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by Giles Montgomery

He peers over, eyes the drop. Thirty feet? A thousand? His friends down there already, treading water, whooping and whistling for him. They jumped, why can’t he? So brave when he climbed up behind them, ushered by the hot sun, but it’s a different cliff now. Higher somehow, tectonic plates playing tricks. Too much imagination, that’s his trouble. The others threw their bodies off and let their brains follow, but his mind already stepped off and hung there like a cartoon coyote. Looked back at him, blinked twice. The idea of falling, nothing to grasp but air. If he wasn’t so fat, but he’s not so fat. Todd’s bigger in every sense and look at him now, otter-reposed, water fountaining from that ruddy freckled nonsense of a face. When he jumped, gravity gulped. The flesh/water SMACK scared whales, the splashback came up high enough to wink. He did it and he’s fine, the others did it and they’re fine, what’s the problem? The boy puts one foot forward, one back, fists clench, toes grip rippled rock, body revs. “Three …” shouts Deb. “Two …” shouts Mike. “One …” shouts Kim. “JUMP!” shouts the world. Now or never, future like a coin flipping, falling, landing, looking and it’s …

Heads. His mind wins. And he knows he’ll never jump, they know it, the sea knows it. The sun buries its face in a cloud, the day chills. Silence for a while, then … Todd splashes for the boat, Deb and Kim follow. Mike keeps looking up at him a moment longer, then sighs and swims away. They all climb in, pull anchor and putt-putt out of the cove without a backwards glance. He squats, hugs legs, touches cracked lips to goose-bumped thigh. Watches the horizon take the light, listens to the night, sea-slap on rock, insect leg-scratch chorus.

Years pass. The boy on the cliff remains unchanged, unable to change, to become whatever he might have been. One day, Mike returns in a nicer boat, updates him. He works in the city now, big bucks, high stakes, plenty of action, yeah? There’s this one girl, maybe the one, one day. Deb moved away, Kim had a lump, but she’s fine. Todd, not so much/too much, booze and weed, scrapping every weekend, sad. Anyhoo …

More years pass, Mike again in an even nicer boat, with nice wife who reminds their nice kids to mind their manners, don’t stare so. Looking good, you too, both lying. More news, new terrors, planes weaponised, towers down, Todd gone. Just when he’d got his shit together, dried out, great job, great girl, great plans. Life, right? Uh, yeah. Awkward. Anyhoo…

Years and years, he’s a landmark now, tourists take selfies with him, #boyoncliff (2 stars, ‘Preferred fearless girl’, Aimeee307 on TripAdvisor) and then leap off, in his face, no respect and quite right too, why should his cowardice taint their fun?

Everyone he knows grows old and dies, their children grow old and die, their children, theirs and theirs too. Centuries. Legend now. Who remembers why he’s there, we just like him, our boy on the cliff, patron saint of patience. What’s he waiting for? You’ll see. Seas rise and rise, until finally the boy on the cliff cracks his salty carapace and breathes in the sweet, warm breeze of a day just like another long ago, when friends believed, when everyone’s future hung spinning, undecided. And, free of thought, free of fear, free of consequence, he jumps.

Giles Montgomery writes ads for a living and fiction for joy. Dad, husband, optimist. From Huddersfield, lived in Amsterdam, currently near London. Previous flash at STORGY. Tweets @gilesmon #vss365, #satsplat. Spent fifty years on the cliff, now in free-fall and loving it.