Every morning for fifty years, he sat in his rocker by the window, contemplating the thick 
morning fog as it crawled up over the cliff, obscuring the flowers and crosses that 
appeared overnight.  Every evening, he watched the shadows of souls as they stood at the 
edge where land met air, where the ocean pitched violently against the rocks a hundred 
feet below.

Some hesitated first at the short fence guarding the cliff, others hurdled it 
effortlessly.  Many sat shaking with their legs dangling over the rim.  A few stood 
backwards with their arms in the air, as if suspended mid-flight.  He’d seen several take a 
running leap, while a handful of unfortunates lost their footing in a moment of indecision.
When his wife was still alive, he tried to help them.  “Would you like to come in 
for a cup of tea?” he would say, pointing to the gray-shingled home he bought in his early 
twenties for a fraction of what it was currently worth.  It didn’t always work.  He liked to 
imagine what the jumpers saw on their way down, if their lives flashed before them –
awkward adolescences, stale marriages, happy marriages, children’s births, illicit affairs –
of if they saw only rocks, only foaming water.

When his kids were young, he made up stories about the flowers and crosses.  
They were offerings to the gods.  A bridesmaid must have dropped her bouquet on the 
way home from a wedding.  Fairies came to deposit them at night.  They fell from the 
sky.  They were good luck. Now, there was no one to lie to, no one to put on a cheerful front for.  
No one to guilt him into offering a cup of tea.  No one to make up a warm bed in case a wayward 
soul decided to stay overnight.  He was tired and held captive by his wheelchair.  A nurse 
came to check on him every day, his children visited on Sundays.  Mostly, he was alone.
At night, he liked to roll to the edge of the cliff with a blanket over his knees.  His 
eyesight was going, and to him, the stars no longer existed in the sky.  Without his 
hearing aids, the ocean roar was confined to a mere rumble, a soft whisper.  The harsh 
winds comforted him, hugging him from all sides, and he sat for hours sometimes, 
waiting.  Waiting.

He wondered if anyone would be there to see him when he went.

TL Crum is a candidate in the MFA program at California State University, Fresno, where she works as an editor for The Normal School, and co-edits the San Joaquin Review. Recent or forthcoming publications include Narrative Magazine, The Ledge Poetry & Fiction Magazine, Southern California Review, Short Story America, and Fringe Magazine, among others.

“Wayward” is based loosely on a true story.  There’s an elderly man in Australia who has lived across the street from one of the country’s most notorious suicide spots for over fifty years.  According to official tally, he’s saved 160 people so far simply by smiling and asking them to tea, though he admits that he’s seen his fair share of deaths.  I like to imagine him sitting by his window, watching.



Copyright 2009