“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, did I win did I win?”
Flushed from the excitement of the race Jamie all but knocked Sarah over as he disappeared from the viewing screen and grabbed his mother by the arm almost knocking the camera from her grip.
“Steady, steady, Jamie, you’ll have to wait for the result …. it was very close and it’s not easy for me to judge when I’m concentrating on filming.”
“But Mummy, I did, I’m sure I did!”
“Well then, be patient, I expect Laurence will think that he has won as well … it could even be a dead-heat.”
“What’s a deadee Mummy?”
“Dead, heat”, said Sarah deliberately, “It’s when you are so close that you cross the line together, so you both win.”
“But I want to win Mummy.”
“Of course you do darling, and so does Laurence … but winning isn’t everything.”
A breathless Laurence arrived and wrapped his arms around Jamie … “It’s you or me Jamie, my Dad said we marmelised the others” he screamed excitedly, “come on, Dad says we have to find Mr. Bassett who will decide who won.”
As Laurence dragged a reluctant Jamie away, he looked back at Sarah with that pleading look in his eyes that she had come to know so well.
He was almost seven now, and as the years passed he was beginning to resemble his mother more and more with every passing month and memories of that fateful night, far from fading, grew ever stronger.
One gesture, one look, and Sarah was once again back on that cliff top almost seven years ago … where she had gone to end a life, yet found another.
She had just turned twenty eight and her life, once so perfect, had been shattered by a succession of knock-backs that happened so quickly and came from such unexpected quarters as to now seem surreal.
Straight from university she had married well, a high flyer with whom she had shared an apartment during their graduation year, and who had proposed to her whilst their diplomas were still fresh in their hands.
His father was Chairman of a large group of companies, and within a year her new husband was bossing his own embryo company, a spin-off from his father’s group and benefiting by association … yet at the same time the ownership was his and his alone.
Within three years they had offices in London and New York, homes in both cities, a house in the Cotswolds, a condo on Long Island, and a villa in Provence.
It all happened too fast to be true, but who stops to think when life is ever changing and a kaleidoscope of private jets, chauffeur driven limos, and serviced accommodation almost beyond the wildest dreams of an international socialite, much less a girl from a farming community in East Sussex.
Sarah had been almost literally swept off her feet.
There was a price to be paid of course. They were separated frequently and she spent many hours alone, though her husband saw that she wanted for nothing and when they were together he could play the family man as well as the next man.
In fact it was family, or more accurately the lack of it, that lead finally to the explosion that wrecked their marriage. Sarah had miscarried in their second year together, and again in the fourth. Her doctors had blamed her globetrotting lifestyle for the latter occurrence, but Sarah knew better than anyone that her family had a poor history of ready conceptions and full term pregnancies, and despite the very best of medical attention, she was never going to be a prolific breeder.
But just as in business, her husband wanted everything, and he wanted it now, and by the fifth year of their marriage the strain was starting to show.
They had just about exhausted all natural channels and fertility drugs and IVF were also proving problematical. Sarah was dead set against surrogacy, even as a last resort … their relationship was at an impasse and they were practically living separate lives.
The first that she knew of the divorce was when the papers were served and within a matter of months she had been cast adrift. She was to be provided for of course, but money was not what she had wanted from life. Her husband had instigated the divorce driven by his desire to father a family, but ironically, this had been far more of a tragedy for Sarah than he would ever realise, so wrapped up was he in his own disappointment.
Seeking comfort after the divorce, Sarah had moved back onto her family farm to live with her parents. Both were now retired from working the farm which was now run by a manager for whom they had provided living accommodation by converting one of the old barns.
Six months after the divorce Sarah had just begun to pick up the shattered pieces of her life and put the nightmare of her divorce behind her when tragedy struck again.
Late one night in a torrential rainstorm her parents were killed outright in a pile-up on the motorway when a lorry jack-knifed and swept them across the central reservation and into a head on collision with a second lorry travelling in the opposite direction. They were declared dead on the scene.
Coming so soon after her divorce, to say that Sarah was devastated was an understatement of monumental proportions … it had seemed that things could not possibly get any worse.
But the fates had yet another blow awaiting her when her parents will was executed, for she found that as she, their only child, was safely married and set up for a life of luxury, apart from a small legacy and a few items of sentimental value only, her parents had left the farm in its entirety, including the farmhouse that she presently lived in, to their manager.
