She is my only granddaughter. I only had one son, and he married a beautiful Irish lady. The Irish woman is arrogant but yet generous. They had a daughter before he died. So that leaves her and my granddaughter as my only family. Here I stand, on a cliff, looking over towards the dark horizon. It’s late I think. Why I have no sense of time even though the ever changing atmosphere screams it’s about to get dark soon is a simple question. A simple question with a complicated answer. It’s like an explicit mathematic equation that forces your whole brain to engage with your core.
What are wedding dresses even made of these days? The ivory one screwed up to my left is covered in dirt and it’s all torn, making it hard to even think that it was hers. Her name was Ashlee, my granddaughter. She didn’t have a good plan in order to survive. But then again, it wasn’t her fault she didn’t survive.
The clouds frowned and started crying. There was literally nothing I could do at this point but stare out to the east. Jealousy does this to a person; it destroys them. It destroyed Ashlee because she was the constant in the equation. My leather skin creases against my forehead as I reminisce the last 6 days. This cliff ended things.
It was brisk Monday morning. My denim jacket hugged my body tightly, a few sizes too small. An old Italian restaurant that closed down months ago stood sadly in front of me. I was seated on a wooden bench that stretched long enough to fit myself and a mother with a youngling. The busy work people blurred together as they ran around trying to get to their offices before 9 am. I people watch, and in my old age, it has become a regular occurrence.
The lady that walked past the pop-up flower stall has her phone clutched incredibly close to her ear and she hurried along; a vibrant crimson head bobbing along the crowd with a serious expression. She was more than likely late for work. It was only 8.47am. To the right, a man in a full dark suit was rushing in the opposite direction constantly checking his watch. Late too.
Everyone is too late in this world; they are letting time run out and then regretting their choices. Immersed in my own thoughts, I hardly heard my phone ringing in my jacket pocket. It was Ashlee.
“Hey, baby girl.” My voice was coarse so I let out a wheezy cough. Ashlee picked up on my surroundings.
“Grandpa, get inside! Just ‘cause you’re older than me doesn’t mean we have the same level of common sense!” Her angelic voice filled my heart with warmth even though it was close to freezing level in the streets.
“Ashlee, I am fine. How’s the wedding planning going?” The Cannon boy proposed to my Ashlee 7 months ago in France. Romantic, if I don’t say so myself. Their wedding is to be held this Saturday if things go too planned.
“Great actually! Pa, I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for this day for far too long! Hey listen, I have to get back to the office. Do you want to come over for tea tomorrow night? Say 6 pm?” I stared at my worn sneakers. There was nothing better to do.
“Sure, love. That sounds great.”
I started ringing my hands. I felt like an inferno over here. Ashlee and the Cannon boy’s home was livable, so I still to this day, don’t know what got me so worried. For someone as old and as dynamic as myself, I couldn’t explain why I was feeling this way. I knocked on the hardwood doors and within moments, my gorgeous Ashlee answered the door.
She seemed fine, now I look back on the situation. Frazzled brain maybe, but physically she was the same. I would never have known what she was being tormented by, or should I say who. She invited me into her home. Ashlee's home is bare and pristine. Not a thing out of place in the two-storied castle. The Cannon boy work’s as a lawyer, which means Ashlee doesn’t have to support their family.
I dragged my feet through the unimportant rooms of the house towards the kitchen. Something intense-smelling was suffocating my senses. Later that night I found out it was just the spices on the roast chicken. The kitchen was too big. I still felt claustrophobic sitting down at their oak table crammed into the far corner. It was just Ashlee in this house.
“Where’s your Mister?” Ashlee turned her back and started turning the already caramelised onions in the baking tray.
“Out.” And that was the end of the conversation. The whole night in total was light. It was easy. The Cannon boy wasn’t home, Ashlee baked us a chicken and the whole situation was over by 7.30. She seemed stressed, but I didn’t pick up on it. A mammoth sized bun sat messily on the top of her hair and she was dressed in casual clothes. Just being the normal Ashlee I know and love.
