The Step

Lincoln sits there in his cramped cubicle, staring at the digital clock in the corner of his screen, counting down the minutes until it is his lunch break. It is pathetic, he has realized. And he is hopeless to do anything. He has been working here for but one month, three weeks, six days, and nine and a half hours, and he has nothing better to do than wait for his lunch break. He will then take the elevator to the ground level, walk down the hall, through the automatic doors, across the street, down one block, and arrive at the sandwich place where he partakes of his lunch every weekday. There, he will eat his regular: a club sandwich with fries and a Dr. Pepper. Each Friday he has a slice of apple pie.
This is Lincoln’s life, and he cannot say that he is content with it.
At last, it’s 12:30. He lets out a sigh. It is not a sigh of relief, nor a sigh of disgust. It is purely an audible exhalation of air. A few keystrokes and clicks, and the display goes dim. Lincoln straightens the few items on his desk, grabs his jacket, and walks out, head down, hands deep in the confines of his pockets.
The elevator dings. It’s a comforting noise. He gets inside with a few people, two young women, gesticulating and talking about a movie they have recently seen. They’re laughing and having a good time.
Lincoln is not.
When the elevator opens, he strides past them and heads to the front. A blast of frigid New Hampshire air hits him as he steps out of the building. It’s supposed to be spring, but it feels more like winter. His breath comes out in swirling clouds which wisp away in moments. Everything is overcast and gray. The sky seems to be gravid with rain, threatening to unleash its contents on all the unfortunate denizens of the city of Dover.
There is a crowd of people milling near the building’s entrance, gawking and pointing, whispering in fearful tones. Instinctively, Lincoln looks up. What he sees him causes him to stand still.
Six stories up is a person, standing at the edge of the building. He is going to jump. He is going to take a step forward and come hurtling to the ground impossibly fast, ending his life in the process.
And nobody is doing anything.
Hardly realizing it, Lincoln dashes back into the building, feet moving faster than he thinks he can move. He pushes the elevator button, but it does not open fast enough. Muttering imprecations under his breath, he takes the stairs two at time while he alternates between cursing and praying. The irony is not lost on him.
Second floor. Fourth floor. Sixth floor. The door that leads to the roof is unlocked, as he has anticipated. He rushes through it, gasping for breath. The unbelievably cold air sucks what little oxygen he is able to take in, and he leans forward, hands on his knees, trying to recuperate.
The would-be jumper is still standing there. From ten feet away, Lincoln can see that the blond-haired man is trembling violently.
The man curses. “Stay away from me,” he says, his voice trembling. “If you come any closer, I’ll jump.”
Still struggling for breath, Lincoln says, “All right. All right. I won’t come any closer.”
“Just—just go away, man.”
Lincoln shakes his head, then realizes that the man can’t see it. “What’s your name?”
“Colin.”
“I’m Lincoln.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but under the circumstances…”
The wind bites at him, working its way through the layers of clothing Lincoln is wearing. He shivers, then says, “And why have the circumstances caused us to meet up here?”
The man doesn’t answer. Doesn’t move. “It’s everything. It’s nothing.” Colin pauses, but when Lincoln doesn’t speak, he continues. “It’s all so…so pointless, man. It’s the same grind every day, and I can’t take it. Everything is the problem—because it’s all amounting to absolutely nothing. Nothing.”
“And so you figure that to end the nothing, you have to do this?”
“What else am I supposed to do? What else?”
Lincoln edges closer. One step. Another step. “Maybe yo—”
“Don’t give me all the clichés. ‘It gets better. There’s something else.’ It’s all fake. It’s all a lie. There’s nothing left for me.” Colin’s voice begins to break. “There’s nothing.”
“I’m sorry,” Lincoln finally says. What else is he supposed to say?
“Yeah, well, I’m sorry too,” Colin replies, his voice laden with bitterness.
There’s a brief silence. The wind howls and tries to rip off Linconln’s jacket. Colin is wearing only a dress shirt, pants, and shoes. “What’re you doing up here anyway?” Colin asks. “Do you really think you can stop me?”
“No,” Lincoln says honestly. “I don’t think I can.” In the distance, he hears sirens. Police cars? Ambulances? Fire trucks? What are they going to do? “Only you can stop yourself. I might be able to stop you from physically taking the jump, and psychiatrists might lock you up, but that won’t stop you from taking the jump on the inside.”
“What’s to say I haven’t already done it?”
“If you had, the physical jump would be so much easier. But it’s not.” Lincoln is now just a pace behind Colin, who is shaking violently. “You’re not ready.”
Colin laughs, though it is more of a bark. “You’re so full of it, aren’t you? I’ve seen you around here before. You’re new here. But you’re just like everyone else. You’re just like me. You work, you go eat, work some more, and then go home and get ready for another day. Don’t tell me the drudgery doesn’t bore you. You’ve probably contemplated doing what I’m going to do. It wouldn’t surprise me if the thought didn’t cross your mind today.”
The words hit Lincoln. Hard. It is true. It’s all true. And in that moment, he realizes that if Colin jumps, he will have jumped as well—not physically, but somehow, in a way that he can’t put into words. Colin is right. He is Colin, and Colin is himself. And now it is all the more imperative for him to stop Colin, but if he can’t save himself from the mental turmoil, how can he stop Colin? Better yet, how can Colin stop himself—Colin—from jumping?
Slowly, Lincoln takes the last step towards Colin, his hand reaching out.
“Don’t touch me, man,” Colin says. Tears are streaming down his face. His hands are outstretched, palms facing the heavens, toes over the edge. “Stay away from me.”
And then Lincoln places his hand on Colin’s shoulder, and Colin lets out a feral scream and backhands Lincoln with a force that literally drives him to his knees. Colin loses his balance and cries out, hands windmilling he struggles not to go plummeting into empty space.
God, no! Lincoln is dimly aware of his thoughts as he remains on his hands and knees, the world spinning, his vision fuzzy. He is subconsciously praying, begging, pleading for Colin, for himself, for all the countless others who are out there, like Colin. Like himself.
And then the ringing fades, and the world comes back into focus, and Colin is still standing. Still alive. He is now sobbing, his shoulders shaking. His body heaves, and he is trying to breathe. But he is still alive. And so is Lincoln. “I’m sorry,” he manages between sobs. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“You didn’t jump,” Lincoln whispers. He has not realized it, but he is also crying. Tears course down his face. But Colin is alive. Lincoln is alive. They are alive.
“I didn’t jump,” Colin says. He wipes his face and takes a shaky breath. “I didn’t jump.” And then, Colin takes the step.
He takes a step backwards.

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