Election of Hope: Part 7 – Pons Carn

Election of Hope is a short story based around a Liberal Democrat candidate in a marginal constituency in the 2019 general election. All of the main protagonists are entirely fictional, although there is some reaction to developments during the real election campaign. Election of Hope is presented for entertainment purposes only and is not written in an attempt to influence anyone’s vote in the general election.

Spanning 250 metres over the River Massen, Pons Carn was a key route for rush-hour and commercial traffic in and out of the town. Constructed in the late 1870s from stone and iron, it had been widened shortly after the Second World War to allow for the construction of a dual carriageway across the water.

Alex raced to the bridge as fast as his SEAT Ibiza would allow him. Weaving perilously in and out of traffic and jumping the occasional red light when he considered it was safe to do so, he was determined to get the Matt before it was too late. As he neared the bridge, traffic had ground to a halt, so he ditched his car and made the rest of the journey on foot, running.

Upon arrival, he reported to the first police officer he found, who led him to PC Marston.

“Thank you for coming so quickly,” PC Marston said. “This bridge is a busy route, and the shortest diversion is almost 20 miles through country lanes. The sooner we can get Mr Tyler to safety and reopen the road, the better.”

Alex nodded. “I’ll do what I can,” he said solemnly.

“I’m just waiting for my sergeant to let you through.” PC Marston grabbed his radio to advise his superior that Alex had arrived. “I’m curious,” he added, while he waited for a response, “normally when someone is in this position, they ask for a partner or family member. Why you?”

“I’m all he’s got,” Alex explained. “His parents died a few years ago, he was an only child and his wife left him last year. We’ve been friends for years, and we’ve been like brothers, especially since his parents died.”

“Sounds like he’s been through a lot.”

Alex nodded, keen to change the subject. “What will happen to him once he’s been talked down?” he asked nervously.

“He will be detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and taken to hospital to be assessed by a mental health professional. Whether he stays there or not will be up to them.”

“Shit,” Alex muttered under his breath, as the officer’s radio crackled.

“Ok, Mr Cook, you can go over to him now,” PC Marston said, lifting the police tape and waving him through. “But please, approach with caution.”

Alex meandered his way past the police cars which had blocked the entry to the bridge and slowly crept forward towards Matt. The howling of the wind masked his footsteps, and he was able to get to within a few metres of Matt before he turned his head around.

He could not be sure how long Matt had been out in the cold and the rain, but looking at him, Alex assumed he had not seen shelter since he left the house. His clothes were soaking wet, and rainwater was dripping from his hair. His face was pale and his eyes were bloodshot, making him look as though he had been crying continuously for days. He twitched the corner of his mouth, as though trying to force a smile to acknowledge Alex’s presence.

Alex, unsure what to do, gave a mock salute to greet him. Matt opened his mouth to speak, but Alex held his hand up to stop him.

“First of all,” Alex said solemnly, “I want to apologise for this morning.” Matt shook his head.

“This isn’t about what happened this morning,” he replied, shifting nervously on the stone. “This isn’t about you at all.”

“Then why am I here?”

Matt turned his head forward and looked down towards the river rushing under the bridge 25 metres below. “Because I wanted to see a friendly face before-” His voice trailed off as he began to weep.

“You’re not going to do anything, though,” Alex said optimistically, slowly edging forward.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Matt asked, turning his head back round to face Alex. “There’s no point me going on any longer.”

“How do you figure that out?”

“Because I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life miserable and alone, constantly separated from anyone I want to be with.”

“Matt, you are the kindest, gentlest, most intelligent person I know. I’ll never understand why Ellie left you, but I know this much: one day, you are going to find someone so beautiful, so amazing, that you are going to fall madly and passionately in love with them and forget that you even felt anything at all for Ellie.”

Matt started weeping again. “That’s just the problem,” he said slowly. “I already have.”

Alex’s eyes widened. Matt usually told him everything, and yet this was the first time he had learnt of love on the horizon. He was curious to know more, but knew that this was not the right time to pry. “In that case,” he said instead, “why are you here and not out there fighting for them?”

“Because nothing can ever happen between us.”

“You don’t know that.”

“It’s true,” Matt said with a heavy sigh. “I know for a fact they don’t feel the same way, and even if they did-” he looked down at his feet “-there are people who would move heaven and Earth to ensure we couldn’t be together. It would not just be frowned upon, but some would forbid it entirely.”

