A New Beginning
Shona’s skin starts to prickle as she stands on the edge of the crumbling cliff top, staring across the bay. She has no idea how long she has been there, as her watch is broken. The result of yet another fight with Tom. Usually time mattered, but not today. She’s finally free. Dark grey clouds roll inland as the wind gets stronger. She can feel its chill around her neck; it’s definitely going to take a while to get used to her new pixie crop. Tom would hate it, but it doesn’t matter as he’s never going to see it. There’s no going back; too much has gone into this moment for her to change her mind now.
The old lighthouse glitters across the bay, its beacon guiding ships to safety. No-one should be sailing on a night like this; it’s too dangerous. The North Sea is unpredictable at the best of times but tonight it’s wild. Waves crash on the rocks below, deafening the crying seagulls overhead. Despite the squally weather, Shona wishes she was out at sea. Nothing beats being out on the open water. It is the only place where she’s free from Tom’s grasp. The only place he isn’t in control. That’s why she hasn’t sailed for so long. He won’t let her; it isn’t safe. But life with Tom isn’t safe either.
She has the scars to prove it; some fainter than others but each one tells a story. With the tip of her right index finger she traces the most recent one—along her forehead—which is more visible due to her recent haircut. The sound of her head cracking on the kitchen bench will live with her forever. Shona had never seen Tom so angry, and all because of a stupid text message. It was totally innocent, but he wouldn’t listen. Instead he assumed the worst, accused her of being unfaithful, calling her an ‘ungrateful bitch’ before lashing out. Next thing she remembers is coming round on her way to hospital with Tom crying beside her, pretending he had found her on the kitchen floor.
Her stomach churns as she remembers how he manipulated everyone into believing his version of events. There was no point in disagreeing. Shona had learnt that the hard way. Life was much simpler if you agreed with everything Tom said. Deep down she knew the hospital staff knew the truth, she could see it in their eyes. But she didn’t want their pity; she needed their help although there was no way she could ask. Tom’s mind games over the last five years had destroyed her. She was no longer the outgoing, confident young woman; instead she was like the broken wreck washed up on the shore below.
A sudden gust of wind catches her by surprise. Losing her footing she stumbles forward, nearly falling over the edge. One false move and she’ll be gone. Shona anchors herself against the elements; there’s no time for mistakes. Not tonight. She has to be strong. She can’t let Tom win—not again. The air crackles with electricity as the bay lights up, making the hairs on her neck stand up like saluting soldiers. Her clothes are damp, clinging to her icy cold skin. Shona’s eyes sting, but she’s not sure if it’s her new coloured contacts or the sea salt in the air. Water drips off the end of her nose, splashing her sodden canvas shoes. She wipes away her tears with her sleeve, smearing her make-up even further before stepping closer to the edge. Shona needs to act fast before it’s too late. She can’t risk being found, not when she’s come this far. There’s no going back—not if she wants to stay alive. This is her only option, it’s now or never.
In the beginning, life with Tom had been perfect. He was everything Shona wanted—caring, loving, attentive. But everything changed five years ago, on their second anniversary.
“Close your eyes,” Tom said as she got into his old battered VW camper van, “and no peeking.”
“What’s going on?”
“Shh, you’ll find out soon.”
Shona felt Tom lean in through the passenger door, “What are you doing?”
“I know what you’re like, so just going to make sure you don’t cheat,” said Tom as he tied a scarf over Shona’s eyes.
Shona started to panic. Tom had been acting weird lately, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on the reason behind it.
“You’ll not be disappointed. Now sit back and relax. We’ll be there shortly.”
Shona couldn’t relax; she hated being kept in the dark. After a short drive the camper van stopped. Tom opened his door Shona caught a faint whiff of a familiar smell—seaweed. They were at the beach. Tom insisted she remained blindfolded for a few more minutes as he guided her to their final destination.
After a ten-minute walk he untied her blindfold, and whispered “Surprise” into her left ear. His breath made her shiver despite the warmth of the glorious sunshine. Looking back she should have seen it as sign, but she was too overwhelmed by the picnic laid out in front of her.
“Wow, this is amazing. You’ve gone to so much trouble. Thank you.”
Shona couldn’t believe it. Tom had never done anything like this before. He had thought of everything: he’d prepared all of her favourite food and chosen her favourite coastal spot for their celebratory picnic. She loved being by the sea, it was perfect.
Tom popped open the Champagne, laughing as the cork narrowly missed a flock of hungry seagulls who were eyeing up their leftovers.
“Thanks for a great two years,” Shona said, clinking glasses with him.
He smiled, not saying anything as he watched Shona take her first sip. Tom didn’t have to wait long. Shona gasped as something glittery caught her eye at the bottom of her glass.
“Will you marry me?” Tom asked.
Caught up in the moment Shona said, “Yes.”
If only she’d known how much her life would change by agreeing to become Mrs Bradbury, she would have never married Tom. Within weeks he had persuaded her to move in with him, and that’s when the mind games began. She didn’t see it at first despite her friends best attempts of warning her. Tom slowly took over her life. By the time they got married, he had changed the way she looked, convinced her she didn’t need to work, and persuaded her she no longer needed her friends.
