the first time i killed myself

the first time i killed myself – flash fiction

The first time I killed myself, I thought, “Well, this is it.”

I know it was a rash decision to make, but I’d had a few beers. I jumped from my seventeenth-floor window, certain I’d make an impact. As I fell, I imagined the last thing to go through my head – besides the pavement, of course – would be some sense of remorse. But I didn’t feel a thing.

And that was it. Dead.

Except…I opened my eyes, it was Monday, and I was late. I dashed into the office and…nothing. No “Hey, Shane, unlucky with that suicide”. Nothing.

I only lasted another three weeks. My horse came in fifth, so I did the decent thing: a bullet to the head. Failed. Now, it’s – I’ve – become a joke. Slit wrists, overdose; I’ve tried the lot. Even licked batteries.

I won’t give up, though. Something has to change, because this is killing me.

the first time i killed myself – short play

i wrote the (very) short story above a few years ago, when my friend and sometime-mentor kyrill suggested, in his learned way, that the best way for me to improve my literary skills would be to write a story every day, regardless of whether or not i felt like doing so. the only rules he stipulated were: don’t use dialogue, and don’t write more than one side of A4 paper. i rose to the challenge, more or less, and came up with a stack of little stories over the next few months.

most were utter shite.

but i’ve always liked the first time i killed myself, and kyrill maintains to this day it’s the best thing i’ve written. mind you, he’s also – by his own admission – sociopathic, so approach his recommendation with caution. i’ve got a soft spot for my little tale, as it’s ridiculously sad, sadly ridiculous, and boasts a title i’ll probably never better.

a couple of years later, i got the chance to expand upon the story’s premise, when i took part in a short playwriting course, hosted by soho theatre and offered specifically to guardian staff. around thirty of us were tasked with coming up with a ten minute play, and i decided to turn the first time i killed myself into something new.

my play was chosen, along with three others, to be performed at a special showcase at the soho theatre…for one night only. it was a night i’ll never forget, not least because my niece, mia, was in the audience. she was less than two years old at the time, and kept hollering “dan dan, dan dan!” from the back of the auditorium as my dark modern classic was being performed on stage.

she remains my favourite heckler.

anyway, here’s the script for the play:

the first time i killed myself

CHARACTERS:

SHAUN (27)Wants to die, wears a suit, no tie.

DOUG (26)Doesn’t want to die. A suit, a tie.

A pub. A few weathered tables and chairs. To the far left, a jukebox. If music plays, it’s Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’. This edge of the pub is empty, apart from DOUG, sitting at the table nearest the audience and nursing his full pint. Another pint stands next to his, alongside ten empties.

SHAUN enters stage right, running full speed into the jukebox. He flops to the floor and remains there for a few seconds. If there’s music, it stops. Doug looks around the stage, but not at Shaun. Shaun rises, disappointment on his face. He staggers to a chair to Doug’s left, but doesn’t sit. He takes a sip from his pint. His speech is slightly slurred.

SHAUN

The first time I killed myself, I thought, “Well, this is it.” I know it was a rash decision to make but – hey – I’d had a few beers.

Doug puts his hands to his face.

I jumped from my seventeenth-floor window, and imagined the last thing to go through my head – besides the pavement, of course – would be some sense of remorse. But I didn’t feel a thing. And that, Doug, was it. Dead.

Shaun puts his pint down and sits as close to Doug as he can.

Then I opened my eyes and it was Monday. I was late…For work, I mean. I dashed into the office and…nothing. No “Hey, Shaun, how’d the suicide go?” Nothing. I only lasted another three weeks. My horse came in fifth, so I did the decent thing. I’ve obviously got no brains to blow, though, because I failed. Now it’s – I’ve – become a joke. Slit wrists, overdose, I’ve tried the lot. Even licked batteries. So something has to change, Doug, because this is killing me.

Shaun leans back, exhausted by his monologue. Doug drinks.

Well? What do you think?

DOUG

I think you should stop drinking. It makes you melancholy.

SHAUN

I’m serious.

DOUG

So am I. Besides, you’ll have to stop soon. It’s nearly last orders and we’re the last losers in here. Again.

SHAUN

No, what do you reckon about what I just said?

DOUG

You’re not saying anything new.

Shaun half-rises from his seat.

SHAUN

You vicious bastard!

Doug glances around nervously, hushing Shaun with a flapping hand.

DOUG

Keep your voice down. I don’t want to get chucked out again. You know what I mean. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to you moaning on about your botched suicides.

SHAUN

That’s not fair, I-

DOUG

You’re so obsessed you can’t talk about anything else. So you come to The Cock & Bull, you promise you won’t mention it, down a few pints, then try and brain yourself on the jukebox before spouting the same old shit!

