by Luke Otley
two fellas, one shorter, looks worriedly over shoulder, kept dry under union jack umbrella held by taller mate. Step tip topping in and out of gutter – yellow lines smudged from long ago careless hand – headlights roll on, the road stretches every which way as a black, boiling sea. The buses are always full of faces, stationary contortions caught like grandma used to say the wind would do – red brick, postbox, rain swashes to and fro. Blue fingered chef ahead of me, reflection, bends to preparation, responds to joke but looks serious – few customers, bar staff feign business, pigtails and maroon skirts fluttering like sail in cross-wind, or tent wall. First floor of building opposite, large chalkboard on wall, windows tall and revealing. Man rubs eyes in frustration, not tiredness, moves untouched dinner from one table to the next, focuses on problem out of sight – lights cigarette, standing then pacing, scratches chin. I come to as if from a cheap magician’s trick, and full and heady sadness seeps into my underside, moving and filling till it reaches the throat. The traffic shudders and jolts like a thing just barely clinging to life – door opens – couple around 30, late 20s, sees me, I compose myself and adapt an appropriate unglazed but also nonchalant expression – a half smile cracks on my lips like autumnal leaf. They sit and bound into an animated conversation, she doing most of the talking. the older couple behind them sit silent and sad, though at least not on their phones.