He steps outside to get fresh air. The sliding glass door squawks shut behind him and he comes to rest on the balcony’s ledge. Even from the third floor, the woodlands extend beyond sight. Deep inhalation. Long, controlled exhalation. All tension melts away. The past is left in the past and this point is a new beginning.
Around the east wall, he hears the sliding door of a connecting unit. An old man grunts with each shriveled step towards his own ledge. A creaky wooden chair rocks rhythmically to and fro, enchanting the man, pulling him into its cadence. His head bobs along.
The old man rasps, “Hi there, neighbor.”
Great, he thinks. So much for alone time.
“Care for a smoke?” A decrepit hand with more liver spots than fingers peeps around the barrier between the two. In it, a soft pack of cigarettes; one sticks out of the opening. He snatches it quickly.
As he snaps the flame of his lighter into existence, his head dips into it. The crisp, dry burn of the tobacco fits this clear, cool eve, as the withered leaves of autumn float delicately down to the ground around them.
The neighbor flicks his own lighter and takes a long pull of the cigarette. He sighs on the breath out, followed by a grating hack to clear his throat. He sobs a little as he smokes. Eventually, he speaks
The man shakes his head, I know I’m going to regret this. “Hey, neighbor. What’s going on over there?”
“Neighbor… have you ever thought about dying?”
Concern steps into the man’s mind. “Sometimes, neighbor. Everyone does. Are you doing alright?”
“I don’t know, man. I-I took some pills. Like a bottle or two I think.”
“Are you serious right now? Did you do this on purpose?”
“I said I don’t know. Yes, maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. I think I’m dying, neighbor.”
“Do you have a phone? Should I call 9-1-1?”
“No. No cops…”
The old man trails from speaking to sobbing, then mutes himself. His younger neighbor waits for a moment. Trying to peer around the wall proves vain, so he calls out again.
“Neighbor? Are you still with me, buddy?”
The drugged man mutters something incomprehensible. The young man drags his cigarette and punches the air. Shit! He cries out in his mind. This is really the last thing I need right now. Once more, time lapses with no comment from the elderly man.
This is ridiculous. This guy isn’t my problem. He said no cops. But… I can’t just let him…
The old man sputter. Damnit. If he honestly took that many pills, he may have ulcerated his stomach. He could choke on his own blood.
“Hey neighbor,” The man tosses his gifted cigarette into the woods. “Are you alive right now?”
“Uh huh.” The poor sap barely manages the sound. What could have trawled him down this path? He must know the pain of several lifetimes.
“Neighbor, I can’t do this. I’m going inside now; and I’m not coming out until morning.” He regrets his decision. Is it cowardice to not hold the life of another in your hands? Should he not be allowed to absolve himself of this responsibility?
He walks to the sliding glass door, opening the door causes a lesser squeak than closing it. He stops before stepping inside. “Neighbor, if you want me to call you an ambulance, this is your last chance. Give me one more of those ‘uh-huhs’ and I’ll call it in.”
No response. One… Two… Three… Four… Five… Six… Seven… Eight… Nine… Ten…
“Neighbor,” he calls to the half-dead man, “If you want to live, you’re going to call 9-1-1 yourself. Good night.”
The sliding glass door slams shut; the lock snaps into place. On the other side of the wall, an old man struggles to crawl to his door, praying he reach the phone before his body fails. The gent doesn’t want to die in agony; he simply wishes to die.