Alex stood silently taking in what Matt was telling him. He assumed he knew who Matt was taking about, and thus why some would discourage a relationship, but he did not understand how she could have affected him this much, this quickly.

“It hurts, Alex,” Matt continued, wailing. “Loving someone this much and knowing you can never be with them, it feels as though someone is constantly thrusting a dagger into my heart, and I just want the pain to stop.”

“It will,” Alex replied reassuringly. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will get easier, until one day you’ll forget about it completely, and you’ll wonder why you ever let it bother you at all.”

“Even if it does, there’ll be someone else. The same thing will happen again. I’m destined to spend the rest of my life alone and miserable, and if that’s the case I don’t want to go on.”

Matt looked down at the river once more, fearing the icy cold water and fierce currents that would attack his body from the moment he hit the surface, but drawing comfort from knowing once it had completed the gruesome task he was about to set it, the pain would be gone for good.

Alex inched further forward until he was within touching distance of Matt. “You know me, Matt,” he said carefully, “always optimistic to a fault. But whoever this bird is, if she’s not interested in you, she’s not worth killing yourself over. And as for being alone,” he added, carefully weighing up in his mind the most appropriate way of wording his next statement, “I know it’s not the same, but you’ll always have me. I’m not going anywhere,” he concluded, tentatively placing his hand on Matt’s arm and squeezing gently. Matt allowed himself a smile, tapping the back of Alex’s hand with his own and tilting his head towards the point of contact.

“Can I have a hug?” he asked pitifully.

“Of course you can,” Alex replied, smiling and extending his arms wide. “Hop down and you can hug me for as long as you like.”

Matt hesitantly swivelled himself around on the stone and gently slid onto the pavement. Alex stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Matt. The skin on his cheek was cold to touch as Alex brushed it with his and the rainwater dripping from Matt’s clothes soaked through his own. Alex allowed Matt to stand silently in his arms for a while, hoping the heat from his body would warm him a little.

“What’s going to happen to me now?” Matt asked eventually.

Alex released his arms from Matt and beckoned for the police to join them. “We’re going to get you the help you need,” he said as an officer wrapped a foil blanket around Matt’s shoulders.

“What about the election?”

“Let me and Anastasia worry about that,” Alex said shaking his head. “Just focus on getting better.”

*

As he watched the police car drive Matt away from the bridge, Alex felt his mobile phone vibrating in his pocket. He pulled it out to see Anastasia’s name splashed across the screen.

“Alex!” she barked before he had a chance to say a word. “I do not like finding out one of my candidates has been threatening to kill themselves from the police, especially when I gave you strict instructions this morning to keep an eye on him!”

“Anastasia,” Alex replied coldly, “you know I have the greatest of respect for you, but if all you’ve called me for is to give me another lecture, can I politely request you fuck off and call again another time!”

There was silence down the phone, as Anastasia seemed to struggle to process the way Alex, normally a polite and subservient activist, had spoken to her. Having just talked Matt down from ending his life, though, he was in no mood for party games.

“I have been doing exactly what you told me,” he continued, making the most of Anastasia losing the ability to speak, “I have just spent my afternoon stopping my best friend from taking his own life and thanks to me you still have a candidate. A little bit of gratitude wouldn’t go amiss!”

“G-gratitude?” Anastasia scoffed. “You get gratitude when you win! But right now you have a candidate who is presumably being sectioned and it may have escaped your notice but we cannot fight an effective campaign for someone taking up residence in a nuthouse!”

“I’m sorry,” Alex growled incredulously, “but are we not supposed to be the party of mental health? Or does that only count if there are votes in it?”

Anastasia roared down the phone. “How dare you! We care greatly about the mental health of all of our members, but if you will recall, looking after Matthew was your responsibility!”

“My responsibility?” Alex laughed down the phone. “If you hadn’t insisted on your pointless campaign meeting this morning with or without Matt, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the bridge, so maybe you should wind your fucking neck in and show some compassion for once in your life!”

Anastasia huffed. “Fine! We are getting nowhere here anyway. Just make sure Matt is at the final hustings, otherwise he will wish he had jumped off of that bridge – and you will wish you had jumped with him!”

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