Blustery. That was the usual word for the sort of breeze that was tossing tiny wavelets against the boats just inside the harbour and whipping up bigger ones outside the sea wall. Just what you might expect on a bright October day by the coast. Not, she thought, the best day to make that final assault on the crude rough hewn steps known as Granny’s teeth, the steps which she had been challenging herself to climb for years. She was going to do it though, AND walk back towards the shore along the top of the wall. Taking a deep breath, she placed her hand on the second step, feeling the cool, uneven stone against her palm; next, she placed her foot onto the first. How many times had she visited this place as a child, and then with her own little family? Her son had managed the top step at eight, but she had always hung back. She could still hear his excited little voice as he reached the top: ’Mum! It’s brilliant up here! Why won’t you come? It’s easy peasy!’ Later on he had brought her two small grandchildren to Lyme; the postcards she’d received had echoed his delight from all those years ago.
Now, all alone, she had made up her mind; she would climb further than the series of holiday photographs bore witness to. Keeping close to the rough wall, she began. It was slow progress. With each step, the wind seemed stronger, the sound of the waves louder. Then she could just see over the top of the wall to the Undercliff, trees covering the scars caused by landslips, the array of the typical colours of autumn somehow enhanced by the clear sea air and the reflection on the grey sea. She paused, gazing back at the bay, the curve of the promenade with its pink and cream cottages, the cluster of jumbled buildings which made up the small town, with the weak sunlight catching the bare tip of the highest cliff yet further along, identifying it by that sunshine as Golden Cap. The museum, newly renovated, was just visible; she remembered too her little boy’s awed ‘Wow!’ as he gazed at the skeleton of the ichthyosaur proudly displayed. All familiar, yet today, almost new to her.
‘OK’, she said to herself, ‘just two more teeth to scale’. She grinned wryly – a joke she hadn’t meant to make. In fact, she realised, she was clenching her own teeth, as it took every bit of will power to finish the task. One more step, then two, and then her feet were on the sloping summit and she stood, swaying slightly with the effort and tension, her hair tossed by the gusts, dark sea rolling ahead, menacing yet exhilarating. She remained still, her heartbeat returning to its habitual slow rhythm. To her left, the gentle curve of the Cobb, uneven buildings crouched into its shelter, hung with old notice boards, with blue string fishing nets piled haphazardly on the cobbles in front. Beyond stretched the sea, one red boat punctuating its expanse, making its steady passage across the bay. To the right, the shore, other boats pulled onto the shingle, the lifeboat safely stowed in its purpose built shed where the Cobb met the beach. That was her goal and she began to walk.
She found she couldn’t hurry; the camber of the wall was peculiar and in the wind – more than a breeze up here – meant that one always felt that the sea was one unsteady step away. Having an unexpected swim in the icy waves was not part of her plan. She was alone up here, too; alone in the world; but she didn’t feel the constant trepidation that she felt in everyday life, even in small things. Instead, she felt in control, in control of her life.
Before she realised, the wall began to slope downwards; there were even people strolling towards the direction she had just taken. She reached the short flight of steps which marked the end of her journey. Jumping the last, she strode towards the cafe, thinking of tea and scones, when she saw him.
‘Where have you been?’, he shouted, his face red. ‘I told you to fetch my paper and bring it back right away!’ ‘I know you did’ she replied quietly, ‘but I had more important things to do.’ He came towards her, his face ugly, but she stopped him with a raised palm. ‘In fact’ she said firmly, ‘you can get your own newspaper in future as well as anything else you need. I’m not going to do what you tell me anymore.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous, and come back with me to the hotel,’ he retorted, ‘you’re being stupid as usual.’ ‘Oh no dear’ she answered with a small smile, ‘I promised myself that if I had the nerve to climb the steps, that there was something bigger I could achieve. I won’t be coming home with you.’
And she walked past him, pulling her phone from her pocket, and dialling a number.