AT THE CLIFFS EDGE

Everyday the couple look across their disintegrating territory to see what’s changed, what can be salvaged from sunken and fallen ground. He stands now at the jagged cliff edge, its renewed border, where once stood their washing line.

17268-cliffs-by-the-ocean-pvEmpty rusting canisters lie against the only surviving and battered stretch of outer wall. Some twisted roots of their old apple tree loosely grip the red sandstone. Everywhere has been softened up or pushed back somewhat; the couple, too, have retreated. Their prefab now holds everything they own. They are hanging on, she gutting the smallest of fish in the faint light shining through the window, a TV aerial on the rooftop shakes with every sea breeze, seagulls squeal overhead, as if in a warning of danger.

Squat as it is, the prefab is a little way back from their former cliff-top house. The council has given it twenty, perhaps thirty years of survival, enough for them to see their life through. But does it gratify them to live beside the sea, with that tendency to want to stop and scan the horizon, just because it is there? All they know is they are being overrun by every raging storm, each succeeding onslaught; regardless of its intensity, it has penetrated deeper and deeper into the shifting landscape, eating away at their very foundations.

Theirs is a half-breached habitat. Its centrepiece is still the stairs, now open to the sky, the wounding salt and the vagaries of the weather. It is not much comfort that from there, high up, they can view the whole scene of destruction in one grand sweep; even further along the cliffs edge, where the bay juts out, the other cliff-top houses are under attack from the malicious waves below.

But they were always the newcomers who thought it would not happen to them. Different, they were not. By staying on, they have not only drawn attention to their plight through a local newspaper report, they have drawn attention to their selves as well. However, to admit now that they should not have come here in the first place would be even more unbearable.

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, February 2010)