inches from the ground.
Celeste Goschen has worked as a Model, Musician, Bread Seller, Filmmaker, PA and business owner. Her short stories and articles have been published in magazines and ezines (including Every Day Fiction). Winner of Writers Billboard Flash Fiction & PrimeProse. Work awaiting publication in Ranfurly Review, Delivered and EarlyWorks Press. She is currently working on her first novel called: Mariam Akbar Dreams of Doves.