But how come she didn’t tell me the problem she was facing? How come when I mentioned the Cannon boy she gave me a one-word answer?
On Wednesdays, I usually visit Cynthia. She lives on the east side of town, which always will surprise me. Cynthia grew up with a mother and a father and a healthy income, but yet she chose to live in the poorest part of town. I’ll never know what possessed my daughter to raise a child in the eastern suburbs.
Ashlee was a clone of Cynthia. They both had a sort of copper blonde hair colour naturally. The Irish green eye trait flowed continuously through the two generations. Ashlee was a few inches shorter while Cynthia gained her height in monstrous heels. I look nothing like the girls in my life.
I caught a bus from the north side of town to Cynthia's place. The blue sky was hidden by the thick mass of grey clouds and the sun barely shone through. The temperature remained below zero that day. I got off the bus across the street from her run down cottage. My breathing was heightened as I crossed the street. Puffs of elegant smoke dancing around the air every time I breathed out.
Of course, Cynthia didn’t answer that day. Of course, she wasn’t home. It was stimulating my mind; her absence. In ’86 Cynthia MacCarthy became Cynthia May. The wedding was spectacular, especially for a 1980’s wedding. She became my daughter that day, and I vowed to love her like she was one. It took years, until she gave birth to my little Ashlee in ’91, for me to be able to look at Cynthia like one of my own. Heck, I had trouble looking at my own son as one of my own. My life was in a turn of events the spiralled downwards, with the exception of Ashlee’s birth obviously. My son’s life was replaced with my granddaughter’s life.
The wedding was moved to Friday. Another sign I missed; how naïve of me. The day was slightly warmer, averaging around 4 degrees. I was feeling pessimistic and apprehensive towards the wedding date. My Ashlee was going to become Ashlee Cannon, and the family name chain would be broken. There isn’t much I could have done about it, relaying back.
The day was uneventful. I sat in my apartment on Walker Street and watched the traffic flying past most of the day. With a whisky in my left hand, I muttered to myself the stories I made up about the pedestrians walking by. I am usually a very good people reader. The things that happened to Ashlee made me realise that I can be blind to certain aspects I do not want to factor in the equation.
When doing hard quadratics, many people like to forget the small things. But one small mistake can alter and affect the whole equation.
Cynthia came to my apartment early that morning, as for I was knocked out cold from the night before. Sometimes the liquor fills me to a point where I cannot remember what my thoughts were, are or will be. Alcohol is a constant factor in the calculation of my life.
No matter how drunk I could be, I had learnt the art of an observer. Cynthia had a sour look on her face. Her eyes bulged and were bloodshot, like she was high on a crazy ambiguous drug.
“The wedding is today, you better get ready you hear me?” I had no time to respond before her phone started vibrating on the glass table. We both singled our eyes to the device and sure enough, Ashlee’s name lit up the screen. Just another sign really.
Cynthia picked up the phone and walked to the yard, talking in short meaningful phrases that any mother would repeat to their daughter. Everything was fine. More than fine by the sounds of it. But everything is masked; jealousy, regret, lies and love.
We headed to the country club, where Ashlee was to get married. The whole area was huge and eccentric and very Ashlee. The sour look that leeched the usual joy from Cynthia's face was back again. People were rushing everywhere to try and get the wedding ready. Ashlee was to become Mrs Cannon in less than an hour.
People I didn’t know came up to me; congratulating me and wishing the best of years for my granddaughter. I felt very uncomfortable and out of place in such an expensive facility. My now dead wife robbed me of my great fortune at an earlier stage. I raised my son off the little wealth my job paid, and it wasn’t until he met Cynthia that money had a real value.
It took a while, but she came to terms with the fact that my son had no money. She was spoilt but she felt sorry for him at the same time. My son died in a car accident not long after Ashlee was born in 1991. Cynthia didn’t shed a single tear that year. I remember it clearly; her face hardened like stone and she wouldn’t go near Ashlee. She refused to hold her own daughter for a long time after his death, but Ashlee doesn’t need to know that her mother didn’t love her at first.
