Sixth day standing at this bus stop staring across at him in the bookies, he comes out plunging his wallet into the inside pocket of his jacket and punches the air, and I turn away, turn up the collar of my coat, and wait for the bastard to cross the road and pass me, but he doesn’t, nah, he’s straight into MacLaverty’s for a victory pint and I have to wait another hour, hour and a half, two bloody hours before he comes sloping out, saunters across the road, past the bus stop, and I’m taking my time behind him, forcing myself to go slow and not have him see me, Christ if he can see anything, but he’s not so pissed he’s forgot about his winnings, he stops, sways, pivots on his left foot, almost facing me, so I turn to a shop window — the shop that used to be the Co-op where she would get what she could on the tick, far from where the neighbours went — see his reflection, see him slap his jacket pockets, satisfied, jerks his right leg forward and careers alongside the unemployment office, up over the old railway bridge, clasping the chest high handrails, mesh running between rusting ornate iron, and I’m feeling dizzy now, not because of the height; the distance of years rattles under me as I reach the middle of the span — I held her hand tight as the trains tore below and she laughed, told me how as a girl she would stand at that same spot, blasts of steam streaming around her, and she said… she said it was like a release — I hear him grunt and he stumbles down the last three steps, catches the railing and swings to his left as I come up fast behind him, and he turns, all snarly, like he knows what’s coming, opens his mouth, and I give him a one-two rapid to his puss then his paunch, and he’s sprawled out before me, eyes rolled up into his skull and no strength to stop me, so I throw open his jacket, root inside the pocket and take out the wallet, but he rallies, reaches for me, clawing the bloody air, wanting my throat to be there, but I’m leaning back, flicking through the notes, one hundred, five hundred, a grand and a half, and he’s bawling now, snotters and mangled words, and my fingers are past the cash, and there she is, face banged up against the plastic window, broken nose and a cigarette burn below her left eye — as careless with her image as he was with her life — I slap the wallet onto his chest, spit in his face, walk away, like she never could, hear him sit up and count the money, but I’m up on the bridge, pausing in the middle of it, feeling her near me, feeling that release.
What I’ve taken from him is more than I’ve had in years.
Peter Burns has previously been published in the Bath Short Story Anthology 2021, Flashback Fiction and FlashFlood Journal for UK’s National Flash Fiction Day. He was the winner of Flash 500 in autumn 2020, and was placed third in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly short story competition. He holds an MA in Creative Writing and a BA in Literature, both from the Open University.