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At the End of the Day

The fingers of sunlight withdraw, relinquishing their grasp. A button of a coat that had hung loose is fastened beneath the chin. Street lamps awaken. An old man dozes, his cheek brushing against the fabric of the armchair, his gnarled hands no longer clutching the crumpled newspaper that lays upon his belly. A fire goes out. A woman shivers as she enters the living room. She lowers herself to her knees. New logs are loaded, and the embers revived. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, her cat slips out the flap. Its eyes shine. The woman thinks of it as hers, but no cat would ever admit to having an owner. It walks the lonely touchline of a football pitch at the vacant school. There is life in the dark, if you know where to look for it.

A driver yawns. The radio is turned up, to keep her company. A procession of brake lights stretches over the crest of the hill. She will be home late again. The passenger in the adjacent car gazes at her. His mother was last to collect him from the match; she had missed the entire game. He had scored, but that did not seem to matter any more. The field had been muddy; his shorts are damp from where he fell. He wriggles in his booster seat. The teacher who doubles as a referee is already standing at a bar. A female colleague waits for him to return with drinks. He has expectations. His bed linen was changed that morning. She shuffles in her seat and draws her handbag close as a group of youths jostle into position around the next table. They look barely older than her pupils.

Home at last, the mother draws the curtains, tutting as passersby peer in from the street. She calls for her son to get changed and showered, but the boy is already in the bathroom, and out of earshot. There is a smudge of make-up on the mirror. His sister, a fog of mystery and black, is back from university, and riding the bus into town. There are friends there, as old as friends can be when a woman is still young. It is a long queue and the wind cuts through her outfit, but once inside the music is so loud that it fills everything, until there is no space for anything else. Shots: one, two, three. She raises her knuckle to the corner of her mouth to catch a stray drop. Good and bad are out and prowling, circling her. They may touch her, but none will ever learn her secrets.

A television flickers. The old man is woken again. Some rich fool prattles at him from the other side of the screen. He turns the volume down, then up, then down again. It is too quiet or too loud, never right. He jabs at the remote control. Nothing on, nothing on. Maybe he should just go to bed. There was a time when he had dreams. These days there is only the deep dark of sleep, and the roaring snoring that drove his wife to another room. When the lights are off, he peeks around the edge of the curtains. Trouble sometimes dances outside his door, but not tonight. Half a world seems dead. Half a day is night. There is life out there, if you know where to look, but he does not want to find it any more. Perhaps he will stir again in the morning. The alternative does not trouble him.

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