The next hour was a blur for my drunken self. We sat in seats set up like pews on the grass of the country club. I was sandwiched between Cynthia and the Cannon boy’s mother. She wasn’t much of a looker. The wedding party walked up the aisle for around 25 minutes, which felt like an eternity to me. I was so excited to see my astonishing granddaughter. The Cannon boy made his way to the altar, looking quite smart as usual.
Unlike the minutes it took for the wedding party to walk their part, the time it took to realise that Ashlee wasn’t coming felt like seconds. Cynthia was spinning her tiny wedding ring around her left ring finger anxiously. Mrs Cannon on my right was constantly checking her water. The Cannon boy’s face started to fill with tears, almost ready to burst. It was definitely a warmer day that day.
The events to follow were a sequence, a set of steps if you will, to the way Ashlee’s life ended.
Firstly. Everyone checked around to find the runaway bride.
Secondly. I called her mobile, her house phone and her work phone trying to reach my baby girl.
Thirdly. I threatened the Cannon boy. I grabbed his shirt through his tux and slammed his body, hard, against the wall of the club, demanding he tells me where my baby girl was. That was a dead end.
Fourthly. We called the cops. Old mate drove all over town trying to find my baby girl. By this stage, it was getting close to 9 pm.
And Fifthly. There was a phone call around 1 am from the officer down at the station. Ashlee’s car was spotted on the cliff at Sharkie’s bay, west of town.
Old mate told me to wrap it up. I shouldn’t be standing here, thinking about this stuff any longer. An old mathematician isn’t supposed to solve all of life’s mysteries. Ashlee’s screwed up body is a red mess at the bottom of the cliff face. I can’t even bring myself to take a second look, yet I have been standing here since the police called my apartment earlier this morning. My watch says its 5 am, but my heart doesn’t care at all.
My forehead frowned, and like the clouds, I started crying. You can’t explain the feeling you get when something terrible happens. Your heart gets ripped out and batted like a piñata until it shatters and all you are left with is the sweet blood. I fell to my knees and cried out in pain and remorse for my beautiful baby girl.
I gathered handfuls of her taffeta dress and held it to my mouth to muffle my old man screams. The taffeta and silk ran smoothly against my abrasive old hands. What didn’t run so smoothly was the paper envelope hidden inside the dress.
I’m sorry to do this to you. I love you so, so much Pa. You were my everything. Don’t think of this as a suicide letter, please Pa. It’s more of a recollection of how I felt before you are reading this.
You see, Mumma isn’t a nice person. She was ruled by jealousy over her own Goddamn daughter. She was jealous of the fact I was engaged to a beautiful and rich man, and she saw herself widowed to a poor and unsteady man. She wasn’t happy with her life choices and was determined to make sure she was happy with MY life choices.
Monday she told me I was never going to be good enough. Tuesday she convinced me that I was unable to reciprocate any feelings of love. She informed me that my fiancé was out having an affair with another woman twice my age. Wednesday she came over to my house and hit me, over and over again. She told me that she would have to kill me if I continued to get married. I thought she wasn’t being literal, but it was, in fact, her that killed me. Thursday I moved the wedding date forward – so I could get it over and done with and leave my mother. He made me happy, and mumma wasn’t having it. She came over again Thursday, and as much as I hate to admit it, I let her in. She sat on my couch and cried and cried asking for me to cancel the wedding and wailing about how bad she felt, but I didn’t show any remorse.
It was Friday that pushed me over the edge; figuratively and realistically. I called her that morning, and she told me a few things I instantly forgot. There was one thing I remembered that made me make a decision as big as ending a life.
“If you marry him, I’ll kill your precious Granddaddy after I kill you.”
It was the easy way out, to jump. I couldn’t stand the feeling of not marrying him, but then again the thought of you dead made me want to jump right then.
A mathematician once told me I was the constant in the equation of his life. I also once learnt how one mistake can disturb and change the whole equation. It should be easy now because I always knew from the day I was old enough to comprehend math that I was the constant mistake in the scheme of life. And now I’ve been erased.