"I have an inoperable brain tumor," he says incredulously.
"Yes, I know."
I wonder if my words sound as hollow to Malcolm as they do to me. I used to
believe all this stuff. A lot can change in ten days.
Malcolm interrupts me. "Are you a doctor?"
"Tell me again why should I come down?"
"Because it's cold and it's dangerous and I've seen what people look like
when they fall from buildings. Come inside. Let's get warm."
He glances below at the carnival of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and
media vans. "I won the spitting contest."
"Yes you did."
"You'll talk to Mum and Dad?"
He tries to stand, but his legs are cold and stiff. The paralysis down his left
side makes his arm next to useless. He needs two arms to get up.
"Just stay there. I'll get them to send up the ladder."
"No!" he says urgently. I see the look on his face. He doesn't want to
be brought down in the blaze of TV lights, with reporters asking questions.
"OK. I'll come to you." I'm amazed at how brave that sounds. I start
to slide sideways in a bum shuffletoo frightened to stand. I haven't
forgotten about the safety harness, but I'm still convinced that nobody has
bothered to tie it off.
As I edge along the gutter, my head fills with images of what could go wrong. If
this were a Hollywood movie Malcolm would slip at the last moment and I'd dive
and pluck him out of midair. Either that or I'd fall and he'd rescue me.
On the other handbecause this is real lifewe might both perish, or Malcolm
could live and I'd be the plucky rescuer who plunges to his death.
Although he hasn't moved, I can see a new emotion in his eyes. A few minutes ago
he was ready to step off the roof without a moment's hesitation. Now he wants to
live and the void beneath his feet has become an abyss.
The American philosopher William James (a closet phobic) wrote an article in
1884 pondering the nature of fear. He used an example of a person encountering a
bear. Does he run because he feels afraid, or does he feel afraid after he has
already started running? In other words, does a person have time to think
something is frightening, or does the reaction precede the thought?
Ever since then scientists and psychologists have been locked in a kind of
chicken-and-egg debate. What comes firstthe conscious awareness of fear or
the pounding heart and surging adrenaline that motivates us to fight or flight?
I know the answer now, but I'm so frightened I've forgotten the question.
I'm only a few feet away from Malcolm. His cheeks are tinged with blue and he's
stopped shivering. Pressing my back against the wall, I push one leg beneath me
and lever my body upward until I'm standing.
Malcolm looks at my outstretched hand for a moment and then reaches slowly
toward me. I grab him by the wrist and pull him upward until my arm slips around
his thin waist. His skin feels like ice.
The front of the safety harness unclasps and I can lengthen the straps. I pass
them around his waist and back through the buckle, until the two of us are
tethered together. His woolen hat feels rough against my cheek.
"What do you want me to do?" he asks, in a croaky voice.
"You can pray the other end of this is tied on to something."
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...