The Linnet's Wings Blackbird Dock - Page 64

‘I’ll wait outside. Get a bit of air’, he said. ‘I’ll check the bog’, I said. ‘We’ll catch you up, Pete’. He nodded and walked off after Cal – quite glad to do so, too, I felt. Mel wasn’t at the urinals and all the cubicles were open. I walked round the whole perimeter of the pub, and stopped at the point which faced most directly towards the coast. A sudden and shocking thought came to me, and everything else was blocked out; I found myself sprinting, beer or no beer, the quarter mile or so to the coast, which I knew at this spot was partly at the top of a long cliff drop. All that whole busines with D.C. and Latham, back in the lecture theatre, came back at me shouting its head off. By the time I was about a hundred yards away from the wooden fence which separated the path from the cliff edge, I knew that my suspicions no longer amounted to a drunken panic. It was a clear night, and his figure, on the other side of the fence only a few feet from the very edge, was clear enough. He was standing very straight, as if being told off, his arms down at his sides. ‘Mel!’ I shouted at the top of my voice, the sound echoing strangely into the quiet of the night, with just a gentle breeze from the south and the murmur of the waves. I knew well enough that the spot where he stood was on the edge of a plunge directly downwards from upwards of a hundred feet, straight into the huge boulders stacked up against the bottom of the cliff. Even if he didn’t drown, the rocks would smash him to pieces. Mel glanced back at me over his shoulder, his face almost zombie-like, pale and red-eyed. ‘Leave it, Mark’, he said, in an ordinary tone I could hardly hear. ‘Leave it’. Footsteps were sounding from somewhere behind me, and I turned to see a policewoman and a policeman, the latter talking into his phone, coming across the grass towards me. Someone must have seen Mel go towards the cliffs from the upper rooms of the pub. It wasn’t the kind of moment when a loss of temper would be highly recommended, but that’s what happened. With the strain of the exams, in a university with no scruples about ruthlessly getting rid of people who might not do well, my own relationship with a gentle, patient artist called Denise Sanders seemed to have more or less just faded away; she’d already left a few days before, with no more than a peck on the cheek and ‘I’ll write’. In prospect was a long summer with a lot of academic work to do and next to no money, and this was how it was going to start, with one of my friends about to kill himself. Enough was enough. I put one hand up to the police in imitation of their own ‘stop’ gesture. ‘Five minutes, please! Five minutes! Alright?’ Without waiting for an answer, I ran across to the fence and screamed at Mel. ‘Do you hate me, then, Mel? Do you hate me as well?’ His white face again, and the anguish in it sickened me. ‘Hate you? Why should I hate you?’ ‘You want me to live for the rest of my life with the sight of your body, or what’s left of it, smashed and bloodied on those rocks? Is that what you want as your parting gift, Mel? And is that what you want for your mother? Your father? Ally? Do any of them deserve that, Mel? Have any of us done anything to deserve that? Really?’ His body had turned, uncertainly, towards me. I jumped up on to the lower bar of the fence and reached across, stretching my arm out so far that it was no more than a foot from his. ‘Come on, Mel’, I said, my anger expiring as quickly at it had flared. ‘Come on, buddy’. His head went down and he put his hand in mine. He felt the firmness in it and he looked directly into my eyes, and at that moment, he knew how tortured I was feeling. He collapsed against the fence, sobbing. I urged him gently over the fence and glanced towards the police, who had already approached to within twenty feet - whether wisely or not, I’m not sure. ‘Well done, sir’, the man said quietly. I helped Mel further from the fence, and the man stayed between us and the fence, presumably to prevent Mel breaking in that direction again. The policewoman took one of 64