It was too cold for the clothes she was wearing; a smart black skirt and a tight white top under a thin grey coat. She’d chosen the skirt because the way it was cut emphasised the shape of her hips, which were rounded and full and not like the square, hard hips she saw on the skinny bitches in the magazines these days. She’d chosen the top for the same sort of reason; she had good boobs and they were looking even better of late. The tight white turtleneck showed them off and the new seamless bra underneath made them look fantastic. And black and white felt right. She was glad that she’d picked the long leather boots too, but she knew now that the coat was a mistake. It was quilted and stuffed with feathers but it was too thin and the autumn wind whirling along the road cut right through it. The cross wind that ran along the river and over the bridge made it worse, although she could hide from that by standing close against one of the pillars on the bridge and pulling up the hood of the coat. He’d said he’d meet her here anyway, at the pillar with the plaque on it that said something about Richard Hawley. So here she was.

She was early though; much too early, really. He’d said he’d be here at three and it was only half-two now and he was always running late anyway. It might look like she was a bit too keen, getting here this early. But he knew that she was keen; very keen, absolutely mad keen in fact. She couldn’t wait to see him and tell him her news. So she stood, in the cold wind, on the old bridge, and she waited.

They’d only met a few months ago, up in the little park off Devonshire Street. She’d got sick of sitting in her dingy little council flat waiting for something to happen and so she’d put on a pair of denim shorts and a white lace top and gone to the park to sunbathe. It wasn’t really sunbathing weather but it was warm and dry and anything was better than being in that crappy little flat on her own. It was Wednesday and she was always skint by Wednesday and so the only things she could do were things that didn’t cost anything like that; sitting in the park and watching people. The little park was called Devonshire Green and it was a good place for that kind of thing, for people-watching. All sorts passed through here on a summer day: students; residents from the nearby flats; workers from the offices and shops in that area; boozers getting tanked, and lovers getting petty.

She always tried to imagine where all these people came from and what they did, tried to picture what happened in their lives. Where did the bearded drunk in the unfit suit go to sleep? Did the too-pretty blonde girl sitting reading on the bench clean her toilet properly, scrubbing it and bleaching it and scenting it as she did herself? What about the two lovers on the grass beside the path? Were they a couple or did they have other partners, ignorant of their cheating? She made up answers to her own questions as she sat on the grass, her knees hugged tight to her chest, her head rested on her arms. Sometimes these answers made her smile or even laugh out loud as she sat and watched these other lives meander past her.

Looking at other people was a way of avoiding looking at her own life. She had only arrived in the city last year, having trailed up here from Nottingham to be with her mother only to be abandoned again when her mother had found a new man and buggered off to Brighton with him. The council wouldn’t let her stay in the family house that they had been living in and so they had shunted her into a flat in the city centre. It was handy for the nightlife but she didn’t have a job and so she didn’t have the money to make the most of it. She’d tried to get a job a few times but she didn’t have a great employment record because she was always having to up sticks to follow her mother everywhere she went, and there were hundreds of other people after every job anyway, so she’d decided to give up trying for a while. She’d given up on her mother, too, now. She was sick of being deserted every time she managed to snare a new man. She wasn’t going to go running all the way down to the south coast to mop up the tears and the blood this time. Stuff her.

She’d been watching a little old couple having one of those silent fights that couples have when they’re in public, all snatched hands and held glares and spat whispers. It had been so funny that she’d laughed out loud again and they’d looked at her and she’d looked away and that was when she’d seen him.

He was laid out on the slope of grass to her right, hands behind his head, legs spread wide like a welcome. He wore jeans and a short sleeved shirt, unbuttoned so that everyone could see his muscled stomach and almost hairless chest. He was wearing sunglasses but the sun was almost overhead and the angle of the light got behind the lightly coloured lenses and she could see that his eyes were on her. She looked away but she knew he had seen her look at him. If she looked back again too soon he would know that she was interested, but that would be something only common, easy girls did, so she watched the furiously silent old couple again instead. After a little while she took off her sunglasses and made a show of polishing them, although she was really trying to look at him in the reflection of the mirrored lenses. She couldn’t find him anywhere, no matter how she angled the lenses. Instead, she held them up to the sky and then polished them against her top and held them up again and made a show as if a speck of dirt had fallen from them and landed in her eye. She turned her head to the slope of grass to her right and he was gone.


Get the full story in Steel Works.

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