Shaun sits and drinks.

SHAUN

That hurts.

DOUG

I’m not surprised it bloody hurts. It’s a big old jukebox and you chuck yourself at it full-pelt. It’s your fault Elvis always skips.

SHAUN

That’s not what I meant. For a best friend you’re not very supportive.

DOUG (laughing)

Supportive? All I do is listen to your sick joke over and over again.

SHAUN

I’m not joking, Doug.

DOUG

Okay. So, casting aside your claim that you never die when you kill yourself, remind me again why you don’t want to live?

SHAUN

We’ve been through this before.

DOUG

And I still don’t get it. So speak to me. Properly. For once in your life.

Doug moves closer as Shaun drinks.

What’s the problem, buddy?

SHAUN

I don’t want to be here.

DOUG

I get that. Why?

SHAUN

Well, I’m bored, for a start.

DOUG (loosening his tie)

So’s everyone. That’s no reason to kill yourself.

SHAUN

I’ve got reasons. I just can’t explain my…

DOUG

Insanity?

SHAUN

Go ahead, take the mick. You couldn’t give a toss whether I live or die.

DOUG

You have no idea, Shaun. I’m worried about you.

SHAUN (softly)

You are?

DOUG

We all are. Gaz, Charlie, Donna-

SHAUN

You been talking to my sister?

DOUG

Well, I-

SHAUN

You dirty dog! I knew you fancied her.

DOUG

I don’t!

SHAUN (giggling)

Bless, I think it’s sweet. I approve. Though you’re a little less…

DOUG

What?

SHAUN

…Dynamic. Than the type she usually goes for, I mean.

DOUG (bristling)

Whatever, Shaun. I thought we were talking about you…People are worried. Donna, Michelle-

SHAUN

Michelle?

DOUG

Don’t push it. Concern’s as far as it goes, mate.

SHAUN

Oh, I dunno, Doug. Me and Michelle, we’ve always had a bond.

DOUG

Give it a rest, Shaun. We’re not sixteen anymore.

SHAUN (gazing dreamily at the audience)

Michelle. Perfection.I was gutted when she left school. Remember that slick-haired twat she used to-

DOUG

Shaun.

Shaun turns to Doug with a big smile.

SHAUN

It’s all worthwhile for an occasional glimpse of your big sis, Doug, fishnetted up and walking that walk. She’s the only reason I still drink my life away with you.

Doug sips his beer. He looks set to explode but calms himself.

DOUG

You don’t sound too suicidal to me.

SHAUN

Ah, it’s a blip. It’ll pass.

DOUG

You should just take things as they come. Relax. Stop ending it all.

SHAUN

Tried that after my fourth attempt. I ever tell you about that one?

DOUG

Many times.

SHAUN

Chucked myself in front of a lorry. A big one. Ikea, I think. Jesus, the mess. I was picking bits of myself up for hours…The driver got post-traumatic stress disorder and managed to top himself one month later. Bastard.

DOUG

I don’t believe you.

SHAUN

But Doug, you need to. I’m confiding in you. I’d put my life in your hands.

DOUG

That’s very sweet, Shaun, but-

SHAUN

Kill me, Doug.

Silence. Doug takes a good look at Shaun, tries to suss him out. Shaun stares back.

DOUG

That’s not funny.

SHAUN

Please kill me.

A bell rings, a voice off-stage shouts, “Time, gentlemen, please!”

DOUG

Last orders, then.

Shaun keeps staring. Doug breaks into forced laughter.

I’ve…I’ve been thinking: the reason you can’t die…It’s not your time yet.

SHAUN

Don’t analyse, Doug, it’s never suited you. People die every day before their time.

DOUG

But maybe you’ve got some higher purpose. Some reason for being here that you haven’t yet realised.

Doug takes another sip, for the first time seems excited.

You’re a superhero, doomed to live forever to make this planet you despise a better place!

SHAUN

That’s a bit far-fetched.

DOUG

Leaping from building to building, catching bullets in your teeth.

SHAUN

This isn’t a joke. Maybe there’s a god willing me away from ending it all, but I can’t kill myself. And that’s why I need you, Doug, as my best friend-

DOUG

Not this again.

SHAUN

You have my full permission. Written, if you’d like. It’s the kindest thing a friend could do.

DOUG (shouts)

Shut up, Shaun!

They both look around, wary of attracting attention.

Brief silence.

SHAUN

You know I’m fucking her.

DOUG

What?

SHAUN

Michelle. You know I’m fucking her.

DOUG

You’re pathetic.

