by Lucy Rose Williams
The church clock strikes eight, so those villagers who are awake know without checking that it is six. A cock crows. A body lies across the doorstep of the church, a line of crumb-carrying ants marches across the fedora covering its face. There is a serene, momentary quiet after the chimes cease. A figure glides past the church wall, before the silence is cracked by a baby crying.
The figure picks up speed and pushes a large navy blue coach pram over the cobblestones. The cries start to bounce along the air as the wheels speed over the lumps in the road. Her black stilettos navigate the rise and fall of the stones with ease as she strides onwards, diagonally across the middle of the square, her fitted jacket accentuating her perfect figure. She fixes her gaze at the empty bench in the far left corner, oblivious to the noises spurting out of the pram.
When she reaches the bench, she does not sit down. Instead she turns her back to the pram and fixes her stare on the green door ahead of her.
Whoever she is waiting for is testing her patience, as she fidgets and adjusts her scarf, tucking her long hair into her roll neck sweater to stop it blowing over her face. She adjusts her skirt around her thighs and checks the time.
Ten minutes pass and the crying stops. This new silence is broken only a few times by some bikes crossing the square. The green door opens and a woman with curlers in her hair, wearing a long powder blue silk dressing gown, stands in the doorway. She beckons the woman towards her but the woman shakes her head and looks away.
The woman in the doorway reaches for a long fur coat from the coat rack and a large grey fur hat. She puts the coat over her dressing gown and slips off her slippers in favour of long leather boots. She starts to button them up the sides and the woman by the bench looks at her watch.
She doesn’t make any eye contact with the lady in the fur as she approaches, and as soon as the pram has been handed over she tightens her belt up a notch around her thin cotton jacket and marches back across to the church on the opposite side of the square. She isn’t as sure-footed this time, and her cheap heels start to wobble, getting stuck every few paces. She starts to stagger and reaches a bench just in time to let it catch her weight. Her feet look narrow and birdlike, and the plastic black shoes look as though they are painted on her feet as they twist into the gaps in the cobbles. Her toes wrap around the stones like an eagle gripping on to a perch.
Her scraggy hair has come out of her roll neck sweater on one side and she tries to adjust it and wedge it back while she tightens up the rag of a scarf she found, and heaves her shoulders up and down, inhaling deep breaths of icy air, and exhaling steamy bursts. She bends forward and rummages in her pockets. She pulls out a photograph and holds it in her blueing hands. Her breathing gets faster and more frantic and she pulls off her gloves to rub her thumb over the photo. She rubs the baby’s face over and over again before collapsing forward with her head between her knees, gasping for breath.