Sarah sits at a table near the window. The afternoon is cold and the glass has grown gloomy with the steam and condensation from the conversations inside. With her sleeve pulled down over her hand, she carefully wipes away a window within the window, a porthole peeking through to the world outside.
Raindrops chase each other across the glass. The street contorts and turns, twisting around on itself as the rivulets of rain criss-cross the window. Sarah watches the world dissolve into surrealist swirls, clouding again as condensation creeps across the glass once more.
As we watch, we see the circuits inscribed into the fabric of the cafe. The waitress makes a turn around the tables, hurrying back to the warmth of the kitchen door. Strangers circumnavigate one another as they stand to pull on their coats and hats and scarves. There is a beauty to the patterns they make across the cafe floor, the orbits they follow.
Sarah sits alone at her table, her glasses fogging over as tiny clouds rise from her tea to drift across her face. She sits in quiet isolation, sipping her tea and thinking about the cliff at the edge of the world.
It is not a particularly tall cliff, nor is it hard to reach. Indeed, it is a cliff on which you or I may have stood ourselves, staring out across the white-tipped waves as they are pulled towards the shore. The moon overhead exerts her influence and drags the sea to-and-fro as the world spins below. We can stand on the top of this cliff, touching our toes to the edge, but we must hold our breath to insure ourselves against the fear of the ground beneath us giving way, of tumbling down, of touching the rocks and spinning in glorious circles as we give ourselves to the pull of the Earth. And then the sea. And then nothing. We can stand there, quietly, gently, and we can look out across the sea and know that we are on the very edge. This cliff marks the end of something: an island or a country or a continent.
Sarah can see the cliff, its rocky face projected across the contours of the flaking paint of the cafe wall in front of her. A guillemot swoops in to perch on an uplighter, within its walls a nest of napkins and drinking straws. At the top of the wall, Sarah spies herself standing on the summit of the cliff. From here she can see the overhang, she can see how tenuous is her hold to the earth beneath her feet. The lure of gravity is as a siren’s song, tempting and teasing and longing for her to lose herself in the sea below.
Sitting alone at her table, Sarah can feel the pull of the planet. And she knows that, even at the very edge, there is something anchoring her. The Earth is more than twelve and a half thousand kilometres across. Beneath Sarah’s table, and the linoleum and the concrete and the dust, there lies fifty kilometres of solid rock. Sarah knows these facts; holds them, in fact, to herself like a blanket. They give her comfort.
Because Sarah also knows that we live our lives clinging to the very edge of this world. A stranger steps forward to stand next to her on the edge of the cliff, looking out across the cafe as waves crash between the tables. Worry writes itself across the stranger’s face as they feel the force of the drop. Gravity grabs them and wants to hug them tighter, closer, nearer. The stranger steps back, away from the edge.
But Sarah knows that gravity is not the problem. Gravity is the safety belt.
The cafe ceiling comes alive with a million stars. An infinite space above our heads. A cold and clammy sensation worms its way around Sarah’s body and she shivers. She cannot look up at the vastness overhead.
What if there was no gravity? What if its hold on us weakened and let go? How, then, we would float away into the never-ending emptiness.
From the edge of the cliff, Sarah looks out. She looks not across the sea but now, finally, to the sky. This is not just the edge of the land, but the very edge of the Earth itself. The boundary between Sarah and the infinite emptiness above her is an insubstantial thing. She feels for it but it drifts away from her reaching grasp, as delicate and fragile as the steam that rises from her mug of tea.
It is not possible to step back away from this edge: whether at the top of a cliff or in the street outside, the cold, dark, reaching fingers of the universe stretch down to pluck at Sarah’s clothes, to tease her hair. There is no siren song from the emptiness above her head. Only silence and darkness and space.
She turns away from the cliff face in front of her, wiping the window once more to look outside. A balloon drifts past incongruously, as though it were floating in from another telling of this tale. As the balloon passes, it rises, escaping the pull of gravity to climb higher and higher into the sky.
As she watches it, Sarah wonders if one day, perhaps, gravity will let us all go. So that we might join that balloon, turning circles in the vast, open space above our heads. She shivers at the thought.
Sarah orders another tea and stares out of the window, waiting for the rain to stop falling.