The fence wire digs into the back of his legs. As he leans back, it gives a little, before becoming taut again. An innate fear of heights causes his heart to pound painfully and his breathing becomes rapid.
The drop is hidden, masked by a narrow stretch of curved ground extending in front of him - first grass and then smooth rock, glistening with damp from melted frost. Perhaps one step forward, or two at most and he will be able to see what lies below waiting to engulf him. Only a few feet of hard granite between this life and oblivion.
He is sure that, as soon as he steps onto the slippery surface, his legs will shoot from under him and he will land on his back. From there, he will slide unable to stop the momentum. How long would the terror last? Four or maybe five seconds, perhaps? What will follow? Nothing, he hopes. This life ended - no more guilt.
‘Don’t think about it - all your thinking is done now.’
He bends forward - enough for gravity to take hold, but then jerks back, needing safety again. ‘Soon,’ he murmurs, 'just a few more minutes.′ With a trembling hand, he fumbles for the packet of cigarettes in the pocket of his jacket. He lights one and draws in deeply, focusing on the horizon, a momentary distraction.
His focus turns inwards. Scenes depicting aspects of his life cascade through his mind. While some are happy, most emphasise his failure.
The corners of his mouth twitch into a sardonic smile. Is this my life flashing in front of me before I die?
The voices start - not for the first time - he’s heard them all before. But this time, there is a sense of finality. They appear to deliver the same fundamental message but in different ways:
‘Understand this for sure - you are no longer welcome in this life.’
The owner of each voice takes turns to convey meaning, reminders of his wasted existence. Words are accompanied by visions - some hazy, half-remembered, others lucid.
‘How could you?’ a voice implores. ‘Why? What have I done to deserve this? What sort of man are you to be so cruel and heartless?’
Her words were etched into his memory. She had been very angry, her words resonating with hurt and disbelief. Now, the anger seems to have subsided and her eyes reflect a different emotion: profound disappointment. Her face hovers a few feet in front of him. He reaches out wanting to touch. She takes his hand and brings it up to her face, regarding him with a sad smile.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispers.
No sound comes from her moving lips - but he can sense she is saying, ‘I know you are.’ The remembered features start to fade. ‘If I could turn the clock back, I would...’
‘Too late now.’ A voice whispers as her face vanishes.
A different voice. Her face is close to his. She is looking at him, her eyes wide as if in sudden realisation. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I wish we’d never started.’ He feels again the tug deep in his chest - one of unexpected loss. But a flurry of images causes him to react exactly as he did then - sadness is replaced immediately with gut-wrenching panic.
Another voice, this one an older man: ‘You betrayed them, and now they don’t want you. If it were possible, I’d pity you. For Christ’s sake, you had everything, and you threw it all away.’
The face of the man who once respected, even admired him and, most importantly, welcomed him into his family, now scowls at him as he might at a cockroach found in his kitchen.
Another man’s voice, this one stirring loathing and an urge to lash out: ‘You’re not wanted here. Nobody wants you - now go on, get lost!’
He takes a drag of his cigarette, which is almost finished. As he inhales, he reminds himself this is the last time he will enjoy the calming effect of tobacco. He studies the butt, beginning to radiate heat into his fingers. Then, with a deliberate, aimed flick, he propels it forward. He watches as it arcs and disappears over the cliff top.
There is one last scenario to endure - this one more significant than the others, and the reason he is here on the precipice, preparing for his final moments. The scene is as sharp as though playing out in front of him.
‘Grandad! Oh, my God, what have you done to him?’
The young woman is crouched down cradling the old man’s head. Blood is trickling from a ragged gash in his forehead. Her eyes turn to him.
‘You’ve killed him!’
He gazes ahead of him towards the sea. Once again, he gently eases forward in readiness to leave the security of the wire.
‘Come on,’ urges a voice somewhere unseen in front of him. ‘You can let go now. It’s time.’