This place had always been their favourite, hers and Damien’s. They’d first come here when they were dating (‘courting’ his Nan had called it) and he’d even proposed to her in this very spot. When it came to booking a honeymoon, her friends had suggested Goa or the Maldives, or even Thailand but she’d said no; this was the only place that would have felt right. They’d spent a blissful week; walking hand in hand or wrapped in each other’s arms to keep warm during the day, and no different at night.
She was sure she was pregnant on the third evening but Damien said she was being silly; there was no way she could be sure so early, but she’d known. She’d said it was mother’s intuition or something similar and he’d laughed and spun her round the room, before they’d collapsed into bed and tried to double their chances. He’d had to apologise when it turned out she’d been right all along and in between kissing her hands and rubbing her belly he’d called her ‘magical’, ‘incredible’ ‘miraculous’ for harbouring their new life inside her. When six weeks later their dreams had died, she’d seen a look in his eyes that she never wanted to see again and worse, be the cause of. He was lovely of course, saying all the right things and absolving her of any blame but she knew; she knew deep down that he held her responsible, because she felt she was.
Months turned to years and they rubbed along happily, just the two of them. Nobody could understand why it wasn’t happening for them, so the doctors carried on prodding, poking and peering until one day she’d said ‘enough!’ and that had been the end of that avenue of hope. They both claimed not to mind; each happy in their own way, either when together or apart, but they did mind really, they minded a great deal. It stood them apart from other people that they knew; meant people watched their Ps and Qs when talking to them and it got wearing after a while, trying to put others at ease when you cared little for their feelings. It also made everyday life difficult; she’d given up her job after it happened, as being around children all day was just too cruel of fate to orchestrate. The worst of it was the mothers though. They’d grip their children a little tighter when she approached; either because they wanted a reminder of the fact that they’d successfully managed that one duty that only a woman can fulfil, or because they thought her bad luck might rub off on them and their offspring. She’d joked that ‘maybe they think I’m so desperate I’ll snatch one of them’ but it had been an empty, hollow laugh that Damien had heard her conclude the story with and she’d been ashamed of herself for making light of the one situation that no amount of praying seemed to change, or that her usually so practical husband could alter through his own volition.
They would have been alright, she felt, if it had just been them and they’d been left alone but that was too much to ask it seemed. Well-meaning women from up and down the street evidently thought that their emptiness could be filled with an endless supply of Victoria sponges, lamb casseroles and bottles of cheap sherry. It was kind of people of course, but they were never alone long enough to acknowledge what they’d lost, or rather what they’d never quite managed to find, which was where the rot initially set in. Damien didn’t talk about much else either, preferring evenings nursing a pint in the pub to discussing his evident failure as a male of the species. When the money ran out, as it began to shortly after pints had given way to doubles of whatever the barman was overstocked with, those gifts of sherry and cherry brandy from the back of someone’s drinks cabinet became Damien’s weapon of choice. He discovered that, for remarkably less than what he was paying in the pub each night, he could achieve equal or greater levels of intoxication and therefore numbness, without even having to leave his armchair.
Of course, that state of affairs was never going to be maintained on a long-term basis and after he’d set himself and his chair on fire after lighting a cigarette then falling into an alcohol-induced stupor, the landlord wanted assurances that it wouldn’t happen again, along with a security deposit, damages and a higher monthly rent. Unfortunately, she couldn’t satisfy his mind on any of the raised points no matter how much she negotiated, especially as neither Damien nor her was coping well enough to hold down a steady job, so after living in that house for years they were asked to leave and they packed up what they could fit in the car and left.
They imposed on friends for as long as they dared, neither of them having family as such to speak of, but then they resorted to sleeping in the car; once again wrapping their arms around each other to stay warm but now out of necessity, rather than any suggestion of desire. That final night Damien had clung to her tighter than she’d ever known him do and he’d cried. He’d never cried in front of her before and maybe she should have been more concerned, but she was tired and cold and maybe she did blame him for their bad luck, more than she cared to admit. Whatever the reason, when he stirred at first light and kissed her on the forehead she let him go without any semblance of guilt.
She must have fallen back asleep because there were suddenly voices laughing and chatting outside, the sunshine still bringing tourists to the beach, even though the season was as good as over. It was only then that her thoughts turned to Damien; he must have been gone a long while by that point as the car park was busy with motorists and families and dawn was several hours behind them. She never understood just how she knew, but she had an unshakeable realisation that she would never see Damien alive again. Later, she was told that someone called an ambulance because she was apparently so distressed, sat in the car surrounded by bags of memories and boxes of clutter, but it transpired she was in the hospital when a nurse and a policewoman came and told her they’d found his body, washed up in a cove a few miles up the coast. The cove was a well-known favourite amongst families with young children, due to its shallow water and golden sand, but she knew that the last thing Damien would’ve wanted to do would be to upset or scare children; that was ironically the bit that upset her the most. It wasn’t her personal loss so much as the unpleasant circumstances of her husband’s discovery; even in death she was still sure of what he would and wouldn’t have wanted, and he wouldn’t have wanted that.
So that brought her back to this place. Their place; the one place she knew she could always feel happy, always feel at peace. It had to be here, there was nowhere else she would ever have the nerve to do it and nowhere else she would feel Damien so close by her side, reassuring her.
Climbing onto the railings, she looked down and saw the twinkling blue of the water; the late evening sun reflected as it disappeared on what would become the last day of her life. Feeling herself suddenly weightless, she had the purest sensation of being alive, being part of something bigger that no person could ever understand until their life-seconds were counting down to single figures. As the water came up to meet her, she knew she was no longer alone and would never be alone again. Damien’s hand slipped into hers and squeezed it tightly as he held her to him, before kissing her forehead and once more spinning her around the room.
(C) Sarah Butcher, 2014.