The boy sits on a bridge, beneath an impossibly arcing sky. A sky peppered with whispers of winter cloud, a sky that reaches right down to touch the land.
He’s been here since dawn, sitting like a little brown bird, perched above the wide, rusting, rushing river. He’s been gripping the iron and listening to the call of the fisherman on the water below; occasionally thrusting his face into the steam of the trains that rattle from bank to bank, trying to catch their sooty kisses; trying to taste where they might have been.
From where he sits he can see for miles, see far across the Fen, over the frost tinged furrows of a thousand fallow fields. Can see three church spires, straight, proud, like tall ships sailing through the flat unyielding land. He can see, believes he can even touch, the blue-grey of a jet’s wing as it tips and banks over the marsh, on the way back to the base beyond. The war’s over now but it seems no one’s told the planes.
It’s nearly November, almost too late in the year to be hanging about the ironworks of this old creaking bridge. Almost too cold to sit like a spider on the crisscrossed metallic web, with his feet hanging in mid-air just the way he promised his Mam he wouldn’t sit.
But thought of those pennies in his pocket keeping him warm. They knock against his thigh as he runs them through his fingers, turning them. Counting them.
Five pennies, five days pay, five days of watching for a soldier.
He has collected the coins, one by one, each afternoon at sunset, from the farmer up by the lighthouse. Who looks up eagerly from the plow, or from his chickens when the boy strolls stiffly up the path.
The farmer whose hope flares and then slowly dies when he sees the boy is walking there alone.
The same farmer who glances quickly up to the house furtively checking for his wife at the window. And then with disappointment in his eyes, asks in a low, strangled voice ‘Not today?’
The farmer who, when the boy shakes his head, silently hands over yet another penny, but leans close and whispers.
‘See you same time tomorrow.’
Rachel Canwell is a blogger, reader, writer and teacher; but not always in that order. She is currently working on her first novel and falling in love with flash a little more every day.