Eye of the Beholder - Peter Tennant
There are thirteen people who die by their own hand. On a given day. In the City of Broken Dreams.
Thirteen. A number whose fateful lack of symmetry appeals to me.
Thirteen. By their own hand
Gaston, the Puppet Master, reads of their deaths in his daily newspaper, one by one.
Death Number One: Wayne Carlyle.
He is a child who has never been denied anything.
In the afternoon he argues long and violently with the woman he loves. In the evening he takes a gun and places it firmly against the side of his head. He pulls the trigger.
The telephone rings but there is no-one to answer.
Death Number Two: Douglas Howard.
He is an old man; a retired actor who still dreams of past glories and is haunted by what might have been. Tired of a life that has turned sour. Disturbed and alienated by a society he can no longer understand.
The Roman death, reflecting his love of classicism.
He runs a hot bath and removes his clothing, but then reconsiders. The inelegance of this frail body is displeasing. He does not wish to be found in such a state. It lacks dignity, and dignity is all that remains to him. So, wearing the patched and faded ruin of a best suit, he takes up his position and presses the steel blade against the exposed veins in his wrists. The pain is sharp and mercifully brief. He sighs, letting the knife drop from arthritic fingers. Blood pours from the lacerated flesh. He slides down into the bath and lets the soothing water lap around his chin. The applause is deafening for this final performance. He waves once to the imagined audience: then closes both eyes and lets the long sleep begin.
Two days later they break down the door and find his lifeless body; the bath full of cold and bloody water; a collection of yellowed newspaper clippings and theatre handbills; all the remains of a life.
Death Number Three: Unknown.
He steps from obscurity into the path of a speeding lorry and is caught for a brief moment in the headlight glare; then gone, swept under by the hurtling colossus of rubber and steel. It is death on impact. Instantaneous. His face is untouched by the collision. The expression it holds is strangely peaceful. Serene.
No-one will ever know who he was or why.
Death Number Four: Carla Williams and Death Number Nine: Joanna Burden.
Disturbing similarities in life and death, hence the mutual linking. They exist as interchangeable parts in the social machinery; twin victims of convention.
Both are married. Both are upper middle class. Both have children away at boarding schools; a boy for Carla and a girl for Joanna. Both are bored and frustrated. Both suspect their husbands of infidelities, though only Carla is justified in her suspicions.
They have never met and would instinctively hate each other if introduced, as we hate a mirror that reveals us for what we really are. They live only miles apart and die within a few brief minutes of each other.
Carla spends her final afternoon cleaning the house, while the decision is forming deep inside her and rising slowly to the surface through the secret workings of osmosis. She writes her husband a note and leaves his dinner in the oven. She puts on her wedding dress, carefully preserved in cellophane all these years, and takes a fatal overdose of tablets the doctor has prescribed for insomnia.
Joanna watches television and gets quietly drunk. She writes a note for her husband, but it is maudlin and makes no sense at all. She really doesn't intend to kill herself; the alcohol confuses her. She mixes half a bottle of scotch with weed killer and drinks the lot.
Death Number Five: John Otley.
Eight storeys up, he climbs out onto a window ledge and surveys the world far beneath him. A crowd soon gathers. The police come and the fire brigade also, sirens shattering the tranquillity of a lazy weekday afternoon. It seems strange to be the centre of so much attention. People in the crowd jostle and point. A policeman talks to him through a megaphone. He does nothing but smile. Inside he feels warm and good. He drags the performance out for as long as he can. When the moment comes, to hurl his young body out into space and at the unyielding concrete far below, he experiences a twinge of regret. If only it could have been like this always.
Death Number Six: Sally Pride.
She has cancer. The future, once so bright with promise, now holds nothing for her but a gradual fading away, long and painful death stretched out over seemingly interminable months. A growth is festering deep inside her body. She was raised in the country and she knows the fate of the crippled animal, the beast riddled with disease. She will not become a burden to others. She sits down to write a letter, but the words seem so full of self-pity that she tears it to shreds and throws the pieces on the fire. Instead she prints I LOVE YOU on a sheet of paper and puts it in an envelope addressed to her parents.
Later she walks down by the river, to where the current is most treacherous. She smiles at two children playing by the river bank, and when the children have gone she lets the river take her.
Death Number Seven: Julie Field.
She lives alone in a big house with her cats; an old spinster whom the neighbourhood children taunt and torment. All her friends are long dead and she has no family. She has never experienced love, only the coarse hands of lying men. At times she thinks she may go out of her mind with loneliness. So much has changed that she thought would always stay the same. She is frightened by the random violence of the modern world. Every night the T.V. screen presents some new threat; each day her ability to cope diminishes, until finally she sees no reason to even try. She has had a long and not unhappy life. When all other options are denied there is always the one that cannot be ignored. She places her head in the gas oven and breathes in poisonous fumes, dreaming that she is young and beautiful once again.
Her cats gather, but they are not fed.