168. In the clear grey heavens, flashing silver birds roar from here to America and back. The red-eye passengers peer at the brown fields, the specks of farms, the orange-blotch towns, the weak twinkle of blue Christmas lights.
Acres of spider-webbed rushes stretch below the contrails and the rooks’ caws. Cattle-shed stock puff steam into the December air, crunching silage, greeting the pale sun with soft calls across the fields. Massey 135’s stutter to life and lift black bales after warm breakfasts. Kettles sputter and spit on ranges, the slant of sweet turf smoke rises above the cottages. The flat caps and wellington boots worry; the price at the factory gates or the next cut in subsidy.
Suburban homes on estates, stretch from the edge of the fields, huddling around the city. In the gloom, garden snowmen and reindeer stare at the shuddering commuting cars; heaters on full blast, demisting the night. Toast pops, kettles click, microwaves ping as the breakfasters creep across the lino. Children are coaxed from warm beds for porridge and uniforms; homework checked, lunches packed. Families pour from houses they can’t afford, dropping off their shivering children, before following the sluggish herds to jobs they can’t afford not to.
Apartments and bedsits rise to the clatter of doors through walls too thin. Broken marriages and single parents sit for the first fifteen minutes, wondering about the electricity bills and the water charges. More children are gently shaken to thin breakfasts and second-hand coats. School buses rumble, heaters blasting dry air and cold viruses. Screams, shrieks and tears; lost tickets and forgotten copies.
Strung from the lamp posts, the Seasons Greetings sparkle beneath the amber tinted, city clouds. 12 pubs staggerers stumble past, bearing traffic cones and take-out wrappers. Short skirts teeter on four inch stiletto heels, complaining about toes and blistered ankles, still clinging to half-empty wine bottles and half-smoked cigarettes. The street sweepers rise, drinking hot, sweet tea, before the dawn’s clearing of paper napkins, broken beer bottles and puddles of puke. A few early cyclists flit past parked cars; ruck-sacks, yellow vests and flashing red lights.
The buildings of limestone and granite wake as the boilers switch on; heating pipes click and hum. The windows bleed white and yellow light, casting long shadows across the chill-damp pavements. Delivery vans pull up on double yellow lines and flash their hazard lights, emptying cardboard boxes of this and that into half-open, roller-shuttered shops. Dog walkers and joggers trip past each other; tired suits step from buses and trams, staring at screens for today’s news and tomorrow’s weather.
The gates of the parliament glisten with the night’s lost mist, security guards fluoresce beneath caps, ushering slick-black and silver cars. Behind tinted windows, shirts and ties clutch phones and laptops. Advisors mutter to ears that are deaf and eyes that are blind. Radio and TV studios pour coffee and lukewarm water for Minister this and Opposition that; policy explanation, counter argument, Twitter comments, bitter texts, Facebook polls.
In the doorways and alleys another population stirs. Damp sleeping bags writhe and spit their contents onto the streets to start another day of wandering from soup kitchen to no-room hostels, cheap cider or hard drugs. Sick bodies and ill minds, forgotten by the slick-black passengers, the suburban people carriers. Left behind by the roaring silver birds, left behind by the recovery and the tax cuts; left behind by the welfare system. Charity cases, street beggars, rough sleepers, drug addicts, alcoholics. 168 went to sleep last night. 167 woke up. One less to worry about. One less homeless person that needed help. One less son. One less human being. One less of us.by