The Start of Something
The last stains of night linger on the clifftops like an old bruise as Matt pulls the car into the layby. He cuts the engine and immediately there’s the scratching of a seagull’s feet on the roof. The dog spins in a tight circle on the backseat. It yaps in the vague direction of the bird’s clumsy tapping. Emma turns to the dog.
“What’s that, Teddy? Is that a naughty birdy? Are you going to get it?”
Matt gets out. He clips the lead onto Teddy’s collar. Emma gets out and puts on her hat. Two flaps hang over her ears. She slaps her thighs and ruffles Teddy’s ears.
“You take him,” Matt says.
“Come on, Teds,” Emma says and pouts her lips. “Daddy’s grumpy. He’s not woken up yet.”
They start off up the cliff path. Matt watches the waves tossing themselves against the rocks. Beyond the rocks and the beach, rest the island and the old lighthouse. The sea hits against the crumbling protective wall. Even from the clifftop Matt can see that the white paint is discolouring. Somewhere beyond the lighthouse, obscured from view by it, is the new light. A more modern, stronger and sleeker structure with a brighter glow.
“Look at that,” Emma says. “See how the sunrise keeps catching the glass. It looks like the light’s still on.”
An old woman comes towards them on the path. Emma takes Matt’s hand.
“Morning, Mrs Whitehouse.”
“Good morning, love. Hello, Teddy.”
Matt smiles and nods. He slips out of Emma’s grip and puts his hands in his coat pockets.
“Are you cold?”
“No. It’s fine.”
They cross the headland and the path skirts in around a cove.
“Look, the seals are back.”
They lean on the fence and look down at the seals that are sprawled across the beach. Matt watches their little flippers heaving their heavy bodies up the sand.
“They’re so beautiful.” Emma says.
“That’s what people say.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You’ve been in a mood for days. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”
“I think sometimes you can see something so many times that it loses its beauty.”
“Yeah, I guess we take it for granted. We should be more thankful that we live somewhere like this.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“But I think that if you take the time to stop and appreciate it then you can be more grateful for it.”
Matt looks down over the ledges and caves of the cliff to the destructive sea and the very definite end promised by the rocks.
“Emma, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Look at that one. Oh, it’s just a little pup. Isn’t it cute, Teddy? It’s chasing that big one. Look.”
“Look, Matt, I don’t care if you’re bored of walking here. I just wanted to get out the flat and have a nice time. This walk is stunning. We’re so lucky to be able to bring Teddy here. Stop being so miserable.”
Matt knocks his foot against a broken piece of fence. It’s a sheer drop in front of them. The waves smoother the beach and spread back indefinitely, eternally. Emma links her arm through his. Teddy circles them impatiently and his lead binds them together. Matt sees a figure in the distance walking on the path towards them.
Emma leans her head on his shoulder. “Anyway, even if we walked somewhere else you’d just get bored of that too.”
Matt turns and looks down across the headland to where the steel frame of the new shipping light pokes out from behind the lighthouse. The angular frame hangs off the rocks like a lost earring. The sun reflects gaudily in the diamante bulb. The figure on the path gets closer. Matt can make out the ridiculous outline of the anorak and hiking sticks Will always wears on coastal walks.
“I mean, do you even remember a time that we haven’t walked here? You’ve always loved the old lighthouse. And isn’t that feeling wonderful when we get back to the warmth of the car and snuggle up with the flask and our cheeks are still stinging from the wind?”
Seagulls swoop around the cliffs. Matt grips the loose fencepost. The wind nudges him encouragingly. He lets the irresistible pull of that reckless step engulf him.
“Don’t. Just don’t. If you’re going to be negative, don’t say anything at all. I’m fed up.”
“Emma, look, why don’t we get married?”
Emma’s lips fall apart and her hand drops the lead. Teddy seizes the opportunity to make a dash along the path but Emma recovers and grabs his collar.
“What do you think? Don’t you want to?”
She squints at him. “Matt, I…” She exhales heavily and smiles. “Of course. Yes, of course I will.” She throws her arms around him. “I love you. Yes, I’ll marry you.”
The dog barks, desperate to be a part of any excitement.
“Teddy. Mummy and Daddy are going to get married. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“I haven’t got a ring or anything yet.”
“It doesn’t matter.” She kisses him again. “I don’t care. All that matters is that we’re getting married.”
Matt sees Will stop a little distance away from them and pretend to look at the view. The yellow hood and collar of the anorak hides most of his face but Matt can see he’s watching them.
“Look, why don’t you take Teddy back to the car. I’ll follow in a second. I just want to collect myself a bit.”
“Okay,” she says and kisses his cheek. “I love you.”
“I’ll catch you up in a second.”
“Come on, Teds,” Emma squeals and the two of them skip down the path towards the car.
Matt turns as Will reaches him.
“It went alright then? She seemed to take it well.”
“I was thinking, we could go up to my dad’s cabin for the weekend; take a few drinks, do some hunting. There’s supposed to be a big storm coming in. It’ll be fun.”
“Will, I couldn’t do it.”
“It won’t cost anything and I’ll teach you how to shoot. It’s easy really. The pheasants aren’t very quick. Like sitting ducks.”
“No, I meant with Emma. I couldn’t do it.”
“Why not? Matt, you said you were going to.”
“I just couldn’t do it. I came up here with every intention of doing but I… I don’t know.”
Will’s tongue angrily flicks along his lip. “What now?”
“I asked her to marry me.”
Will turns around and walks away.
Matt watches him go then heads to the car. Emma dries Teddy’s stomach with a towel.
“Here’s Daddy, Ted.”
She comes over and kisses Matt.
“We can start thinking about children once we’re married,” she says. “Teddy could have a little brother or sister. Isn’t it exciting, Ted?”
Matt opens the boot and lifts the dog into it. He thinks for a moment that he sees Will’s yellow anorak.
“Who was that you were talking to up on the cliff?”
“No one. He was just lost.”
“Come on, let’s get home. I want to phone my mum and tell her the news.”
They get into the car and follow the road back around the bay.