Convolvulus x nemesis (Mid.) by Robert Francis

There is a man on the balcony opposite mine—a reassuringly distant figure in the tower block across Wyndham Park. I can see him clearly in the dawn light, dancing alone, body gyrating manically as he cavorts back and forth. The entire apartment complex is dark and silent, black cliffs limned with fire as the sun rises. The man looks like a pigeon strutting a ledge—unintentionally comical.

I consider waking Linda. This might be something she would find amusing, a tiny thing we could laugh at together. A small connection to spark something greater, some revelatory memory. I’d love that more than anything.

But no. Let her sleep. She needs her rest. And maybe I should retire to the sofa, try to take a nap myself before the day starts in earnest.


The man has climbed onto the balcony rail and stands, arms spread, balancing on his bare feet. In the stillness, I can hear his laughter, faint but tinged with mania.

And then he jumps—but no, it’s not a jump, it’s a dive. Like an Olympian, arms pointed towards the concrete, legs straight, as if he’s going to cut into deep blue water.

I close my eyes for the impact—the faint echo of which rolls around the tower blocks—then open them to view the outcome. It’s important to bear witness to the horrors of the world rather than pretend they don’t exist, no matter the cost. Linda would agree if she could.

The sight is underwhelming: a dark smear on the shadowed pavement like a slash of spilled ink. The man has landed beside the park border, right by the flowerbeds that the council set out last year and within touching distance of the many plants that I’d put in myself, if I’m judging the distance right.

It seems apt. Everything’s coming together now.

I consider calling the emergency services, but that would bring people to the flat. They might wake Linda. Besides, the man is beyond help now. Any action on my part would be superfluous.

I open the balcony door and quickly step through, shutting it firmly behind me. Only when I am on the other side do I remove my smoke mask and take a long swallow of gin and tonic before lying on the sofa. I won’t sleep, but I must try. The room is stifling when the windows are closed.

Even at dawn, it is clear that it’s going to be a scorching day in the city. The pollen count will be high.

Pollution inevitably exacerbates the impacts of allergens found in pollen. A pollen grain attached to a particle of soot, for example, will bleed its allergen into the pollutant, dramatically increasing the surface area over which the allergen is found, thereby delivering a greater dose to the recipient once the particle is inhaled. So, even in cities, people are not safe from the ever-increasing impacts of allergenic responses to pollen.

[Extract from ‘Urban air pollution and pollen allergens: new evidence of impacts’ by Spencer Oke, Journal of Urban Health and Environment.]

I’m still awake when Linda starts yelling. My head is heavy as I drag myself from the cushions, and I take a moment to sit—to breathe.

I fill a cup from the kitchen tap then quietly unlock the bedroom door. It’s dark inside, the curtains tightly drawn against the glare of the summer morning. Linda is sitting up in bed, eyes still half-closed, hair a wild thicket of dark gray strands plastered across her face. Her nightdress clings to her emaciated body, damp with sweat. As I enter, she lifts her hands and shakes the padded chains that secure her to the bed. I’ve made them as comfortable as I can, leaving plenty of give so she can sit up and change position in the night.

“You!” She leers at me and barks a laugh. “What time do you call this?”

“It’s still early, sweetheart.” I cross to the windowsill and pour a little of the water into the solitary plant pot. The bindweed is coming along nicely, tracing its way up the little cane I installed to support it. It should flower any time now, showing a lovely rose-pink trumpet.

I offer the rest of the water to Linda. She spits at me.

“Get me a whiskey and ginger, maggot.” It’s cruel: she can’t recall much but remembers that I hate that word. Even the first syllable makes me feel ill. Magg. It sounds like something to be vomited out, not spoken.

Of all the things to remember about me.

The bottles of Scotch and ginger ale are in the corner of the room, and I fill the tumbler on the bedside table with a healthy mixture. Linda grips it in both hands as she gulps the cocktail down.

I consider mentioning the balcony diver, but it doesn’t feel right. She’s not coherent enough right now. I can’t remember when she last was. Instead, I just offer up, “I love you, Linda.” It doesn’t sound at all sincere.

She drops the glass and slumps back against the pillows, half-satisfied. “Fuck off.”

The movement stirs an unpleasant odor that tells me her TENA pads need changing, but I decide to wait. A few more whiskies, and she’ll be sound asleep again; I can do it then. She needs a bath too, though I’m not sure there’s much of a point. I turn on the two small electric fans that stand on either side of the bed and leave.

Back in the hallway, I lock the bedroom door and collect the post hanging from the letterbox. There’s a letter from the university amongst the usual batch of flyers. Inside the envelope is my P45 and final payslip. So that’s that. Twenty years of service and a summary dismissal with the bare minimum redundancy payment. I wonder what they’ve done with my greenhouse, my plants. Every specimen incinerated, I expect.

Not that it matters: I took the important ones before they confiscated my security card.

They overreacted, of course. Simon could’ve been on the greenhouse roof for any number of reasons. Easy enough to come cras