Alice wakes as the first commuter train rolls into the station. Before opening her eyes she feels to make sure her handbag is still buttoned safely within her overcoat. The warm tongue of the Jack Russell teases the searching fingers.
“Good boy, Ben, you looked after Mummy.”
She’ll need to find a hostel soon, even if people do say bad things about them. It’s early December. Last night she kept warm sleeping by the air conditioning vents of an office building, moved on only once by a security guard. At least here they don’t hose your doss with water.
Rubbing the circulation back into her legs, she uses the wall to help her into a standing position. The arthritis starts to gnaw almost immediately. The only thing that will keep it at bay is movement. She squeezes back into her sensible flat shoes.
They take the stairs down to the station concourse, wheeled suitcase bumping down after them. Ben hates the elevator.
She counts out the change and descends into the ‘pay for your pee’ public toilets. In the cubicle, she changes her underclothes and stockings. The cream blouse and grey suit she wears again.
The last of the Elizabeth Arden moisturiser helps smooth some of the wrinkles in her seamed face.
Looking like an ordinary rail traveller, she enters one of the many coffee shops and purchases a pot of tea for breakfast.
A free newspaper left by an earlier customer confirms the world still functions without her. There’s doom and gloom and tales about celebrities. House repossessions are at record numbers. She frowns at the thought of being part of this statistic.
The commuters are arriving in floods. She’s come to identify the ‘clerks’ racing the clock; the heavy-booted ‘workers’; the ‘bosses’ meandering, unhurried croissant munchers.
Thinking of pastries stirs Alice’s hunger. She spends thirty minutes checking the telephone islands for rejected coins. She has to add from her hoard to buy a plain cheese roll.
The day passes her like a stream, hardly touching the bank. A walk down to the street market and a laugh with a fruit stall owner yields some apples.
She passes young people sitting on the pavement, heads down and a collection box in front of each of them. She selects a despondent boy and gives a note fished from the depths of her handbag. Now she has only small change to see the day through.
She thinks about buying another coffee and eating the apples. Perhaps a walk to the West End to see the Christmas lights will numb the pain in her legs.
Entering the pedestrian subway, a shove in the back sends her sprawling. Eyes full of tears do not register the youth pulling her handbag from her shoulder. She sees another youth, the one she gave the money, pick up her case and run away, laughing. People are fussing around her.
The same evening, sitting with a police woman, she is laughing. The case and all her clothes are gone but the handbag has been found, torn and muddy. The photograph of her husband is safe inside.
By day Mark Dalligan is a City banker but he shares his body with a writer who has started to emerge at night. He’s having some success, with work taken by Boston Literary Magazine, LitBits, Apollo’s Lyre, Bewildering Stories, MicroHorror, Static Movement, Clockwise Cat, Ranfurly Review, Twisted Tongue, Delivered and EDF.