Published in Modern Literature
He lay on the road under the lights, green, orange, red, green, orange, his cheek on the warm tarmac, his limbs hinged at weird angles, akin to the shop attendant showing the mannequin who is in charge. Pain coursed through him and he sensed a shifting. Pedestrians leaned over him, their voices close but far. ‘My God, he’s alive, how terrible.’ ‘Has someone called emergency?’ He coughed up blood and thought of the rag doll he gave his niece. A face entered his frame of vision, a woman crouching, dismay moving in her eyes. ‘What happened?’ he asked, faint-voiced. ‘A bag snatcher careened into you,’ the woman said, her stockinged knee pressing into the street by his head. ‘Knocked you right off the curb.’ A man’s sobs and words reached him, ‘No way could I stop my van, just no way.’ The woman linked her fingers through his, hers warm, his cold. But he couldn’t hold on properly, something was wrong with his grip. He shut his eyes. The woman pinched his cheek. Why couldn’t she just let him rest, get his strength back? ‘What’s your name?’ she asked. ‘Davey.’ ‘I’m Nina. Squeeze my hand, Davey.’ ‘I can’t.’ A siren echoed through the skyscrapers, louder than the sobbing van driver. ‘My watch was in for repairs,’ Davey said. ‘I came to the city today to collect it.’ ‘Davey, where’s the pain?’ ‘I have to go, he said. I have to pick up Robbie from school.’ ‘You can’t go, Davey.’ ‘Tell Robbie this wasn’t my idea. Ruffle his hair for me.’ ‘I will.’ He watched the clouds float past. He blacked out. His eyes flickered open. ‘We were lucky, Robbie and I,’ he said, ‘we got the final tickets to the circus, the last matinee.’ ‘Tell me about it,’ Nina said. ‘The contortionist wrapped her feet around her head, like she had no skeleton, pure rubber she was. At the end of the act she dropped through a hole on the stage. The spotlight stayed on the hole, the audience transfixed by the beam in the dark, dust motes dancing.’ ‘So, did the contortionist pop up again?’ ‘No.’ ‘What act followed her?’ ‘Interval. I banged my watch on the drinks counter, the time stopped.’ He winced from the pain of speaking. ‘Tell me another circus story,’ Nina said. She was on both knees now, her head close to catch his whispery voice. ‘The trapeze act was great, performers flying through the air, the spotlights on them. The amazing thing is they performed without a net.’ Blood trickled from his mouth. Nina took his other hand. Davey savoured the warmth of her skin, his last human touch.