Step out, lad,” his father used to say, when they walked along this path forty years before. Rick had been gazing rapturously up at aircraft in the sky above but his father never liked to dawdle and would call out impatiently, “Curiosity killed the cat,” whilst the boy crawled slowly to the edge of the cliff and peered over to watch the waves on the rocks far below.
His missed his dad. He’d been dead for four years.
Rick was on his usual walk along the cliff towards Beachy Head, which he did every Wednesday on the half day off from his job in Eastbourne. He lived a few miles away in Newhaven, in the terraced house where the family had been for years, across the river from a scrap metal yard. Whilst walking, he looked out over the beckoning sea and the enticing sunlight on the water. Always out of reach. He hadn’t ever crossed the Channel.
A few months ago, as he stood near the edge of the big cliff, someone had rushed up to him and grabbed his arm. It turned out to be one of those interfering people on suicide watch, and it had sown the idea in him. He’d always fancied flying.
His mum, who always complained she suffered from “lumbago and vertigo”, was unaware of her son’s obsession with the air and the sea. “My Rickie,” she’d say, “is a cautious one. He don’t take no chances, unlike his Dad, who drives too fast and is always lighting bonfires.” She’d always cooked his favourite meal and let him choose the TV programmes.
His gut churned as he remembered her dying of pneumonia last summer. He felt lonely in the house without them both. Abandoned.
He’d never had friends and was shy with girls. He’d only ever been out with Carol but she wanted commitment and he’d drawn back. Overcautious – he hadn’t been ready. Anyway, he was comfortable with his mum and dad who were great, so he hadn’t needed anyone else. These days a kind word would be welcome but nobody bothered to talk to him much at work. They thought him “weird”.
The path turned uphill again. Recently, he’d been puzzling about the meaning of life and what happens after it. He wanted to know, if he launched himself off the cliff, whether he would get a huge insight about human existence before he hit the bottom. The wind tugged at his flapping coat, trying to stop him from going any further.
Rick arrived at the top and made his way warily towards the final two feet of tufty windswept grass before the void. No one was about. He took another tentative step. Would the revelation be worth it? Would insatiable curiosity win out against instinctive caution? Should he throw them to the wind?
One small step for man.
His stomach clenched. Fear or hunger? Wait! At home there was bacon in the fridge.
He turned……. Perhaps next week.