Ali edged along nervously behind Dave. He turned around as he reached the edge, a triumphant smirk on his face, waiting to be commended. He waited. As ever his timing was wrong.
“What the hell are you doing Dave ? Why are we standing on the edge of the sodding cliff when I’ve already told you that I don’t want to be back here ? Why have you got that stupid fucking grin on your face, this just isn’t funny.”
Dave’s face tried to remould itself into something more serious, but he still looked a little too pleased. He told Ali to come closer, which she did, but cautiously. Then he lifted the end of the rope ladder up to her puzzled face.
“This is somewhere….somewhere to go, see ? You said you wanted to come back, but didn’t want to come back into the village, well, not for a while ?” The sentence hung there whilst he looked for some confirmation. None came and he struggled on.
“Well, look, this place – down here – no-one knows about it. No, that’s not true, no-one knows but me and Joe an’ Jaz an’ Crush. It’s a kind of place to come and think. Joe’s here all the time.”
Ali looked unconvinced – she went to turn away.
“No, no, have a look, I think you’ll be surprised. I come out here sometimes, just to be here.”
Ali was still looking cynical and was about to lay into Dave for having stupid boys’ own fantasies when what she really needed was someone she could talk to, let off steam to. Dave pulled his rabbit out of the hat, “Joe keeps a stash in there……”.
Ali wanted a smoke more than anything, apart maybe from her need to lay into Terry and mankind in general . She shrugged wordlessly and Dave led her to the edge, holding her hand in his own cold fingers as she edged backwards towards the ladder.
Down in the cave Ali was silent, she was impressed despite herself; the cave sheltered them from the winds that flew along the clifftop and once Dave had lit the small oil lamp she gave a low whistle at the interior, at the sheer drop they had just lowered themselves down and at the idea that they could be seen by no-one. The walls shimmered and swayed as the lamp flickered and guttered, became solid as the flame established, solid shadows and solid rock. The floor had been freshly swept with a rudimentary broom of twigs that stood by the entrance. Joe was obviously keeping the place tidy. The walls were cold to the touch of Ali’s hands as she ran them along the stone but she stopped feeling the penetrating cold which had pervaded the outside world. Her eyes grew wide as she peered through the half light at the back of the cave; a small trunk, plain wood, sat there and she peeked inside. It held some incense, some matches, an ornate tobacco tin; which she lifted out and opened, revealing just a few bits of dry tobacco.
“S’Joe’s treasure chest.” Dave laughed uncharacteristically. “Tried bringing a couple of them old Navy ammo boxes down here to sit on like, but the things were so heavy that they damn near dragged us off the ladder….we let ‘em go….they smashed down there,” He indicated the invisible rocks outside of the entrance, “really smashed – whew, they broke up into splinters like matchsticks…..”
“Anyway…” He recovered himself and his train of thought, “That’s just Joe’s little box of treasure, he thought it looked like it belonged in here.” Truth was, thought Ali, it looked like it belonged in an old lady’s house, holding her treasured letters and photo’s. Still, it was something to sit on and she plonked herself down on it. “Where’s the stash then ?” she asked, still feeling cynical and unwilling to let herself look impressed.
“Should be in there…where yer sitting.”
“In the baccy tin? Bloody things empty Dave, come on. Any more ?”
Dave looked at the tin and sighed. He reluctantly pulled out a packet of his own from his back pocket and threw it to Ali to roll. He sat down next to her whilst she did it, stiffly holding himself just a sliver away from her. She lit the spliff and inhaled deeply. Blowing the smoke out into the light of the lamp and then beyond into the darkness. She passed it to Dave and sat there looking away from him, starting again to think of Terry, to think of what to do and where to go next. How to make that move or how not to. She knew she was stumbling around at a crossroads and it scared her. She shivered. Dave passed the joint back to her and as he did he put his arm around her shoulder.
Ali flinched slightly, but not noticeably to Dave, who was acting as if he’d done nothing untoward. Again she shivered and felt Dave’s arm rest just that little bit heavier across her shoulders. Perhaps, she countered to herself, he thought that he was comforting her or maybe somehow keeping her warmer. That’d be a first from him she realised darkly. Dave seemed to relax the way he was holding himself and imperceptibly he moved from stiffly not touching to allowing his leg, and then his upper body, lean in against her. The clamminess of his damp clothes permeating through to hers. She looked at him. Eye to eye. He returned the gaze and smiled. His fingers locked around her upper arm.
“Fuck right off Dave !”
Ali jumped up from the box, eyes livid with anger, pupils dilating and contracting as she moved in and out of the light.
“I was only….”
“You were only what ? You stupid tosser!” The anger she had been brewing up for Terry leapt out of her mouth in a stream of invective and half formed thoughts, “You were going to fucking comfort me by trying it on?? Well, fuck knows I’ve seen it before, but for heaven’s sake Dave. What the fuck makes you think that I’d be interested in being comforted by you again, huh?”
