This time, thought Jaz, this time I’m up for it. He stood at the top of the grass, looking down at it sloping away towards the crumbling earth and shale and granite splinters that in turn fell vertically down to the rough iron waters relentlessly, patiently beating it all into so much sand. This was the third time he’d been back up here since he’d seen the ladder. Twice he’d bailed at the thought of going over the edge on that tricky looking rope ladder – baulked at the thought of what might be below. It had been, he’d reassured himself, sensible – not a loss of nerve, not a failure of courage, but the damp autumn drizzle was penetrating his clothes and the rope was slick with the wet, too slippy. The skies had been darkening the second time – he didn’t want to end up down there on the ledge, trapped by a storm like Matt.
This time, this time would be it. Like taking on one of the big overheads in a seriously heavy set – it was all about commitment – all about commitment.
He set off towards the edge, testing the ground with the heels of his boots. It was still slippery with early morning dew and the rising sun was doing little to warm either him or the ground. He’d chosen now since it was less likely that he’d be seen. If anyone might be watching. Perhaps he should ditch the boots, get a better grip barefoot. Take another few minutes.
He sat down on the wet grass and pulled at his laces, tugging his socks off with the wet leather. He was always that bit happier barefoot, even at this time of year when the Atlantic set in its ways for the season and a mist hung over the beach below him.
He stashed the boots behind a sparse piece of scrubby bush and took a deep breath, he could feel the grass as he crushed it with his feet as he stood. He rubbed at the damp patch on the back of his trousers.
Suddenly he stumbled backwards and sat down again, flat on the grass in surprise, feeling foolish and scared simultaneously. Trying to recover his dignity whilst at the same time trying to take in as much information as he could about what he saw in front of him.
A head had bobbed up just briefly at the top of the ladder, just the briefest of glimpses of a black woollen hat. Jaz’s heart pounded with intense rhythm, shortening his breath as he scrambled to find his feet again.
Then, more slowly, the head appeared again – stared straight at Jaz. Paused momentarily and laughed.
“What are you doing on yer arse up here for ? Daft bastard !” Joe pulled himself up the last few rungs and plonked down on the cliff top in front of Jaz.
“Why haven’t you got any shoes on then ?” He let the question hang as if it was perfectly normal for him to have been hauling himself up the cliff at seven in the morning.
“What ? Joe ? What the fuck ?” Jaz spluttered, relieved, embarrassed and quite unusually flustered by the whole scene.
“What the fuck indeed !” Joe laughed again. “You coming down were you ? Jesus you gave me a bit of a start.”
“Me ?” Jaz continued to splutter, “Me ? What the fuck are you doing down there – coming up like some sort of fuckin’ pirate ghost rock climber bastard ! Jesus, sometimes Joe I just fuckin’ wonder about you….” Then Jaz laughed too and both of them sat on the grass wheezing. Joe pulled a ready rolled joint from his top pocket and they shared it sitting there in the fog whilst Joe told Jaz what he was doing ‘down there’.
Joe said he'd had the idea almost immediately – he’d always wanted somewhere of his own to spend some time meditating, chanting perhaps, just chilling – all the sorts of things he’d tried at home but felt too self conscious to do whilst sharing the house with his brother and his mother. Joe saw the potential in the cave – very Buddha-like he reckoned – and had come back the week after they’d found it. He’d originally tried rigging up a rope to get down but realised that he’d never get back up again, so he’d found an old rope ladder his dad had stashed at the back of the garage years ago, probably something he’d had since his Navy days and had decided might come in useful some time – along with the gas mask, waders, old car batteries and a few rounds of light ammunition that it sat underneath. It was still a good stout ladder, heavy as hell but solid enough to withstand the salt and the rain and, importantly, more than long enough to reach down. The first time Joe unfurled it and let it drop over the cliff he felt like a pioneer about to go on some groundbreaking adventure into the abyss. Then, after securing it, he felt like Jaz had, too stomach churningly apprehensive to go over the edge. It took another day before he tried and found it surprisingly easy. On subsequent occasions he'd come back armed with his ‘kit’ – a big old forces blanket, retrieved from the attic of the house, some incense and a lighter, an oil lamp and some oil and, most importantly, an A4-sized garish yellow red and blue picture of some or other deity from India that he’d picked up at a head shop in Truro the previous year.
After the initial few days the first buzz wore off and he stopped feeling quite so pleased with himself. But he took to coming down to the cave every morning before work – his own private haven, he could hum and chant and Om to his heart’s content whilst the rest of the world went on above and below him without giving it a second thought.
It wasn’t selfishness or self preservation that had stopped him from telling Jaz or any of the others, just that he hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Besides, he rather liked the knowledge that he wouldn’t be interrupted.
Jaz recovered enough to start to take the piss gently out of Joe. Everyone knew about him dabbling in mysticism and eastern religion, but no-one really took him that seriously. Jaz was however impressed with his foresight – setting up his own little temple in the rocks. It gave the place a purpose, rather than just being a hole in the cliff it now had some real life to it.
Joe took him down. Jaz clung gingerly to the rope until he was sure that the pegs holding it in place weren’t going to give. The space had already changed, the smell of stale incense clung to the cold walls and when Joe lit the lamp it threw a warm light onto the bare stone, illuminating the blanket and the picture he'd tacked childishly to the back wall. They sat down there and shared another joint in appreciative silence before Joe announced that he’d better get into work.
The climb back was rather trickier, for Jaz at least - aware that the swirling waters were licking at his heels, metaphorically at least. The effort he had to put in was greater but it still took less than a minute before they crested the top of the cliff and pulled themselves onto the grass. Jaz grinned, slapped Joe on the back and they walked back down to the village, full of their own secret.
Over time Matt and Dave also got to know about the new use for their find. But no-one else. It was unspoken but it became Joe’s cave, Joe’s domain, and it would be foolish to spoil that.
Are you in a hole.....? (et je t'aime Jane B....)