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By Neil Beynon
“…I love that curl,” he sighs, flicking the errant lock with his finger as he struggles to finish his carefully crafted and crumbling segue. “I’m going to miss it.”
Mary looks at him with her big brown eyes, bright with the sheen of chained tears; her hair hangs in wild ringlets that refuse to be tamed and frame the light gold of her face. Over the pungent smell of bitumen from the sweating street he can smell faint undertones of strawberry. She always smells of strawberries.
The street is empty save for them. No people. No cars. No one much wants to drive far under the circumstances. Those that are have gone already; fled faraway to the arms of family, friends and faith while the people left behind huddle close in the abandoned detritus.
She blinks as if punctuating a question that hangs unspoken. He reflects that she has eyes that other women would kill for. Hell, if he continues to look into those big brown eyes staring up at him he might just drown. Then again maybe not, his resolve – at least – would falter.
And so he looks away. Up at the stone wheel hanging in the sky above the city, an axe poised over their heads, an axe that will either kill them or set them free – depending on whom you ask.
It is a chance glance. Yet he looks up in time to see a section of the lower side of the stone disc, the quadrant high above and to the front of him, roll back. Above his head the inside of the disc yawns wide, airless and black. He can see nothing within.
“Would you look at that,” he says.
He turns to look for Mary but the street is empty. She has walked away, footsteps hidden by the rubber soles of her shoes, leaving the ring he gave her abandoned on the ground. He picks it up as if it is an alien thing he has never seen before, both surprised and not surprised. A schizophrenic response for a schizophrenic day.
Perhaps it is for the best, he thinks, his memory dwelling on her blinking eyes. Then he turns back to the gaping mouth looming large above him, a hollow black that seems to swallow the light and bleed shadow.
He shivers; a vague sense of disappointment draped over his shoulders. He wraps his arms around himself as if trying to capture something, something ethereal: heat perhaps? Or is it the smell of strawberries that has dissipated so quickly? Whatever it is has already flown. He is standing alone in the dishwater grey street with his goose bumps and the smell of atrophying bitumen.
Casually, he wonders what happens next.