She waits for the pelican to change to green. To her left, two men lean against the railings at the roadside. A cyclist pulls up at the crossing as the lights change. She makes her way across to the central reservation. Over the road, a few people are already waiting for the bus. The green man tells her to walk again. Opposite her is the pub where they had spent the last Saturday evening of January.
She grabbed the handle and pulled it open. A light above her turned on as she stepped out. She reached for the railings ahead of her and clutched the cool black metal, breathing deeply. The door clicked shut behind her. The ground far below her was uneven. There were several cobbles missing in the alleyway.
She straightened up and leant back against the door. Her hand was shaking. He was infuriating. Every time, he did this to her. She had had to get out of there, had craved the cold and the fresh air. Pressing one hand against the wall to steady herself, she reached down with her other arm to slide her shoes off. Her body dropped down a few inches. She sat down on the steps under the light. Her fingers still trembling a little, she reached up into her hair and pulled out pins to release her updo. She lined them up one by one on the step beside her. One fell through the gaps between stairs. She watched it land in a pothole below her.
An extractor fan hummed, low and steady. The sound was hypnotic and, as she sat staring ahead to a network of pipes that scaled the back of a building, her frustration receded a little. A shriek of laughter went up inside. She stood up, leaning down to gather up the hair grips, depositing them in her pocket. Smoothing down her dress, she galvanised herself to head back indoors. She placed a stiletto on the step and held onto the railing. As she leaned down to guide her foot back inside, her attention was caught by something glittering. Above her, against the dark, was a faint silhouette of a tree and the odd glint of light. She put her foot back down onto the metal step and watched for a while. Something about the intermittent sparkling touched her. A relic from Christmas, she supposed, that had been moved outside to be disposed of later, then forgotten. Now abandoned, it remained, still standing. Defiant.
She glanced back at the door. A bass line thudded inside. She hooked a finger into the heels of her shoes and walked down the steps. The cobbles at the bottom were cold and she had to watch her footing to avoid the empty cups and dead packaging that congregated in the dips in the ground. Pausing by a plastic bin that lurched precariously, wheels akimbo, she looked upwards. The light over the fire escape had gone out and the glittering had stopped. She turned and walked away, out of the alleyway and right. Red stilettos hanging from her hand, she kept going all down the street, never looking back. She hadn’t spoken to
The bus isn’t due for another few minutes. She ventures down the alleyway to the back of the pub. Empty bottles rest up against the walls. In the square, a crowd of satellite dishes strains towards the sunlight. An aerial reaches into the clouds and towers over the rooftops but it is an anachronistic prop that takes centre stage. Her secret hidden from the crowds outside. Radiant turquoise foliage with blue fairy lights. Resplendent against red brick and brilliant under cold blue sky. She stands for a moment. In the sunlight, her tree is silently beautiful even among the clutter. She smiles and heads back out into the city. Passing the bus queue, she walks down the wide street, continuing towards its vanishing point.