The Bricks That Built the Houses

The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest

Book: The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kate Tempest
Tags: Fiction, Literary, General
present for a son he barely knows.
    ‘Because I’ve got a very important meeting to get to, and I
am
in a hurry, so if we could . . . erm . . .’ He checks his watch again. ‘Chop chop?’ he says.
    Fuck you
, she thinks.
Fuck. You
.
    She can see the next twenty years playing out in the space between the counter and the flat and the casting calls and the auditions she can’t get and the missed opportunities and the pie and mash and the pub and the injuries and her body in the mirror. Updating her profile page, happy in the photographs, smiling in her skintight sequins, diva week on
The X Factor
, shots for the road and lines and pills and arms around her friends as if it’s fine, it’s fine. But her muscles have a shelf life, and she is jealous of every struggling dancer in a company. Twenty years and she’ll be here, cleaning up the café, still trying to prove to Auntie Linda that she can trust her with the seasoning. Twenty years of nothing changing but the rent. Maybe she just doesn’t have what it takes. She forces herselfto snap out of it, but her mother rages drunken through her mind as shooting pains bite down inside her, somewhere near the liver.
    Pete heads out of the jobcentre. The security guard is still watching his reflection, making occasional menacing sweeps across the room with his bored, narrow eyes, wishing something would happen.
    The little old guy with the bad teeth is outside having an argument with a shopkeeper, smoking and swigging from a can of black cider. Schoolgirls throw chicken bones at each other and scream in the road and don’t move out of the way for cars. A few religious fundamentalists are shouting outside McDonald’s, watched by a group of angry adolescent boys, while community support officers patrol the perimeters, looking for kids to save or report. Pete watches an elderly couple walk gently through the chaos arm in arm and feels easier.
    He takes half a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, lights it, feels his stomach churn. He has one drag then throws it away. He steps into the café on the corner and closes the door behind him. There’s a girl clearing plates. He watches her move across the room. Light blue jeans and a long black jumper. Her necklaces and earrings flash gold in his vision; she sways as she walks, like a lion in the sun. He waits for her to get back behind the counter, smiling politely when she meets his eye.
    He is the first customer all day to shut the door behind him. Becky sends him her deepest gratitude.
    ‘Hello,’ she says. ‘What can I get you?’
    He puts his hands in his jacket pockets and turns to look at the blackboard. She watches his profile, the shape of his shoulders. He has hollow cheeks. He’s wearing black jogging bottoms, a battered Fred Perry jacket, collar up. A black cap. His clothes hang off him like sails on a still day. His face is long and gaunt, bruised with stubble. Not a handsome man exactly. His eyes are deep and round and watery, like dolphin’s eyes. He speaks slowly, working it out as he goes.
    ‘Can I have a strong cup of coffee, with no milk, and a bacon and egg sandwich on brown bread, please?’
    She nods. Time is slow as glass today. She watches the letters looping across the pad.
Bacon. Egg
. Looks back up at him.
    ‘Where will you be sitting?’
    ‘Over there.’ He points. ‘By the window.’
    ‘OK, I’ll bring it over,’ she tells him.
    ‘Cheers.’ He smiles and the sun blasts the desolate landscape of his face, turns it film-set perfect.
    She is surprised by the transformation. The smile fades though and his cheeks are hollowed and fretful again. His strange round eyes blink at her slowly. She waits for him to say something. He doesn’t. He drops his head into the slouch of his shoulders. Unsteady on his legs like he’s surprised at their length, he walks over to the table by the window. He hasa book in his jacket pocket, it looks like it’s trying to wriggle free. She hears it thud as it hits

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