The wind changes. Stings your face with rain. You stop and turn away, then decide no. You want to face it. Yanking the drawstrings on your anorak, you pull the hood tighter around your head. And again, put one foot in front of the other. Continue to fight your way up the slope. The rainwater lubricates the chalky ground and you lose your grip, every few steps sliding backwards. You withdraw your hands from the coat pockets, for balance, exposing them to the rawness. Breathe deeply, resolutely, embrace the exertion, the adversity of nature. A simple, uncomplicated adversity. The wind gusts. You reach up to your hood, drag it backwards, uncovering your ears to the sound, the air rushing past, the waves crashing ahead and below, the sound, drowning out the conversations in your head.
But no, not quite. Too many voices. People making demands. Your partner. Family. Friends. Work. Always, demands. And conflict. Conflict because you can’t make everyone happy. Conflicts real. Arguments, fights, quarrels. And imagined, conversations played out in your head, justifications prepared for defences that might not be needed, against accusations that might never come. And inner conflict. Between guilt and selfishness. Ego and conscience. Between the desire to please and the knowledge that you can’t. Not enough of the time. Between your happiness and that of others. And then there are the demands you place upon yourself. The pressure. The unwillingness to compromise. You know you should be happy. You used to be happy. But you’ve forgotten how.
Pressure builds up behind your eyes, and you will the tears into being.
They come, slowly at first, painfully, then you let go and they flow, washed away by the rain streaming down your face. You stride on, leaning into the wind, a few steps now from the edge. A couple more and you stop, two feet short, maybe three. You look out to sea, the grey sea, a shade darker than the sky, waves rolling like the clouds, churning, throwing up spray as they batter the rocks below you. You lift your head up, look left, right, behind, through the tears, the only soul here, wanting, needing to be here. And then down, again, at the rocks. People come here, you know that. To throw themselves off. Maybe this spot, maybe not, but these cliffs, other cliffs. People who can’t face living. Who choose nothingness over the pain of life. Who see no present or future worth existing for.
A melancholia overwhelms you. It acts like a drug, sedating, quietening the voices. The tears stop and you regain control of your breathing, slowly, deeply. A sliver of calm returns. And then the ground beneath you shifts. It’s a surreal feeling, one you struggle to comprehend, then the edge of the cliff, the edge of the land, the chalk, the grass, the soil, crumble away and fall, three feet away from you, two feet away, then, whether by instinct or gravity, you throw yourself backwards, landing on your rear, as the ground where your feet were breaks away and tumbles, leaving you sprawled, legs dangling over the edge, the new edge, of the cliff.
And then still. The ground, mercifully, and you, looking down, seeing the earth falling, crashing into the sea. Then seeing yourself. Falling. Crashing. Hitting the water, tossed around by the sea, pulled under, battered against the rocks. See life vanishing. See the moment you realise, mid-air, the finality of what’s about to happen.
You see your partner. At home, as the hours tick by, the knot in the stomach growing, the sense that something isn’t right, the irritation at your absence turning into worry, nagging at first, assuaged by other more benign explanations, then, as darkness falls, becoming panic. Phone calls to friends, family, no, they haven’t seen you, but they’re sure you’re alright, try not to worry. But they’re just words, and they do worry. Then the police are called. Make the right noises, take the details. Promise they’ll look into it. Probably a rational explanation. Maybe that night, maybe the morning, your car is found. Near the cliffs. The police now have their rational explanation. Just confirmation to seek. Had you been feeling down? Acting depressed? Having problems? Arguments? No, well yes, but isn’t everybody? Doesn’t everybody? That’s life, isn’t it? Nobody wants to acknowledge what the questions mean. Not at first. You must have just needed some space. To disappear for a while.
You’ll be back.
Then you see the police car pull up outside your house. Two officers at the door. Your partner opening. Knowing. They’ve found you. Washed up. You see the pain. Later, guilt. And anger. How could you do this? But for now, and for a long time, pain, terrible pain.
You snap out of it. Able to move again. Inch yourself, carefully, each movement measured, backwards, away from the edge, until finally, exhausted, although you’ve moved barely a few yards, you collapse, flat on your back, breathing heavily, wet eyes staring into the greyness above. You see yourself again. At home, letting yourself in, hugging, coming together. Laughing. It’s okay. For today, at least, it’s going to be okay.
Born in Rochdale in the UK, I became a chemical engineer. At 35, as an antidote to facts and numbers, I began to write. First came an account of a journey through Mongolia, published as an ebook, “Hold the Dog! 16 Days in Mongolia”. Then, after a short course in creative writing, I tried fiction, and nowadays I’m experimenting with short stories. You can find more about me at jackfisher.org.uk.
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