Short of contesting the will, for which she could find no stomach, she was about to find herself homeless and alone in the world.
Not having an immediate use for the farmhouse, the manager, now new owner, agreed that Sarah could have use of the accommodation for three months while she looked around for something else. And if only to provide a happy ending, it would have been perfect if during that time Sarah and the manager had discovered a mutual attraction resulting in a romantic relationship.
But rarely is real life like that.
Instead, with only a week to go before the three months tenancy was up and at her wits end, Sarah’s spirits had sunk so low that it was no wonder that she found herself on that cliff top almost seven years previously. The time had come to put an end to it all.
In the gathering gloom she had already tried to run off the edge twice, but it was proving to be more difficult than she had imagined it might be, and her legs refused to take the final two steps.
She sat down on a small hummock of tufted grass and pulled a flask of whisky from the pocket of her jacket. If she couldn’t jump sober, then she would call for some help from John Barleycorn.
Quite what first caught her attention she could never later explain to herself, but suddenly she was aware that she was not alone.
Moving towards the edge was an indistinct silhouette and what really alerted her was the sound of uncontrolled sobbing.
“Who’s there!” she called.
The figure froze, and a pale face with red rimmed haunted eyes turned in her direction.
Sarah shoved the flask back into her pocket and got to her feet.
“Don’t come near me” said the figure, “I’ll jump if you do and take you with me.”
“Well I was here first”, said Sarah improbably, realising immediately how stupid a remark that was under the circumstances.
The figure turned away and moved closer to the edge.
“Stop!” said Sarah sharply, “come sit with me and we’ll talk through why we’re both here, who knows, it might make things clearer for both of us.” Although for Sarah, things were already becoming clearer, for this unlikely interruption had already served to put any thought of jumping tonight out of her head and all her thoughts were with the tortured soul sobbing at the edge of the drop.
“Please move back from the edge”, she implored, “just a couple of steps, I promise not to move from this spot, we’ll compare notes … who knows, it might make us both feel better, you know, a problem shared as they say.”
After a short hesitation the figure took two small steps towards Sarah.
“My God!” hissed Sarah. “What are you carrying?”
The figure tightened her arms and the bundle whimpered.
“Is that a child?”
The figure was now sobbing uncontrollably.
“You can’t!” spat Sarah, now with venom, “not a baby … what makes you think that you have the right to do that, you must be out of your bloody mind!”
“That’s what I am”, sobbed the figure, “here take him.”
“Only if you sit and talk to me”, said Sarah firmly, “sit down and we’ll talk.”
They talked for an hour into the darkness. Sarah told her story first and the stranger, Maja, who told her that she and her husband had come into the country from Poland, then opened up with hers.
The father of the child had been her boss … she had allowed herself to be sucked into an affair and when she became pregnant he insisted that she get rid of the child. When she refused and threatened to tell his wife of the affair, he called in the police and accused her of stealing from the company which he substantiated by manipulating the accounts. Her husband, feeling betrayed by her affair, had banned her from the family home and refused to allow her access to her other child … she was trapped in a foreign country and had lost everything.
On the birth of her child yesterday she had, in a fit of depression, decided to end it all. So this evening, when the opportunity presented itself, she had simply walked out of the hospital, which was less than a quarter of a mile from where they now were, taking her unwanted child with her.
Their stories told, the women sat in silence for almost five minutes.
Sarah, with the babe still cradled in her arms, had been the first to break the silence …
“I came tonight to end my life, and you have saved it Maja”, she said quietly.
“And I came to end two lives and you have saved two”, replied Maja, standing abruptly to her feet, her face twisted into that wildly pleading look that had haunted Sarah ever since that awful night …
“Please take good care of him and pray for me.”
And she was gone.
Not a sound, no scream, not even the dull thud of her body bouncing from the rocks as she fell …
“Mummy, Mummy, I won, I won!”
Jamie’s excited voice shocked her back to reality and she was suddenly back in the sunshine of a summer afternoon.
She held him close and whispered …
“I know darling, we both did.”
She knew that the day would come when he would have to be told the truth… but not this day.
“Go find Laurence darling, when there are winners there must always be losers, so be extra nice to him … and give him a big hug from me as well.”