The street lights shone through the front window of the stationary car. It painted their faces the glowing yellow of cartoon characters. Her skin was smooth and unlined and on her face the light seemed like the background wash of a watercolour. His face was pocked and unshaven and on him the light gave the rougher, grainy look of an old photograph. The lights drew thick, delineating shadows around their faces. It made the scene seem even more artificial, like a page from a comic book.
He glanced at her. She had looked at him once or twice. Most of the time they faced forward along the deserted back street where the car was parked. The street had been re-surfaced at some time in the recent past to service the new buildings up ahead of them. The old buildings around them were decaying and crumbling into ruin. Buddleia and bramble spilled out onto the patched and uneven pavement. They seemed to have been sown to fill the spaces between the derelict buildings around them.
“Do you know the name of that road?” he said, pointing straight forward.
The road in front of them ran past some old brick buildings on the right. It curved left at a crossing towards a large modern building.
“No,” she replied. She hadn’t spoken for a while so her throat had dried and it made her voice crack slightly. It made her sound nervous.
“Workhouse Lane,” he said. “Somewhere around here was where they built the first workhouse in the city.”
“Really,” she said. Her reply was automatic. She seemed to be thinking of something else.
“Yes,” he said.
They were silent again. They listened to the irregular sound of the cars running along the road behind the brick houses. The rain made the tyres of the cars sound sticky as they rolled along the road.
“Do you know the name of this road?” he said. “The one we’re on now?”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head.
He smiled. “It’s called Love Street.”
She looked at him, raising her eyebrows.
“Honestly,” he said. “We’re on Love Street, looking towards Workhouse Lane.” He laughed. “Love really does lead to the workhouse. Very Gabriel and Bathsheba, don’t you think?”
“Who?” she said.
“Not a Hardy fan then?”
He flicked the windscreen wipers to clear the drizzle that had settled on the windscreen. They squeaked backwards and forwards three times before coming to rest again.
“What are we doing here?” he said, leaning forward and resting his hands on the steering wheel.
She looked down and gripped her small handbag with both hands. “I don’t know,” she said.
He leaned further forward and placed his mouth on the back of his hands. He looked up into the city-lit night sky, at the trickles of rainwater running down the windscreen.
“I think we’ve made a mistake,” he said.
Get the full story in Steel Works.