The sun slips behind a cloud bathing the street in cool shadow as I approach the end of the street, but I am suddenly warm. Sweat gathers on my collar and drips down my back. My case should be lighter, but is a lead weight dangling from my arm and my heart is beating too fast. I try to appear nonchalant, rearranging my features even though I know it is pointless. These women do not need books to read and in their sideways glances I feel them perusing my thoughts.
Iris Tilling has not given me cause to linger by her gate in a very long while, but my footsteps falter anyway. My gait slows as I approach a house that is the same as any other and conceals a life no more diverse or charmed than any other, but whose charms transcend all others. For a terrible moment I see nothing but an empty yard, dark windows and a closed door and I am overcome by foolishness. I am not as young as I could be and the bravado is only an act that all the world is aware of. The occupant of the next yard passes me a look that would shrivel a cabbage and I nod, flash her an unfounded smile and take a step closer to her neighbour’s gate.
Once at the gate to the Tilling’s yard I stop, halted by the rush of realised hope that washes me down to my underwear. I could stand for an eternity watching her scrub her back step. The sight of a well-rounded rump jostling above the soles of a pair of a well-worn slippers provides all the sustenance I could ever need, but it is unseemly and I stand silent and undecided as to the direction of my next move. My bravado has withered and taken with it any means to uphold propriety other than to turn away and return to my van under a cloud of regret.
‘Ere Iris…You got a visitor.”
I do not have the presence of my mind to thank her neighbour. Instead I fumble with my hat, all too aware that my face has turned as red as the tub of geraniums adorning her yard.
“Hello Mrs Tilling. Nice day don’t you think?”
“Not too shabby…”
Her response is delayed by a slow rising pirouette concealing her nether assets and revealing two even more outstanding and slightly damp.
I am too overcome for words and hear only the drumming of my heart. She looks at me with eyes that shine like sapphires and wipes away a loose strand of hair brushing the rose of her granite cheek, while I chase dreams in the dirt with the toe of my shoe.
Nothing more is said but a shared polite goodbye under the returned rays of the sun flooding over the summit of the slagheap. But in the second before she turned away I am sure I saw the granite crack and the sapphire wink.
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