Short Stories

Story Index

Going Down

It's a long way to fall.
    You must know, by now, that if you were to let go the pain would stop. I know you want to let go. You've been holding on so tightly, for so long now, your muscles must be on fire. Can you feel the rope rubbing raw the flesh of your hands? I'm sure you can.
    You are looking up at me with your big blue eyes, as big as I've ever seen them, bright with tears, imploring me. Yes, I could help. And, drowning in your baby blues, I'm almost tempted. I could simply pull you up, pull you to safety. I am, after all, big and strong – you always told me so. I could pull the rope – just like this – but don't get hopeful. I'm only teasing.
    Gulls mock you. They cackle, fall into the air clumsily, then ride the breeze, just like you wish you could. Let go, flap, and soar above the sea. But you know you can't, so you continue to grasp the rope tightly. Can you feel every twist and turn of that rope? Can you feel each fibre of its helix slicing into your skin? I hope so. You must be able to feel your own warm blood trickle from your palms, down your burning arms, under the sleeve of your blouse, into your armpit, always so neatly shaved and smelling so good, and then where? Down your back, or across your smooth belly, where I once ran my hands?
    I walk closer to the edge of the cliff. But not too close - the grass here feels springy and slippery beneath my feet, and I worry that I might fall before you do. And we can't have that. Because I said to you once - after your eyes and lies had deceived a jury - that if I'm going down, you're going down with me. Remember? You laughed in my face. Yet, by a subterfuge, I am out, and out here, where I have manoeuvred you onto this rope so that my intention should be realised.
    The rope must be slippery now. I am amazed by your strength. You, my darling, are also strong. And you are light; little weight attaches to that figure of which you are so proud. All those evenings in the gym have paid off, eh? Haven't they just. But I am patient, and I know you can climb no further; if you could, you would have already done so. Listen. The sound of the surf is lovely, isn't it? I know you don't want to look down, so let me tell you: below, the waves break over cracked fingers of rock that reach up, eager to pull you down.
    Look! A butterfly! Where did that come from? Where is it going? I don't know. Does the butterfly know? Could it say to me, Yes, I have already alighted on the flower behind you, and now I intend to suck on that one over there, you see it? The yellow marigold and its football of petals? That is where I will alight and unfurl my proboscis. But there are no marigolds here, just your yellow blouse. I can see where it next intends to land, and I am transfixed by its ragged, but inexorable, flight towards you.
    You have struggled for so long, yet always maintained your grip on that rope – though your hands are slick with blood – always, somehow, remained just a few feet below me, staring up at me. Yet now, it seems, the weight of a butterfly is too much for you to bear. A red stain grows upwards from your hands; an optical illusion, for it is, in fact, you that is slowly sliding down the rope. That must hurt. You clench your teeth. Muscles bulge and tendons knot as you try to slow and stay your inevitable descent. But it is useless. We both know it.
    At last, a look of peace passes over your face. You have finally made your decision. Your fingers relax, and your slow slide accelerates. You suddenly seem to grow smaller, and then - you are gone.
    I move close to the edge of the cliff, no longer concerned by the treacherous grass. I see you, broken across the rocks. Below me, the butterfly lollops through the air on clumsy wings.

I chase it.