Grey scraggly clouds,
weeping tears of icy rain
hang over slated rooves.
Black sulphurous smoke
pours from dozens of chimneys,
fed by hot coal fires.
There are only cold ashes
and clinkers in ours.
Hand in hand we cross the common,
to the pensioner flats.
The long grass, wet, cold
drags at the bottom of my Macintosh.
Chill droplets disturbed from their resting place
slide down inside my wellington boots,
making me shiver as they find their way
into oft darned socks.
I don’t want to go.
I heard the raised voices,
We have no money,
he has to do it.
Whispered instructions as we walk,
It’s okay, it won’t hurt.
I want to ask,
What won’t hurt,.
The doorway to the stairwell
stares back at me.
Like a dark, cold eye.
I tell myself,
A monster lives here,
no one else would.
Tripe is cooking,
It makes me gag.
The stale aroma
rub against my legs.
She starts up the stairs,
I pull back.
There’s something up there.
The concrete stairs are cold,
They know the misery and hopelessness
of the elderly who climb them every day.
My misery is added to the history,
as one squelching step after another
I go upwards.
The drab green door with its
brass number hanging on it
A man’s voice,
old, tired invites us in.
Warm air embraces me,
wrapping me in cabbage smells.
The kitchen table is hidden under
old newspapers and dirty dishes.
A large red teapot sits amongst the clutter.
He sits on a bench and waves me over.
I back away,
she pushes me forward and follows.
Hands trembling he opens a leather purse
and shoves a few ten shilling notes in her hands.
Make sure yer Da gets them.
Backing away she turns and runs to the door,
I’ll be outside, you’ll be okay.
Yellowed teeth appear,
as his unshaven
wrinkled face breaks into a grin.
The tufted grey hair on his head,
what’s left of it, stands on end.
Spittle lurks in the corner of his mouth,
he wipes it away.
Take yer Mac off, it’s warm enough in here.
Trembling now I struggle out of it.
taps at the bench next to him,
C’mon Lad, sit.
The hand rests on my knee for a while,
before he runs it up and under
the leg of my shorts.
His breathing falters
and he leans towards me.
I already understand.
Voice catching in his throat
I’m going to like you.
She’s outside sitting on the stairs
like she said she would.
Hand in hand we walk slowly down them,
and head home,
taking the long way around the block.
He gave me a new thruppence and some caramels.
I take a few from my coat pocket and
share them with her.
I’ll tell nobody about the coin.
We look at each other,
words aren’t necessary.
that our lives
will never be the same.
Laurie Smith© 2013