Sometimes A Friend

New railing gleams as I lean on it, the metalled path sticky in harsh sunlight. A plastic chocolate wrapper barely twitches in the faint breeze.

The Leaping Hind lies before me collapsed and washed by seething waves. A natural rock arch from time immemorial, it signalled its last moments in a drumbeat of falling stone and gradual subsidence over whole weeks before a final ground-shaking roar.

I’m standing in the shade of a Scots pine. A squirrel rustles as it scurries and peeps round, flakes of bark skittering down. To my left stands a young woman from the houses behind. She loaded suitcases into her small car, drove round a bend and parked it in a tiny space where, presumably, it would be easily missed. She’s almost grey with exhaustion or worry.

I smile at her but she looks away, her shoulders jerking, suppressing sobs. This is not a time to talk so I wait until she glances back at the house a couple of times. I receive a tight smile before she looks away again.

I say it’s a lovely afternoon and get a nod but no words. Good, communication is opening. Waiting a few moments, I add, “It’s a pity about the Hind, isn’t it?” Then the cracks erupt; gasps and sobs jerk from her. I place a hand on the woman’s shoulder. She doesn’t react. That’s almost acceptance.

She looks up and over to the pinnacle which remains after the collapse. “My mother … Mum went over there last week. She’d climbed past the barriers the council erected.” She shakes her head and pulls away slightly.

“Then what happened?” I ask.

She sighs, knuckles white on the raining. “I shouted, screamed and begged. In the end I had to go and get her. There were rocks falling underneath. Great crashes and everything shook. The arch didn’t collapse for several days but it felt like… I brought her back all the way with her arguing, pulling away, trying to go to the edges.” She pauses for breath. “The children were where we are now. They watched it all.”

I say nothing, just put my hand on hers and squeeze it. She goes on, “Mum gets out. No matter what I do to stop it; she always finds a way. I can’t even leave a window open. My brother doesn’t understand. He thinks because I work at home I’m available all the time. He’s got no idea. It doesn’t work like that.” She shudders with another sob. “It just doesn’t.”

She bends back, looking past me to the house. “He’s there now on his monthly visit. I got out to show him what it’s like.” Now she lays a hand over mine. “I was going to run away and pick the children up from school but I can’t. I just can’t.”

“You just get your breath back and hide that side of me. I’ll watch the house in case she gets out.”

“Thank you.”

I point to the horizon. “My daughter is out there somewhere. She’s a pilot for big ships coming into the container port. Sometimes she guides them out again. She knows every inch of the sea floor. Do you know there are rocks as big as blocks of flats?”

“Yes,” she says, “I have heard.”

“I don’t have very good eyesight so I use my binoculars.” I take them off. Tapping her shoulder with them, I say, “Take a look.”

She lifts them and puts the strap round her neck like a professional sailor. “Keep an eye on the house,” she asks.

“I am doing. Have a bit of a rest. Don’t you worry.” The sun has moved a little and I feel its sweltering force. A glance at the house shows me an elderly lady dressed in a thick woolly hat and coat. She’s striding down the road, a young man in pursuit. “Everything’s fine at the moment. Look, is that a helicopter to the left of the island? That could be my Julie.”

©Gary Bonn, 2019