How to Fall in Love

By: Cecelia Ahern


How to Talk a Man Down

They say lightning never strikes twice. Untrue. Well, it’s true that people say it; it’s just untrue as a fact.

NASA-funded scientists discovered that cloud-to-ground lightning frequently strikes the ground in two or more places and that the chances of being struck are about forty-five per cent higher than what people assume. But what people mostly mean to say is that lightning never strikes the same location on more than one occasion, which is also untrue as a fact. Though the odds of being hit by lightning are one in three thousand, between 1942 and 1977 Roy Cleveland Sullivan, a Park Ranger in Virginia, was hit by lightning on seven different occasions. Roy survived all the lightning strikes, but he killed himself when he was seventy-one, shooting himself in the stomach over what was rumoured to be unrequited love. If people dispensed with the lightning metaphor and instead just said what they meant, it would be that the same highly unlikely thing never happens to the same person twice. Untrue. If the reasons behind Roy’s death is true, heartbreak carries its own unique brand of sorrow and Roy would have known better than anyone that it was highly likely that this highly unlikely misfortune could occur again. Which brings me to the point of my story; the first of my two highly unlikely events.

It was eleven p.m. on a freezing cold December night in Dublin and I found myself somewhere I had never been before. It is not a metaphor for my psychological state, though it would be apt; what I mean is that I literally had never geographically been to the area before. An ice-cold wind blew through the abandoned Southside housing development, causing an unearthly tune to play through broken windows and flapping scaffolding materials. There were gaping black holes where there should be windows, unfinished surfaces with menacing potholes and upturned flagstones, pipework-cluttered balconies and exit routes, wires and tubing that began randomly and ended nowhere, the place a stage set for tragedy. The sight alone, nothing to do with the minus-degree temperature, made me shudder. The estate should have been filled with sleeping families, lights out and curtains drawn; instead, the development was lifeless, evacuated by owners who had been left to live in ticking time-bombs with fire-safety concerns as long as the list of lies they were told by builders who failed to deliver on the promise of luxury living at boom-time prices.

I shouldn’t have been there. I was trespassing, but that wasn’t what should have concerned me; it was dangerous. To the conventional ordinary person it was unwelcoming, I should have turned around and gone back the way I came. I knew all these things and yet I ploughed on, debating with my gut. I went inside.

Forty-five minutes later I stood outside again, shivering, trembling and waiting for the gardaí as the 999 operator had instructed me to do. I saw the ambulance lights in the distance, which were quickly followed by the unmarked garda car. Out leapt Detective Maguire, unshaven, messy-haired, rugged if not haggard, whom I’ve since learned to be an emotionally hassled, pent-up jack-in-the-box ready to explode at any moment. Though his general appearance might have been a cool look for a member of a rock band, he was a forty-seven-year-old detective on duty, which took the stylish away from him and highlighted the seriousness of the situation I’d found myself in. After directing them to Simon’s apartment, I returned outside to wait to relay my story.

I told Detective Maguire about Simon Conway, the thirty-six-year-old man I’d met inside the building who, along with fifty other families, had been evacuated from the estate for safety reasons. Simon had talked mostly about money, about the pressure of having to pay the mortgage on the apartment he wasn’t allowed to live in, and the council, which had a case pending to stop paying for his replacement accommodation, and the fact that he had just lost his job. I relayed my conversation with Simon to Detective Maguire, what I’d said exactly already fuzzy, and I jumped between what I thought I’d said and what I realise I should have said.

You see, Simon Conway was holding a gun when I came across him. I think I was more surprised to see him than he was about my sudden appearance in his abandoned home. He seemed to assume I’d been sent there by the police to talk to him, and I didn’t tell him that wasn’t the case. I wanted him to think I’d an army of people in the next room while he held that black weapon in his hand, waving it around as he talked while I fought hard not to duck, dive and at times run from the room. While panic and fear welled inside me, I tried to coax him, soothe him into putting the gun down. We talked about his children, I did my best to show him a light in his darkness, and I managed to successfully talk Simon into putting the gun down on the kitchen counter so I could call the gardaí for help, which I did. When I hung up, something happened. My words, though innocent – and which I know now I should have left unsaid at that point – triggered something.

Simon looked at me, and I knew he wasn’t seeing me. His face had changed. Alarm bells rang in my head but before I had a chance to say or do anything else, Simon picked up the gun and held it to his head. The gun went off.