Shona missed her best friend Jenny. She’d considered contacting her, but after all this time it was too difficult to pick up the phone. Jenny had been right about Tom. If only she had listened, things might have been different. Jenny would have helped her, but Shona had pushed her away believing Tom that she was a bad influence. When it was the other way around.
Standing on the cliff top, Shona wishes she could turn back the clock. She should have left with Jenny that cold November day two years ago. They’d met at a seaside cafe, away from prying eyes as Shona didn’t want Tom to know she was meeting her best friend of fifteen years. She also knew how Jenny would react when she saw her—and she was right.
“Bloody hell, what have you done?”
“Don’t Jenny, please. You’ll get used it.”
Shona knew she should have warned Jenny, but she’d forgotten. She’d been too worried about doing the washing, the ironing, cleaning the house and preparing tea. Making sure everything at home was perfect.
“Don’t you like it?”
“No, it doesn’t suit you. Why blonde?”
Before Shona could answer, Jenny said: “I assume it wasn’t your idea, and is yet another part of Tom’s transformation.”
“Jenny please, you’re over-exaggerating. I needed a change that’s all.”
“Sorry. He’s far too controlling though and you’ve changed so much—new look, new hair—what’s next?”
“That’s not fair. Things are just different.”
“You mean, you’re different now.” Jenny said reaching across the table.
Shona flinched before Jenny could touch her. She was in agony from last night’s fight; her wrists throbbed from Tom pinning her down and her body was bruised all over. She tugged the sleeves of her coat attempting to hide the evidence. She wasn’t quick enough, Jenny’s hawk-eyes didn’t miss a thing.
“Oh Shona, not again.”
Shona stayed silent, knowing if she answered the floodgates would open.
“I thought things had changed when you gave up work.” Jenny said.
If only, Shona thought. She’d hoped the beatings would stop once Tom had her at home full-time, but they’d increased. The slightest thing set him off, she could no longer gauge his moods. Life with Tom was frightening.
Shona shook her head and said, “Not really.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? You can’t go on like this, you have to leave him Shona.”
“I can’t. I love him and he loves me.”
“Shona! He’s dangerous. Why can’t you see that? You need to get out now before it’s too late.”
Shona sighed, Jenny just didn’t understand. It wasn’t as simple as just walking out, she’d never be free from Tom. He would never let her go.
“I’m sorry Jenny, but I can’t just up and leave. Tom needs me.”
“This is no good. I’m never going to persuade you to go,” Jenny said choking back tears. “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t watch you let him destroy you.”
If only Shona had listened, the past two years could have been totally different.
Shona still couldn’t believe how stupid she had been. Tom had manipulated her for far too long. He had moulded her like an artist building a clay model. He had shaped her to perfection, but it wasn’t enough. He became increasingly frustrated, and his outbursts intensified. There was no need for Tom to try and break her, she was already broken.
A clap of thunder reverberates around the bay, bouncing off the cliffs as Shona watches a boat trying to navigate the end of the south pier. The weather is getting worse; she couldn’t have picked a better day to shed her past. Stepping out of her wet shoes, she feels the ground squelching between her toes. She unzips her rucksack and carefully removes a smaller bag, checking its contents. Everything she needs is inside. It’s finally time to say goodbye. As she drops the rucksack beside her shoes, a searing pain jolts up her left arm reminding her why she’s about to disappear. Yet another injury that hadn’t healed properly—her body couldn’t take anymore. Tom would never change. After years of broken promises she had finally realised it wasn’t her, it was him.
She needed fixing and her only chance to heal was to be Tom free. Shona knew it wouldn’t be easy, as she’d tried before. This time was different though—she was stronger. Tom was in for a
shock when he returned from his business trip. His dutiful wife would not be there to welcome him. He would see her carefully worded note. He’d never see Shona again.
Shona takes one last look around her before taking a deep breath and stepping forward. Teetering on the cliff edge feels liberating, and she wonders what it must feel like to fly. One more step and she’ll experience it for herself. But there isn’t time. The storm will soon be over, and she needs to cover her tracks. Leaving the contents of her old life behind in her rucksack, she wipes her muddy feet on her fleece and steps into her trainers before throwing the bag over the edge. She has to make it look convincing, she needs Tom to believe she’s gone.
Shona steps onto the safety of the rocky pathway—heads towards the woods; knowing that it isn’t really the end, it’s just the beginning.
Sarah Jeffery is a former journalist with many features and articles to her name, including several about her experiences of living with Crohn’s Disease. She has written a first draft of a novel and several short stories. Three of her stories have been published in anthologies from the Writer’s Playground, while another is featured in’Sisterhood’ by Elementary Writers.
In 2018, she was long-listed for Writer Block’s North East 2018-9 development programme, ‘One Word After Another’ and came second in North Tyneside Libraries Story Tyne short story competition. In 2019, she was longlisted for New Adventures New Voices competition with her current work in progress about a teenage girl who discovers she has been brought up in a cult after the disappearance of her mother.