Story-struck: Snippets of work in progress
I’d finished the rabbits and was about to start on the dishwasher. It takes me twenty minutes to feed, stroke and change the rabbits, and he must have entered the house around minute five. Which is what you told me would happen. A thirty-second jog from the rabbits back up to the house…
We come to the top of the cliff. The edge is fenced off and the National Trust has erected a sign, in an almost indecipherable grey font, about the dangers of climbing. I read it quickly. Who would climb way up here? The five of us descend 150 feet of slate down steep wooden steps. Sam carries baby Leo while I hover behind, untrusting. He carries him easily, nonchalantly. From the beach, the cliffs are magnificent.
‘I used to know the name and significance of the rock types in every layer,’ says Penny. She taps her forehead. ‘All gone now.’
We don’t sit directly beneath the cliffs. We avoid the scary overhanging piece and choose a smooth, benign section where the sand is warm and powder-dry.
Sam takes Josh, our eldest, for a paddle. I lay Leo on a rug and soon, he’s asleep.
‘Sweet,’ says Penny, and I nod. I’d like to read my book, but we’ve only just met and she might not understand. I try to make out Sam and Josh at the water’s edge, but the sun’s glare has turned everyone into silhouettes. There they are, I think – there’s Josh’s loping run.
And then there’s a rumbling. I stare at the crumbling cliff face without understanding, only taking my cue from the terror on Penny’s face, and now we’re all scrambling, but nobody else remembers the sleeping baby. I scoop him up quickly and accurately, no fumbling. The scooping of my arms and the sprinting of my legs are one movement, and we escape as a portion of cliff collapses.
‘Look!’ Penny points to where we were sitting. I begin to shake, although it seems too late. The noise was terrific, but even that was in slow motion, and didn’t seem to apply to us. How does the brain do that, and so fast?
People come running from the water’s edge and there’s fuss and amazement. Sam’s breathless.
‘We heard it,’ he manages. All eyes are now on Baby Leo. We would not have survived. Sam casts an expert eye on the rockfall. ‘There’s fifty tonnes there,’ he says. So sure.
Sam takes both children to the sea. We find a new piece of beach but we do not lie, Penny and I. After a while, people come and go. Families picnic and play, but we walk up and down, shouting our warnings against a dropped guard.
‘Stay away from the cliffs! There’s been a rockfall!’
Puzzled smiles, shaking heads, then they carry on with their business: laying blankets beneath the cliffs, exploring the rocks.
Only seeing is believing.
She seemed so nice at first. I did wonder, when she sat at our table in an almost-empty train carriage, but she was personable, and drew us in immediately. So nice. Should that have alerted me? Buying coffee, sharing biscuits—no visible derangement in that, but after twenty minutes or so it began to seem too desperately nice.
‘What did we say? She was fine, and then one thing we said must have tipped her over the edge. Like adding water to icing sugar.’
‘It’s all powder so you add a drop more water, then suddenly, it’s all liquid.’