Shaun inches closer to Doug.

SHAUN

C’mon, mate. You know it’s true. It’s been going on for years. Michelle knows what your temper’s like, that’s why she’s never told you.

DOUG

You’re a liar. You just like winding me up.

SHAUN

Birthmark shaped like Italy on her left thigh. We got together when you went travelling. You wrote to her loads, tried to convince her to meet you in Thailand.

DOUG

Stop it, Shaun.

SHAUN

You of all people know what it’s like with sisters, Doug. I fantasised about her for years, then when it finally happened…Well, I shouldn’t say this, but she wasn’t great.

Doug grips the table, eyes down.

She’s got better since. Taught her a few tricks, you see.

DOUG

Why don’t you fuck off and-

SHAUN

Yes?

Doug drinks, his hand shaking. A smile plays on Shaun’s face as he takes a big gulp of beer.

C’mon, Doug. I’ve taken your sister. That must tear you up inside.

DOUG

Shaun, I’m not going to kill you.

SHAUN

But I’ve done things to her that are illegal in certain U.S. states.

DOUG

I’d rather not know. One last beer?

SHAUN (counting on his fingers)

The…eleventh time I killed myself-

DOUG

Spare me, please.

SHAUN

You need to hear this. The eleventh time I killed myself, I nearly took Michelle with me. Left the gas on for hours, and forgot about it. Michelle turned up unannounced, smelt gas and bailed me out the flat. Then she realised: she’d only put her cigarette out a few seconds before entering the flat.

Doug shrugs, drinks more beer.

She could have died, Doug. Ever heard your sister go “woof”?

DOUG

Shaun, you don’t need to tell more stories, you won’t make me angrier.

SHAUN

You’re right. Let’s just do it.

Shaun leans towards Doug and lowers his voice.

I’ll help you.

DOUG

Help me?

SHAUN

If we plan things right, it won’t even seem like murder! You could push me under a train. Trip and fall into me whilst carrying scissors. Crash your car…I’ll remember to forget to wear a seatbelt. All accidents, Doug, all easy!

DOUG

It’s not going to happen.

SHAUN

I thought you were angry.

DOUG

I was. But I want you to be happy, always have done. And I’m your best friend. How can I stay angry at you, eh?

SHAUN

But-

DOUG

And I want Michelle to be happy too. I wouldn’t trust her with many men, but I know you’ll take care of her.

SHAUN

No, Doug-

DOUG

So be happy. Both of you.

Doug drinks. Shaun stands and walks to the left of stage, peers around to check they’re alone in their part of the pub. His voice starts to crack.

SHAUN

The last time I killed myself was the worst.

DOUG

Shaun, don’t.

SHAUN

Last night. It was horrible. Desperate. That feeling you get when you know something is futile, it hollows out your stomach, your soul. And still I did it. Too much whiskey. Pills and pills and pills. Even found some that boasted “Not for human consumption”. I faded away, head spinning. Then woke up.

DOUG

Shaun-

SHAUN

I fucking woke up, Doug! Always, forever, I wake up!

Silence.

DOUG

I…Everyone is going to help you get better.

Shaun walks towards Doug, fumbles for something in his trouser pocket.

SHAUN

And Michelle?

DOUG

Especially her.

Shaun stands behind Doug. Pulls a photo out of his pocket and puts it on the table.

Doug picks up the photo, then covers his mouth in shock.

What have you done, Shaun?

SHAUN

I never wanted this to happen.

DOUG

What have you done?

Shaun takes a quick look around to ensure no one’s watching, then reaches into his other pocket and pulls out a knife. Places it in front of Doug.

SHAUN

I’ve convinced you to kill me.

DOUG

No.

SHAUN

It’ll make you feel better.

DOUG

I thought you were confused, but you’re ill. You’re so…ill.

Shaun crouches down, places the knife in Doug’s hand.

SHAUN

Don’t make a fuss, Doug. It’s time.

DOUG

I’m not you.

SHAUN (pointing at photo)

Look.

DOUG

Help me.

SHAUN (viciously)

No, Doug. Help me.

Doug keeps looking at the photo. He peers around the stage, wipes tears from his face, then tightens his grip on the knife.

DOUG

I don’t know what to do.

SHAUN

It’s simple. Put it in me, just like I-

Doug turns and plunges the knife into Shaun’s chest.

Shaun is wide-eyed with surprise. He smiles.

Thank you, Doug.

Shaun collapses to the floor.

Doug stares at Shaun’s body. The bell for last orders rings again, then the lights fade.

In the darkness, a splutter, a tortured groan. It could be Doug, but most likely it’s Shaun.

Curtain.


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