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Mark — Josiah Boone

* Content warning: this piece contains representations of suicide *

I was there when Mark remembered that life is life and death is death. I’d been sitting in my car for hours. The radio was off, the engine was off, the lights were off, even the lamp post above my car was off. I remember Mark had looked awful that day. Tired in a way that made you feel tired just looking at him. Whenever he got that bad, shuffling around school like something broken, I always stayed up, parked outside his apartment complex. Nothing had ever happened, but I knew there was a timer somewhere inside Mark. It wasn’t something he could control, and it wasn’t something he’d asked for, but he’d gotten it all the same. Had it his whole life. It got heavier every year, and even the strongest rock gives way to the waterfall eventually. When that hand ticked down to zero for the last time, Mark was going to need his friends more than ever. I’d made a few calls to some people who knew him, but all I got were good lucks and prayers and well-wishes. I didn’t need those things. What I needed was hands and bodies and voices. I needed them because Mark needed them.

I’d nearly chewed the plastic off my hoodie string when I heard the alarm. Outside my car, I smelled smoke. By the time I saw the fire, the parking lot was filled with running, yelling people. I didn’t know where Mark was. Nobody knew were anybody was.

But then I saw him. Through the smoke and the hysterical people I could see a figure standing on the roof, a dark figure wavering against the roiling black background. Mark was perched there on the precipice like the captain of a sinking ship. The fire was climbing, the water was flooding the deck, and he was gazing out to the shoreline, preparing himself for the great joke that was him dying within sight of salvation.

This was an end to be sure, but not the one that Mark had planned for. People like Mark seldom ever get what they want.

But then a tragedy. A greater one than Mark in the eyes of the people below. My people, the watchers. I don’t think they even saw him up there. A woman found silence in the crowd with a scream and a yell and a finger, pointing to a third-story balcony like a terrified conductor. Hundreds of eyes and hearts followed that finger, but no bodies. It would mean death.

But I saw a body follow, one already resigned to death, one used to it, one that’d lived with it for years. Fell asleep with it and woke to it every morning. Knew the weight of it on his shoulders. Mark disappeared from the rooftop.

If a year had slid by in those two minutes, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Then Mark reappeared, and the immediacy of the situation came back in painful focus. He held the child in his arms. The crib-bound child that the mother had left alone for five minutes to run to the store. Nobody blamed her now, there would be time for that later.

Now everyone saw Mark standing on that balcony. I saw him. I saw his face. I saw him crawling his way up from death to life. It was more than I’d ever done. It felt holy, like a blessed silver drop had come from above to splash onto our dark lives there in the parking lot. Mark was radiant and wreathed in flames, he might as well have been thrust from the fire fully formed, created to fulfill this one task.

He’d been given a second chance and he’d taken it. He’d taken it like a man steeling himself to grab the horns of a charging bull and flip recklessly into the air, forced, propelled by the raging beast below. The fire flicked its great head and flung him out into the night. His smoldering clothes and melting shoes arced outwards, outwards, seeking refuge in pure distance.

I was close enough to see him hit, to hear his legs snap like dry branches on the asphalt. He pitched over and turned, curled around the child. He rolled, and the child slipped from his arms, screaming. It was scratched, but nothing more. Mark lay there in the parking lot, breathing slowly. He was unconscious, legs bent like children’s straws. This captain, this hero, this angel, my desperate friend Mark.