The boy sits on a bridge, beneath an impossibly arcing sky. A sky peppered with whispers of winter cloud, reaching down to the touch the land.
He’s been here since dawn, a little brown bird, perched above the rushing river. Gripping the iron and listening to the call of the fisherman; occasionally thrusting his face into the steam of trains rattling from bank to bank, trying to catch their sooty kisses; trying to taste where they have been.
He can see for miles, far across the Fen, over the frosty furrows of a thousand fallow fields. Can see church spires, like tall ships sailing through the flat unyielding land. He sees, believes he can touch, the blue-grey of a jet’s wing as it tips and banks over the marsh. The war’s over but no one’s told the planes.
It’s nearly November, too late in the year to be hanging about the iron works of this creaking bridge. To sit like a spider on this metallic web, with his feet hanging just the way he promised his Mam he wouldn’t sit.
But thought of those pennies are keeping him warm. They knock against his thigh as he runs them through his fingers, turning them.
Five pennies, five days of watching for a soldier.
He collects the coins, each afternoon at sunset, from the farmer by the lighthouse. Who looks up eagerly from his chickens when the boy strolls stiffly up the path.
The farmer whose hope flares, then slowly dies when he sees the boy walking there alone.
The farmer who glances quickly, checking for his wife at the window. And then asks in a strangled whisper ‘Not today?’
The farmer who, when the boy shakes his head, silently hands over another penny, but leans close and whispers.
‘Same time tomorrow.’
First published in Sledgehammer Lit in October 2021.