The Shortest, The Coldest
By Craig Melville
Location: The railway arch on Pomona Strand
This story was the winner of our Rainy City Love Stories competition
Ged could feel her angry grip, clawing his face and wringing the air from his lungs.
Each burst of coughing returned some memories. There had been a house in Crumpsall. Thick curtains admitted the palest spectrum of dusty light. A tenner was enough, though the dealer sniffed at the sweaty handful of smash. Brown splotched mattresses had long replaced any other furnishing. Snow was falling as he staggered back to the city. He had caught a flake in his mouth and let it dissolve on his tongue. Solmonath, Helmiku, Hornung, Intercalaris. He would soon know all her names.
There was something unusual about today. It was bitter but there were more people on the streets. December was cold but was tempered by Christmas, and January delivered its afterbirth, the reflected warmth of sales, calorific guilt and unwanted gifts. Men and women were walking hand in hand, crowding restaurants and bars. The merriment seemed forced. The laughter empty and conversation tinged with desperation. It was a special day but Ged had long forgotten its meaning. Slumped in the sheltered hollow outside McDonalds, he gazed helplessly at the citizens as he drifted.
The sores on his leg had broken. Had he a knife, he would have cut out the flaking, itchy flesh – just like he had done at the café, taking out the grey-green spots from the joints of meat. The rest was good to eat. Last week, that Scottish guy went to the Royal and had his leg cut off. No, no, no. Don’t shoot below. He would avoid hospital at any costs. Once, he had been forced to go. The cold blade had entered skin, fat and veins, settling itself in his soft kidney. Nurses and doctors turned their noses like he was a piece of shit. The sharp bite of spirits on open flesh. Bloody council, leaving that railing lying around. Lucky I don’t sue. I’m sure you really don’t give a fuck about it anyway. You can do without the paperwork and that suits me just fine.
The first two months had been the hardest. The second more than the first because after the initial excitement of life on the street comes the sober realisation of all it entails. That didn’t mean to say that Ged had been raped. When strangers had offered him a room, the meaning had always been implied and the conditions non-negotiable. When love entered his life these days, it was normally of the quick physical variety. Not much time for foreplay when you’re freezing your bollocks off. Her touch burned trees, car windows and other stricken faces. She was unfaithful but Ged did not mind. Her bitter breath was a reminder that he was alive.