Charles Day woke up before the sun did. Turning on the glaring light of his bedside lamp after his alarm clock went off, he thought to himself, "Oh God, I hate my life."
Any peace that came with sleep and unconsciousness was gone now with the morning. At this moment he had to deal with what the real world was like, no longer able to block out the phantom of his personal history with dreamless sleep.
Drawing his legs over the side of his bed to rest his bare feet on the cold floor, he rubbed with open palms at his eyes to shake off the heaviness of sleep. He took a deep breath and, through heavy lids, looked around at his miniscule excuse of an apartment. To his left, a toilet behind a partition, and a sink with rusted taps bleeding colour into the basin; to his right, an ancient fridge, and a stand with a small television atop it; and, in front of him, a small table with a half empty glass of water on it and a single chair beside it. The only window in the place, which didn't open, was behind him and the bed he was on. It overlooked a street of New York that nothing but the overpowering stench of heated garbage inhabited during the day, and all the noisiest drunkards (and worse) used late at night.
"Just another day in hell," Charles murmured to himself.
Charles got dressed into clothes he kept in a trunk at the head of his bed. Out from under his bed he pulled a pair of work boots, that lay amid ignored boxes from his past. Worn, cracked and grimy, the boots resembled Charles face and hands.
After using the toilet behind the partition, Charles washed his hands and splashed cold water on his old-looking face. He rubbed and rubbed his skin, but the dirt and the grime and the shadows seemed to be ingrained into the wrinkles and the stubble on his skin.
Charles Day looked up into the mirror that hung on the wall above the sink. He stared a long time at his reflection, the water dripping down his prominent and carved features – his knit brow, his hard-set eyes, his cheekbones, and nose. His ivory skin made the dark circles below his eyes more noticeable, more repulsing. Charles Day stood before a likeness of himself, remembering his life, everything that he had done, hadn't done, and wanted to do. Charles Day stared himself in the eyes and thought, "I hate what I see."
Charles tried hard not to think as he walked, not that his brain worked this early in the morning anyway. But still he focused on the loud, harsh pounding noise that his heavy work boots made on the concrete sidewalk, and the familiar rhythm they created. By listening to the same noises, by seeing the same things and by following the same path he took every, single day, Charles Day was able to enter into a zombie-esque unconsciousness. He ceased thinking, and somehow he carried on.
He walked the same streets in the same familiar darkness of the same pre-dawn as he always did. He had in his hand the same metal lunch pail carrying the same contents, while he wore the same jacket and the same boots that pounded out the same rhythm. He passed the same storefronts, covered with the same posters. He didn't need to read them, he knew what they said. The same violently flashing, neon signs didn't even enter his mind as he walked past.
"Maybe I've gone insane," he thought to himself. "I keep doing the same thing everyday and expecting a different result each time."
"Don't be silly," another voice inside his head rang out. "Those who are actually insane don't know it – and they certainly don't tell themselves they are."
"You're right," Charles thought, somewhat relieved. "Wait. Who are you?"
"I'm Roy, Charles. And I'm your friend."
For some reason this made perfect sense to Charles, and he felt as though this Roy knew everything about him.
"Do you know something, Charles? I've been taking a look at you for a while now and I have to say that you live a very empty life, don't you? I mean, you don't have any friends, and when you are in the presence of society you just mess that up too, isn't that right? You hurt people, Charles Day. You always have, and always will."
As Charles Day walked down the sidewalk, he realized that Roy was possibly the most honest person he had ever met.
"You've seen that very high bridge just along your way to work, Charles. You could jump off it and end your boring, empty, good-for-nothing life. Just think of it: you wouldn't have to continue suffering, and you would be unable to hurt any more pretty girls' feelings. It would be for the best. And besides, no one would notice you were gone unless, of course, you landed on someone on your way down. But that would be just like you – can't do anything without hurting someone."
Charles Day stopped walking.
He had reached the bridge.
He walked up to the railing and touched the cold metal with his calloused hands. It held him there, his fingers stuck fast to the safety rail.
"That's it, Charles. Just go over the edge. It'll be quick," Roy's smooth voice echoed around in his head.
Charles looked down over the edge of the bridge. Looking down, he became short of breath.
"Who are you?" he asked for the second time.
"I'm the one who's going to make everything all better," Roy answered. "All you have to do is go over the edge."
Charles Day gripped the cold steel more tightly. He leaned further over the railing. It was such a long way down.
He closed his eyes to the cars that sped along below and groaned, letting Roy's voice saturate his mind.
Charles froze, his torso still extended out over the railing, the muscles in his legs ready to propel him forward.
Something was different.
Charles felt a presence behind him.
Roy's voice had stopped.
Mr. Day leaned back towards the sidewalk, amazed that he could and planted his feet firmly onto the solid ground. He released the cold, steel railing, feeling the rush of warmth throughout his body. He had reached safety.
He quickly turned around, only to be faced with the figure of a small, tense woman holding the leash of a Great Dane. Both dog and owner stood silent, still, staring intently at him. The dog had a chew toy in its mouth, and when the animal rearranged its hold on the toy, the thing squeaked.
A small smile stretched across Charles Day's face, and it felt foreign, but it felt good to him.
And when he looked up, and saw the girl, with eyes the colour of a sky Charles had never seen before, but knew in his heart existed in a place much more splendid than this, he laughed with mirth at her beautiful face and that fact that he could laugh again.
She asked him, "Are you okay?" in a quiet, worried voice.
"Yes," Charles answered, a smile on his face.
"Good," her voice quavered. "My name is Maggie." She reached out a hand to shake.
"Charles. Charles Day." Her hand was soft and warm.
"Do you want to get a coffee or something, Charles?"
Forgetting much – his job, his lunch pail, Roy – he smiled and answered, "Yes. Yes, I would, Maggie."
When they were off the bridge, Maggie's small body relaxed and she turned to Charles with a radiant smile on her face and told him, "I am very happy to have met you, Charles Day. Very happy indeed."
And that night in his apartment, the last thing Charles Day saw before he fell asleep was the half-full glass of water on his table, the hope of a new day in his mind.