People been going off edge of these cliffs sixty years, and probably sixty years afore that. Forever, probably. When the wind’s up, and it’s howling, these cliffs ain’t a place to be. There’s one, two a month, go over sometimes. They put a railing up couple years back. And a sign. But it don’t help none.
For a few of them, a few of them what’s gone over, they put up benches. Got their name on, and that. Date they was born, date they went over. Sort of nice.
That one there, the one right at the end, that was the first one. ‘Victor John Francis – 1948 to 1956‘. Victor John Francis. My best friend.
We used to come up here all the time, we did. Me and Victor. Talk and play and stuff. Specially when my dad passed. Lifeboatman, he were. Saved lives. Plenty of them. Big, he were, my dad. I remember his hands being huge, and he’d stand over me like a mountain and pick me up and swing me round and Mum would tell him to stop but I didn’t want him to stop cos I wanted him to swing me round for ever and ever and ever.
They had a plaque put up for my dad in the church, him and the rest of the men. Went down in a squall, they did – off the Cammany Sands. Never come up. Not a single one.
It’s nice up here in summer. On Victor’s bench. Watching the world go by. Wondering what it’s like to tumble over the edge like all those folk. I’m wondering if they bash off the sides on the way down or go straight in the water or do some of em die before they have a chance to hit anything, you know, heart giving out, like. And I wonders how it was for my little friend, Victor.
Folks used to say I was like my dad. Grew up big, see, I did. Eating all me vegetables, that’s what Mum used to say. And even now, nearing seventy, I can still hold me own. I climbs up here every day, for a start, and that ain’t bad going for an old’en like me. I got a little job cutting the grass for a few folks in the village. Keeps me busy. And up here, here where the benches are, the council boys let it alone. They knows it’s mine, up here. Knows what it means to me, what with my dad and that. I cut the grass, trim back the bushes. Polish up the plaques on the benches. Keeps the place spick and span, I do.
I go to all the funerals, you know, for the people what’s gone off the edge up here. Only right, see. And it’s sort of comforting, in a way, if you know what I mean.
Dad’s funeral was massive. Had one big service for all the men. Half the village turned out cos half the village knew someone what was on board, or knew of them. And I remember standing there with Victor next to me wondering what it must have been like for my dad and all the rest of them going down in the water and not being able to get back up. When did he know, that’s what I was thinking. When did he know it was all up, that he weren’t never gonna see me again, or me mum, or the sky and the trees or anything ever at all. I mean, there must have been a point.
That’s what’s been getting me all these years. That’s why I keeps coming up here. See if I can figure it out. That’s why I keep doing it.
I seen it plenty of times, mind. That point. Up here on the cliffs. When I’m swinging them round and their eyes are wide and the wind’s so loud you can’t hear nothing but the blood in your head and the waves smashing against the cliffs.
There is a point. It is real. Just a flash, mind, but it’s there. I saw it first with Victor, so age don’t matter none in that way.
And in the middle of that point, in the middle of that no hope, in the middle of that screaming and that darkness, there’s this hand reaches out to me.
And it’s huge.
And when I see it, that’s when I let them go right on over.
Bio: Ian Ayris has had nearly a dozen short stories published both online and in print. He lives in London with his wife and three children, and has just completed his first book.