Chapter one (We All Fall Down)



Hout Bay

November 2010


In the end, when all that was left were the memories that stretched the last seconds, he remembered the first time he laid eyes on her. They were destined to meet. Although, the manner in which it happened, was perhaps not what either one of them could have predicted. They were destined to fall in love too. A love forged in despair. Like other great loves, he thought. And by way of other great loves, they were destined to be torn apart. This he had known. From the very first touch, he knew it would be fleeting, a fragment of time lodged in the shadow of his heart like an infectious splinter…

He’d first seen her poised on the edge of a cliff. Spittle of sea-spray flew off in every direction as the foaming waves beat against the rocks. It stung the skin like the pricks of a million jellyfish, yet Shane ignored it. His attention was fixed on the tiny body precariously balanced on the cliff’s edge.

Gusts of wind whipped the hair about her face and the pale material of her dress, now wet, clung to her. Yet she stood still; undeterred by the chaos brewing around her. For a moment she reminded him of a sea goddess in Nordic literature carved on the bow of ancient Viking ships – proud and fearless – staring at the tumultuous sea as if it were a naughty child.

She was perched on a jut of rock at the highest point of the cliff, which overlooked a bed of rocks, sharpened by the constant waves. A storm was coming in. The western sky was dark with its threat. Raging waves preceded the furore and tormented the shore.

It occurred to him then that she would have to just tilt her body forward, ever so slightly, and she would be shredded by the rocks below. He started to scream a warning. But the single syllable of his yell was carried away by the wind and swallowed by the thunderous waves.

The cliff – Devil’s Dive as it was dubbed – was a popular spot for the downtrodden hoping to be swallowed forever. But, she, she seemed – different. For all her beguiling fragility, she was not crumpled with hopelessness like the ones before her. He would save her, he decided.

He ran up the beach toward the face of a smaller cliff. The quickest way to her would be to climb it. He flung himself into action, finding grooves and foot-holds. He had climbed the cliff before. But during those times he had taken his time. He moved as quickly as he dared. The tar-like rock was slippery and the skin of his fingers and palms were scraped raw. Half-way up, he chanced a glance at her, and prayed silently that she had not thrown herself over. She was there. Her body still. The wind and the sea had not claimed her, yet.  But his relief was short-lived. He felt the blood in his veins congeal. She had extended her arms at her sides until they were parallel to the top of the cliff. She looked like an eagle ready to take off.

He felt the panic rise and he knew he had to move faster. A drizzle had begun to fall making the rock even more slippery. Desperate, he became less careful and did not test his weight on prospective foot-holds. His haste cost him. His left foot gave way as the stone crumbled beneath it. Hanging on by mere fingers, he felt his grip loosening. The burn in his arm was unbearable. It felt like it was slowly tearing away from the socket. But he hung on. At almost 100 feet off the ground, his fall would be fatal.

From the corner of his eye, he spotted a sturdy ledge. It was a metre to his right and he needed to create some momentum so that his foot could catch onto it. He swung madly on the almost dislocated arm. His screams pierced the chaos as his foot missed and slipped away. He tried it again before his brain could comprehend the incredible pain. Swinging harder, he closed his eyes and felt his mouth explode into metal as he bit down on his tongue. This time his foot awkwardly caught the piece of rock just as his grip gave way.

It took a moment for him to find his balance. He was only a few feet away from the top of the cliff face. Finding nooks and crannies became an easier task. He moved faster despite his injuries. When his fingers gripped tufts of grass, he let out the breath he had not known he was holding. Hauling himself over the edge took the last ounce of strength he had left. It took him a moment before he was able to straighten himself and begin the ascent toward Devil’s Dive, where she remained, remarkably, still standing. Hobbling forward, he winced with each step. The rain was a steady stream but the eye of the storm was yet to make landfall.

She had kept the same position, except now she had her face turned up toward the heavens, and seemed to welcome the feel of the rain on her skin. She was in complete control while the storm churned above her. It seemed. She must be crazy.

Bellevue, the mental institution where most of Devil’s Dive suicide attempts ended up, was just a few kilometres away and he wondered if she was an inmate. Perhaps she had escaped and had the notion to end her life in the middle of a storm. Her fragile body, pale and wispy, seemed an easy conquest for the elements. Yet, still she stood.

He moved quickly and quietly. He did not want to frighten her into losing her balance. When he was an arms-length away from her, he slowed his pace. In one fluid movement he circled his uninjured arm around her waist and hauled her toward him while moving away from the edge. She was limp. Her skin cold and wet as he dragged her heavy body away from the edge. He moved sluggishly. The back of his foot caught on a stone and he fell back, wrenching her onto him, the small of her back pushed against his chest. The jolt must have awakened her from her reverie. Then all hell broke loose. She kicked and screamed and pummelled him intermittently flogging the thick air. But he held her firmly against him, taking the abuse.

“What…” Her voice was carried away by the howling wind. “What are you doing?”

Tiny though her body was, it had an unusual strength and it took every bit of effort to keep her within the protective cocoon of his arms.

He managed, despite the abuse, to pick them up off the ground.

“Let me go!” Her voice was hoarse.

He felt his grip slide so he yanked her hard toward him.

“You’re hurting me!” Her arms swung from side to side.

“I – I don’t want to hurt you.” He gritted his teeth. “I will let you go… you just need to promise…  ”

“Let go, Now! please.” She choked out.

He let go. She managed to scramble just outside the circle of his arms. Then she stilled. The strain of her efforts temporarily weakening her prior resolve. She looked… broken.

“There’s help, if you need it,” His voice lifted above the chaos as he tilted his head toward Devil’s Dive. “You can’t jump. I won’t let you.”

She looked at him for the first time. “What…” Her chest heaved in spurts. “What are you talking about?” Her eyes were round and rimmed red and her heart-shaped face, white. Her wet hair hung like limp snakes around her face.

He was confused for a moment. Eyes of pure steel stared him down.

“This cliff is dangerous, you shouldn’t… I thought…”

She rose from the wet ground then. Rain, he only just noticed it, slaughtered the cliff side, limiting his broader vision.

“You thought what? You were saving me?”

She turned then and began to walk away. Then stopped and turned toward him again.

“You’ve got it wrong, anyway.”

The rain pounded his skin; the words almost blew away in the howling wind. Again she turned away, this time she merged with the thick mist that covered opposite side of the cliff’s edge.

With painful slowness, Shane pulled himself up, favouring his uninjured arm. He did not need to take stock of all his injuries because he felt every one of them. He swore out loud.

When he was sure she had left, he hobbled toward his bike, pulled on his helmet and straddled the mud capped Yamaha. Without a backward glance he revved the engine just as the sky cracked and the heavens let go.

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