MARTIN watched Helena running away from him along the cliff path, momentarily paralysed by indecision. He wanted to follow, but he had to call Bennett. He looked at the phone, then at Helena, then at his phone again. Helena’s dark hair was dancing in the strong sea breeze as she shrank into the distance, tracing a clumsy zigzag along the cliff-top. The further she travelled the closer she seemed to drift to the edge. Martin needed to make a decision. Why could he not? Because he was weak: in spite of his myriad accomplishments, Martin was weak. Taking he deep breath, he announced Bennett’s name into his mobile and started to run, waiting for Bennett to pickup.
Once Martin made a decision, he was committed. Already his powerful strides were cutting Helena’s lead. He was still in good shape- his trainer had assured him he was fitter than most men half his age. But weak nonetheless... why hadn’t he noticed? How had she found it? He cursed quietly as his call to Bennett was transferred to voicemail. Martin left a breathless message.
Martin had failed, again. A trip to the Dorset Coast was not going to elevate Helena’s spirit: she knew.
She knew. To his right loomed a near vertical fifty metre drop onto jagged rocks and foaming surf. It was all very familiar to him.
“Helena! Stop! I can explain!”
Helena tripped over her wildly flailing legs and went tumbling to the floor. Martin dived on top of her, smothering her fragile form with his heavy frame. He felt the heat of her soft face against his, his eyes almost touching hers, wide like a frightened animal. They were full of tears; he could taste the salt on his lips.
“Get off me! Get off me!”
Martin wrapped his thick arms around her, shielding Helena from the strong gusts battering the coastline, from the unpredictable violence of the world beyond the one he had created for her. She continued to scream for him to release her between; her voice gurgling with phlegm. He rocked her from side to side, doing his best to soothe her, whispering into her ear:
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m sorry.”
Martin did not stop until her howling quietened to a gentle sobbing. He sat up beside her, the two of them returned to the same position they had been in at the picnic moments before. Martin allowed himself the luxury of cautious relief. He handed Helena a handkerchief: she accepted without meeting his eye.
“I never meant for you to find out like this.”
Helena dried her eyes, straightened her dress and took a deep breath. Her gaze met Martin’s: she was an elegant creature in repose, he thought, mentally comparing the beautiful girl before him to the ungainly beast he had been pursuing along the coastal path. He hazarded a weak smile. Helena was not so easily comforted:
“You never meant for me to find out at all.”
Martin looked down into his lap in shame, shaking his head from side to side for longer than was necessary. There were no words for him to utter now, not yet. He had to let her speak.
“I didn’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe...” Helena’s voice was already cracking. Glancing up Martin saw that she was already looking away from him, back over the cliff edge, towards the sea. “I didn’t even think it was possible.”
Martin attempted to place his hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!”
Helena pulled herself to her feet, the anger once again welling inside her. Martin rose too, pleading with her to be careful. They were too close to the edge, he said, they should go back to the car, talk about it there. It was dangerous-
“This is horrible, I can’t handle this...”
“Of course not, darling, it’s so much to take in...”
“I found a picture of her- in your study. I don’t know why I was in there. I looked in the bottom drawer. The two of you. Standing in front of the MG. I felt sick. When I looked at her... her face... she...”
“She looked just like you.”
“She looked exactly like me. It was like looking in a mirror. I tried to remember when it was taken, but it just didn’t fit. I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember because...”
“... because it never happened.”
Martin shook his head.
“ At first I tried to shake it off, that sick feeling, that horrible vacuum. Suddenly there were holes everywhere, inside me... in my memories. My whole life seemed to have happened to someone else, my whole life... where does that leave me? Me! Who am I, Martin? Who am I?”
Martin tried to comfort her. “You’re Helena Congrave. You’re my daughter. You’re my daughter and I love you very much.”
Helena turned round, to face the sea. Her blue summer dress flapped in the breeze, her arms held against her side.
“I’m not though, am I? I’m neither..”
Helena took a step forward. Once again Martin was overcome by a sensation of paralysing indecision. Once again he watched his daughter drop silently from the cliff, down towards the rocks, powerless to do anything about it.
His phone rang. It was Geneva.
“Sorry to disturb you Martin, it’s Bennett. He says you rang him and it sounded urgent- shall I put him through?”
Martin consented with a low grunt and waited patiently for Bennett to be transferred. He explained everything to Bennett; that it had happened again, that the same flaw had manifested itself, that he’d been so positive that it would work this time. Bennett made a brief attempt at consolation before assuring him that “the necessary arrangements would be made”. He continued to talk, but Martin had stopped listening. He was watching the receding tide caress Helena’s broken body far below him, loving her more than ever, willing to do anything within his power to bring her back.