Terry took Ali by the hand and pushed back the branches of the bush, stepped out onto the ledge and gripped the rope ladder with the other hand. He smiled at Ali and she half smiled back. The sun was low enough to light up her face and cast her shadow on the wall behind, Terry thought that she looked perfect. He found himself watching the two of them like a scene from a film, with him outside of it. He didn’t say a word.
Ali moved forwards with less confidence than she normally showed, still gripping Terry’s hand, tighter now, nervous. He had to let go to get the ladder and pull himself on. She took a further step and held the bottom rungs as he climbed on and made his way up a few feet, allowing her room. The sea swirled below. It was a messy sea, no good surf now, no-one out there. A high tide with a lot of white water, just turning to fall back away and release the beach again, let go its grip. The sound of gulls was the only sign of life anywhere around them. Another time and Terry would have been happy to spend the rest of the evening sitting on the ledge with Ali, waiting for the sun to set and the sky to fill with orange and deep pink, bruised edges with promise of another good day tomorrow. But this time was the wrong time, Ali and Terry needed to get away from here. At the back of his mind he wondered what would happen if Dave suddenly turned back up.
Ali climbed on the ladder behind him. It swang free beneath them, setting up a waving motion which took a while for them both to get the measure of – they clung on while it slowed itself down. Terry moved up two steps and then looked back; Ali took two rungs as well and gave Terry a reassuring glance. Another two rungs, then the same. Then another three – soon they were almost at the top. A gull flew close by Terry’s head and he studiously stared at the cliff wall until it passed. You never knew. Then his head reached the level of the cliff top, level with where the pegs holding down the ladder were. They looked solid – he’d worried a bit about the weight that they both were putting on them, but he’d not thought of that until he started the ascent and it was too late now. A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek. It was OK now, he could afford to be relieved now.
He started to lift his weight off the ladder and as he did he looked back down at Ali, the ladder had started to swing in the breeze again and she fumbled with rungs as it slipped away from her foot. She gasped.
Terry couldn’t understand. She was only a few feet from him. Her hands seemed to drop away from the rope and she fell, freewheeling her legs as she dropped. Terry watched, unable to move. Her body swung through ninety degrees and her head caught the cliff with a muted smack. She didn’t make a sound as she started to spin through the air, her arms stopped grasping at nothing. It seemed to be forever. She fell past the end of the ladder. Her foot clipped the ledge they’d stood on moments before, dislodging a piece of soil as she dropped. Dropped like a doll. It wasn’t real. She fell. She fell. Terry open mouthed but silent, not even breathing. Watching. She fell. Then the rocks caught her – broken teeth waiting. She hit them with her back, bending at an impossible angle, her shoe flying off into the sea below. She bounced sideways. A wave hit the rocks and she was gone in the spray.