by Tracy Fells

The punters stroll past, then scurry like terriers after a bitch on heat when they catch a whiff of me. But someone always has time for a Hullo there…how are you today, Jakey? Shame these kind words aren’t meant for me. Sometimes the visible, even the suits, bow down to my level, down to earth, to exchange a greeting and toss a coin.

A woman with a tense, lacquered perm stops to look down at us. Her house-sized handbag swinging close to my head. ‘Disgusting.’ She spits out the words as if they taste as bad as they sound. ‘How can anyone treat a poor creature like this? It shouldn’t be allowed.’ With a sniff she waddles off without leaving a donation.

The next day the mare with the plums stuck in her gob returns. She takes up most of the pavement, her legs stiffen like tree trunks in front of me as she prepares to make her announcement. I don’t think she’s talking to me. ‘This poor animal needs a good home,’ she says in an overloud voice.

Wiping my hand under my nose I flick wet snot towards her. If Jakey chooses to sleep rough with an embittered, sorry excuse for a man then that’s his prerogative. We have a working arrangement, me and Jakey. His wagging tail and soppy eyes pulls in the punters and they shamefully spill their change. They’re not feeding a habit, or condoning my non-existence, but sustaining my dog. With a squeaky conscience they can walk on, returning their wilting heads up high.

Slipping on a collar and lead the woman catches poor Jakey, and me, by surprise then drags him across the road, his nails scratching the tarmac in protest. I shout after her and try to stand but my sad old legs buckle and I crumple back into my sleeping bag.

Without my companion nobody sees me. No more coins come my way. No soft words for Jakey and no more words for me. I dissolve into the pavement; fade to grey, and then to nothing. Invisibility doesn’t take any skill—there’s no art to it, all you have to do is live on the streets.

Tracy Fells has won awards for both fiction and drama. Her stories are widely published in magazines, online and in anthologies. She is the 2017 Regional Winner (Canada and Europe) for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She tweets as @theliterarypig and is seeking a publisher for her short story collection.