“Walking the plank, again,” he’d grinned, as he passed me at reception. Typical of him to choose such a swashbuckling image to describe his routine annual review. He should never have become anything so mundane as a banker!
And it really didn’t suit him, not in the long term. He could talk it up and joke about it, but still the relentless mediocrity and sameness of his job got to him. Or something did-–maybe nothing to do with work, with that part of his life we saw. In any case, he hit the sauce hard again that evening after work. And he hadn’t eaten, so he hadn’t long to wait for the swelling in his abdomen, the familiar dizziness as the world turned slowly inside out. He slurred his goodbyes and made for the street, a cab, the dark hallway, the fifty-seven TV channels that filled his silent night.
It was his umbrella, flying back against the door, that made the barman look up. An impassive reptile of a man, such shock on his face caught everyone’s attention. Outside was all sirens and light, crowds gathered around his broken body. His polished black shoes unnoticed, for a while, neat beside the curb.
They called it an accident, of course. But at the service, as the orchestra played his casket into the fire, that throwaway phrase came back to me, and I saw him, clear as day, stepping barefoot off the pavement, walking the plank, breaking free.