A Meeting on the Doorstep

The girl in the red dress clicked her head around and realised she knew him – even if the boy in the brown coat had grown a little since they last saw each other and she, pitifully, had released him from their dalliance. She opened her red lips.

'Is that you?'

The boy was stocky but hunched under the weight of his drenched coat. Recognition spread over his face like ink across wet paper.

'It's me. What are you doing here?' He pointed to the sign which used to read 'Beauties' before the last three vowels had putted out.

'Nick. What about you?'

'Nick. Do you still smoke?'

'Can't afford it.' She didn't make her own money. 'Well, just a quick one. How did he get you?'

The boy groped about in his pockets; cigarettes, wrappers, a knife, coins, money wads. He wasn't making his own money either.

'It just happened. You?'

'It just happened. I got worn down, I suppose. It's strange, you weren't ever like your family.'

'You weren't much like yours.'

'I must be a bit like them.' She stretched the red dress over her knees. 'What does Nick want you for?'

'He told me to come for a drink. I'm doing a good – I'm working well.'

'Oh… Did he say much?'

'Just to come around twelve.' He watched her red cheeks, her red nose from the cold, the red of her burning cigarette. He fingers found waxy paper in the dark crevices of his pocket; he wonder if she still chewed the same cherry gum. 'How's business?'

'Bloody booming.'

'How much does he tell you to make?'

'Tonight? Two hundred.'

'How much so far?'

'Nearly there.'

From the brown coat his clenched hand rose with a crumpled bouquet of notes, which he counted fast like they'd flicker and fade:
onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightninetentwentythirtyfourtyfiftysixtyseventyeightyninetyhundredtwothree...

'Everything in my pockets,' he said, flinging in a little clear packet of green crystals. 'Will you say it for everything there?'

Her curly hair shook around her.

'It'd be like selling myself.' She picked up the sachet and held it up, watching its strange glow under cracked bulbs. 'Is this the new one?'

'Lyre.'

'Funny name. It's not for you, is it?'

'It's for money.'

'Oh. You'll never get out of it if you start.'

'I know. Have you tried it?'

'Only to clean pipes with. It's twelve. Will Nick want you?'

The boy nodded and fastened his brown top button, muttering, 'I'll see you when things get better,' as he stepped over the grimy threshold and vanished under infernal, coppery lights. Finishing her cigarette, the girl stared up at the streaks of shattered starlight seeping through the tangled clouds. She heard footsteps as the last cluster of ash fell.

'Did he have much to say?'

'Not really. Come on to the car.'

'Why?'

'To drive.'

'Makes a change. Where to?'

He shrugged, dropping into the passenger seat.

'Have you got your seatbelt on?'

'Yes. Hurry up. And thank you, by the way,' he added, unbuttoning and shedding the brown coat to show his reddened shirt, the stains as bright as a bloodied fleece.

518 words.