The town looked like a messy jumble of small white and red boxes that had fallen carelessly from the sky, and drifted into the valley below, collecting in the lowest parts next to the river, and bunching up against the steep sides of the gorge. Straight ahead, they could see across the top of the mountain on the other side of the valley, to the faded purple peaks of the Pyrenees, receding into the distance. A thick line of silver-edged darkness was bubbling up along the horizon, and a nearer white cumulus cloud cast a creeping black shadow over the sunlit valley below, like a giant bird of prey swooping across its hunting ground.
Emma shivered, and took a few steps back, seized suddenly by a familiar sense of compulsion that seduced her with the thought of falling. She felt it whenever she looked down from a great height on an unprotected edge. The thought that she might – that she could – just go. Not jumping. Just falling. Dropping. Letting go of her tenuous grasp on this thing called reality. Letting go of her fears, her responsibilities, her attachments, her dreams. Just taking one step, and being gone. The thin air was pierced by a ghostly mewing call. She turned away from the edge and walked back towards the bike. “Better ring the offspring,” she called over her shoulder to Peter, who was staring into the sky, following the slow spiralling flight of a buzzard circling overhead. “Come away from the edge” she pleaded, feeling uneasy at the thought of him losing his balance while tilting his head further back to keep track of the bird.
Emma fished her mobile out of the inside pocket of her jacket, and cursed as the breeze took hold of a small piece of paper that came out with it, whisking it up into an eddy and away over the edge. She tried to remember what the paper was. A scribbled phone number she thought, but she couldn’t recall whose, or why it was in that pocket. She shrugged, and let the thought fly away with the paper. She pressed the quick-dial key for her daughter’s mobile phone, and waited until it rang out and the answer machine kicked in before hanging up. Then, she pressed again, and this time left a message to say she hoped everything was fine; that the dog was behaving himself; that she wouldn’t be able to speak on the phone because she’d be on the bike all day; and that she’d ring again in the evening when they stopped at a hotel. She tried her son’s mobile too, with the same result, and decided to send him a text saying she was fine, she hoped he was having a nice Saturday, and she would ring later from the hotel. She hated it when she didn’t get to speak to her children. It always left her wondering. Wondering if they were ok, or if they had left their phone somewhere, or if they were deliberately not answering because they were busy doing something they thought she would disapprove of.