Dave looked down at the ground, then up at Ali defiantly, the colour rushing into his pale cheeks, “I give you a lift, I bring you here, you smoke my dope, let me put my arm ‘round you – what the hell am I supposed to think ? You always were a bit of a bloody tease you were. No wonder we didn’t ever get it on properly.”
“Nothing to do with that you twat !” Ali spat, “The reason why is exactly the same reason that I’m here shouting at you now you stupid stupid idiot. You have no fucking ability to read other people, can’t get it into your thick head when it’s not the right time. Now is not the right fucking time ! Jesus, if it wasn’t like you could tell how I was feeling. You dozy git – you – oh Christ – all of you – all you fucking men who think that you can tell us when we should be feeling right, what we should be feeling, how we should be doing things. Christ, why oh why?” Ali looked around the cave, the walls now seemed a sickly yellow, she wanted something to kick out at, something to damage. “Terry, fucking Terry, all he wanted to do was look after me, be with me, now look what I’ve done, look how it’s all gone. I’m in a fucking cave with some idiot who doesn’t know fucking up from down. You’ve done him a favour Dave, that at least I’m really glad of. He doesn’t look half so much a twat as you do right now.”
Dave stepped towards her. Without speaking he grabbed at her arm and she clawed back at him with her free hand. “Fuck off Dave, come on, I just want to go…” He grabbed her other hand and threw her backwards, she hit the cave wall with a soft thump and staggered to stay on her feet.
“Dave…” Her voice trembled and then regained its strength,” What are you gonna do now then ? Jesus Dave, this is fucking weird even for you… Look, let’s just go?” There was a hint of a plea in the last word that made Dave smile grimly again.
“That’s it isn’t it? Weird, fucking weird. Yeah, you always thought I was weird – I’m not, not weird you know, it’s you who needs your head examining, s’you who wanted to come down here, what the fuck was I s’posed to think eh ? You always blew hot and cold. I’m not the weird one in this place, not me no.” Dave picked up the joint from the floor where Ali had dropped it; he took a deep pull and then threw his head back and laughed as if he’d had a brilliant idea. “You don’t want me around – fine. You won’t find Terry around either – he’s gone, see. He probably couldn’t stand it living with a fucking nutter either.”
Ali stood silent, tears running down her face. Her back was sore where it had caught the wall. Dave was between her and the cave entrance. “Bastard.” was all she could say.
“Me?” Dave laughed again, “see how much of a bastard I can be shall we?” He stepped towards her again and raised his hand. Ali ducked instinctively and ran into the shadows at the back. Dave laughed again. “I ain’t that sort of bastard you stupid cow.” He made no effort to follow after her.
Ali shrunk into the darkness, the cold running through the wall and into her skin. Her eyes stung and her head spun. She was finding it all too abstract, she felt like she was watching this all happen to someone else. She didn’t really think that Dave would hit her again, but she’d seen him flare up before, she didn’t really know what he might do. It scared her. She was utterly on her own and Dave was stalking around the cave entrance like a victorious rutting stag. She had to make him see her as Ali and not as this messed up person he’d turned her into in his head.
“Dave…?” Ali was quieter, more measured this time, “Dave?” He stopped pacing and turned around to face her. “I’m sorry Dave; I’m sorry, look I’m a bit in shock. I just wasn’t ready for well… what almost happened…”
Dave roared, “Nothing fucking happened, nothing ever fucking happens….” He moved towards her again, arm out in front of him like he was feeling for her in the darkness, he pushed her again. This time down onto the hard floor. Ali kicked and scrabbled her way to her feet. Dave reached for her again and this time she flew at him, arms and nails and teeth and feet all waiting to make contact with Dave’s body. Her nails found him first - she dug them into his cheek with a ferocity that she didn’t know she had. Dave recoiled and tried to fend her off, tried to cover himself at the same time. She pulled her nails away, raking him, tearing a strip of skin from below his eye and across his nose. He yelled. He hit out. Ali went down on the floor without a sound. The dust flew up from underneath her.
Dave stepped back, wiping his face on his sleeve, trying to see if there was blood or not, unable to tell in the pale unnatural light. Ali didn’t move. She was staring at him. Blank. Dave went to say something and then thought better of it. He walked away from her prone body towards the mouth of the cave. He turned and looked at her again.
“You stupid bloody bitch, fucking calm down!” He stepped half out of the cave. Holding onto the ladder. He stooped down and did something Ali couldn’t see. She was fixed to the floor. Scared and afraid.
“Bye then,” Dave seemed to virtually leap up the ladder and Ali watched his feet disappear from view. She sat there alone. Too stunned to move at first. Then, as what was happening began to dawn on her, she scrambled across the floor of the cave, kicking over the oil lamp, killing the flame and plunging her into an almost total darkness save for the light which pushed its way between the branches that fell across the entrance.
She yelled at the top of her voice and broke through the opening to see the ladder being hauled up from somewhere above. Dave had deliberately unpegged it and left her down there.
Below her the tide was rising and the waves slammed on the rocks. Above sheer mud slicked rock. She sat and howled, her voice barely registering above the wind.