Saving The World

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

18th December 2015
SIMON 'Smiler' Smith stared across at the bottle on the table.
A silver tag hung from its neck.
"Merry Christmas. Keep smiling :) " the message in black ink.
Rain hammered against the third floor window. Wind rattled through the extractor fan in the kitchenette.
Friday night.
Not just any Friday night.
December 18, 2015.
Black Eye Friday. Mad Friday.
The clock on the stone mantelpiece above the electric fire showed it was just gone 8pm - the hardest time for Smiler.
Get through until after 9pm and he could start contemplating hiding under the duvet until the next day.
But right now, just gone 8pm, temptation was at its most intense.
It didn't help that he could hear the laughter and shouts from the Christmas revellers whistling on the gusting wind in the town's narrow cobbled streets below.
He knew the craic in the nearby Lounge Bar would be 'mighty' tonight.
Every time the pub door opened and shut he caught a few notes of fiddles being tuned, a discordant accompaniment to the jukebox playing 'Fairytale of New York' and 'Northern Christmas'.
Inside his flat, all was silence.
He looked across again at the bottle of whisky.


SMILER felt the slap on his back.
"How you doing me old Smiler? Great to see you my friend."
Thursday, December 17, 2pm.
Smiler had just walked into the office of the local newspaper, like he did every Thursday, or at least the Thursdays when he didn't ring in sick.
Editor Jim Murphy was making the drinks.
"Coffee is it Smiler? Strong, black, no sugar? Sit yourself down, grab a mince pie, Jenny's brought them in, they're the best."
Jim loved Smiler.
He saw him as an ally.
Smiler brought life, and light into the office which was dominated with dour, dreary faces and mind-numbingly mundane local news.
Jim loved the broader outside influence Smiler brought with him on the tails of his dark blue overcoat, blowing in with him on the breeze as he burst through the door.
It was refreshing, vital Jim would go so far as to say, for a workplace which spent the rest of the week stifled by insular mediocrity, bigoted egos, and petty office politics.
"What will it be this week Smiler, Mourinho's sacking, Paris climate change summit, or have you got some juicy political satire for us?"
"Aye Jim, there's no shortage of inspiration this week. I've got a few thoughts. I like to do something special for my Christmas one. I'll sketch a few out, and see how it goes, see which you and the rest of the guys think is worth working up."
Smiler loved the camaraderie he got from the newsroom team. They all made him feel welcome. Even characters known for being monotone and moaning the rest of the week raised a smile and some cheery chat for Smiler.
He fed off their warmth, cracking jokes, having them in stitches.
Jim knew a special talent when he saw one.
That's why he gave Smiler more leeway than most when it came to time off.
He didn't know why Smiler called in sick so much.
He put it down to some sort of depression, SAD or something like that, probably connected with the all-consuming winter darkness of this northern outpost.
He tried to get Smiler to open up about it, so he could help.
But it was clear he didn't want to know. So Jim respected it was Smiler's private business.
And they had a good deal.
Once a week Smiler brought joy into the newspaper office.
And the next day the readers loved his cartoons.
Jim just hoped Smiler got as much out of the relationship, as he and his newspaper did.
Standing in the doorway of his office looking out into the newsroom where Smiler was holding court, mug of coffee at a jaunty angle in one hand, half-eaten mince pie cascading crumbs onto the carpet in the other, the room all aglow, and all the team laughing around him, he thought that was a safe bet.


WHEN Smiler started out as a cartoonist in his mid-20s, his dad had the highest hopes for him.
"You'll be saving the world soon son," he would say in his strongest Yorkshire accent.
Ronnie Smith couldn't have been more proud of Smiler.
When Smiler got his degree, when he'd got his first job, when he got his first girlfriend, it all came as a big relief to Ronnie.
A burly Yorkshire miner with his shirt always open to the beer belly showing off his hairy brown body even in the depths of winter, Ronnie had a softer side, especially where his son was concerned.
And most of all he'd worried Smiler, with his pale complexion and gaunt body, all skin and bone, would always be a loner.
He could vividly remember Smiler's first day at school.
He'd dropped him off at the primary school gate, the only dad there, and one of the few genuinely working class families by the looks of most of the other mum's clothes and cars, and at a guess he'd wager too the only single parent family.
After the emotional farewell at the gate, Ronnie sneaked around the back into an alleyway to peer over the wall.
What he saw broke his heart.
While the rest of the children had dumped their bags in a corner and were charging around the playground making a right din, screaming and shouting, some with arms out wide running in figures of eight pretending to be aeroplanes, Smiler was standing at least 20 yards away in the far corner of the playground, facing the wall, like a statue turned the wrong way round, in total silence.
Not a teacher in sight, Ronnie rushed home and rang the headteacher straight away.
"It takes some children longer than others to settle into the way of school life Mr Smith, I'm sure Simon will be fine," was the patronising response.
Smiler was clearly not fine.
Not then, and not for the next 20 years.
Ronnie had him to headteachers, doctors, psychiatrists, the lot.
No-one it seemed could get to the bottom of Smiler's condition.
"Simon is clearly somewhere on the spectrum Mr Smith," is the only medical gobbledegook which came anywhere near making any sense to Ronnie. But still there was no solution.
So when Smiler got his first job Ronnie was a relieved dad. He framed Smiler's first published cartoon. The first he signed with what became his signature S :)
It hung in Ronnie's living room.
It was next to the cartoon where neighbours found Ronnie's body. Heart attack. December 18, 2014.


SMILER stared across at the bottle of whisky on the table in his third-floor, one-bedroomed flat.
Talisker. His dad's favourite.
He'd past down his love of whisky to his son.
His editor had bought him the bottle as an act of kindness.
In fact it was about to kill him.
Christmas had been cruel this year.
It fell on a Friday.
That meant no weekly paper for two weeks.
No Thursday sanctuary for Smiler.
He'd lived for a year without his dad. Ten years since his divorce.
He was back to being silent in the corner of a room, while the rest of the world happily played only yards away.
Smiler took the bottle of pills he was still receiving from the local doctor for his dark moods.
He flicked up the cap, tapped the entire contents into his hand, cupped them into his mouth, and reached for the whisky to swig them down.
He kept swigging, swallowing, gulping, sputtering, struggling, but making sure he didn't come up for air, then he curled up on the floor in the corner of his cold room.
When Jim Murphy found Smiler's body almost three weeks later when he didn't turn up for work, and failed to return any calls, next to his body, beside the empty bottle lying on the floor he found Smiler's final cartoon which had been published in the paper on Black Eye Friday, Mad Friday, December 18, the day Smiler died.
It showed a sacked coal miner pictured as the Grim Reaper with a sack of coal over his back spilling out like black snow over the side of the sleigh powered by fuel-guzzling apocalyptic cars as they flew around the Eiffel Tower.
Scribbled in big black ink the title - Saving The World, 2015 Style - and squeezed into the far bottom right hand corner in tiny, almost apologetic writing, his final signature, S :(