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Cliff Edge

As he opened the car door, there was a loud clap of thunder. He hurried across the newly mown field, kicking up dry straw, dust rising in his wake. The summer sky had darkened quickly. He knew the torrential rain they had forecast would soon arrive. Half way across the field, his lungs were struggling to provide enough oxygen, years of smoking had not helped them. By the time he had reached the wooden fence on the far side, there was no sign of her. He had to stop, needing to recover.

He stood, bent forward, sucked in as much air as he could, urged himself to recover. He felt the first heavy drops of rain on his back. His lungs still struggling, he pushed himself over the fence, as fast as he could. Ahead he could see the edge of the cliff. He knew she had to be there somewhere, collapsed on the scrubland that edged the chalk cliffs, or standing behind one of the few trees that clung to the crumbling edge. He walked towards the edge; his blue eyes searched the landscape. 

It had started over what should have been a harmless difference of opinion. She liked peanut butter on her toast. He could not imagine why she would want such a gluey spread and suggested marmalade was far better. In the end they had exactly what they wanted on their toast. Yet, for some reason he could not explain, he just kept on about it, “It must be so dry! P eanut butter, all sticking to your teeth!” After years of marriage, he should have known better; known that she would take his light-hearted comments as criticism. She always did, even on the good days, when the dark clouds of depression did not hang over their marriage. She shouted and screamed at him, threw her toast at the wall. He watched it slide slowly down, leaving a track of peanut butter. And he ignored her, as she stomped out of the breakfast room, slamming the door behind her. He heard her loud footsteps on the stairs as she went up to her bedroom. 

Thirty years of marriage had taught him to leave her alone, let her calm down and in time she would return, as if nothing had happened. However much they might try to erase the memories, the past had happened; deep down he knew, she still felt the pain as much as he did. 

He had allowed her just over an hour, which was normally how long it took her to get over any of their skirmishes. He knocked timidly on her door, and when there was no reply, opened it. She had gone. Just a simple hand written note on a scrap of paper explained “I am going back to where it all began, to end it forever.” 

It had all started, twenty five years ago, on the edge of the disintegrating cliff. 

A young, happily married couple, walked in the cool summer breeze, with their beautiful four year old son. The father let go the child’s hand for just a fleeting moment, to allow the boy to pick a summer daisy, far from the unguarded edge. The boy saw a bigger, brighter flower, which he was sure his mother would prefer. He dashed towards it, oblivious to the danger he was running towards. Too fast for his parents, he arrived beside the flower, close to the edge. The noise of chalk crumbling was drowned by his parents screams and the small figure disappeared.   

Thankfully, as yet, the predicted thunderous downpour had not materialised. The few spots that had landed on his shirt had evaporated. The cliff edge seemed deserted, but he could sense her presence. Still breathing heavily, he walked towards the edge of the cliff, looking to his left, then right, hoping to locate her. 

He stood, looked over the edge, and recalled the tragic day, when he had looked down and seen their perfect child sprawled on the rocks below. Today, he expected to see the figure of his wife, spread-eagled over those same rocks, but she was not there.

He felt the sea breeze ripple through his thinning hair, then a deliberate push from behind. In his peripheral vision, he caught a glimpse of his wife, as she smugly watched him fall over the edge.