by Cath Holland
It’s pissing down the day the pavement in our street gets pulled up. Men in hi-viz jackets wait in a big yellow truck as bright as a new toy and climb down from the cab once they get lucky with a dry spell. Prise thick slabs of century-old York stone out of the ground, eyes never meeting ours.
‘There’ve been too many falls and broken bones. Be better once the path’s smooth and nice for you.’
How dare they? They’ve got no right to take what’s not theirs! And we’re not stupid. We know the stones are going somewhere posh, at the top of the hill.
They say to stay inside where it’s safe but we watch as the bitter hot tar is poured out into the gap the stones left behind, deeper than you’d think. Steam coming off the glossy black honks something rotten and swells our lungs sore, reddens eyes and makes them cry.
Mrs Johnson from up the road, she’s got a puppy. One of those Shih Tzus. She dotes on him, coddles him like a newborn. Mrs Johnson cuts her own hair, colours it with a box dye from Asda but takes Murphy to the dog groomers in town, pays 25 quid a pop to make sure fur doesn’t hang in his eyes and matt around his back end.
Murphy scarpers across the surface of the tar, all of us looking on, and yelps high and sharp in shock. His hollow paw prints dissolve into nothing in seconds, like he was never there.
The steam vanishes as the tar cools into tarmac, blackcurrant nuggets firm up the juicy treacle. The stink lingers. We taste it for weeks when we breathe through our mouths. The tar wasn’t hefty enough as it turns out or maybe the hi-viz men did a rush job, a bit of both probably, but bit by bit the middle dips into the shape of a saucer and after a storm rainfall fills to the brim with water. Leaves float, settle thick on top, tangle and jam pram wheels to a standstill. Ice water spits up at the lightest footstep anywhere near, bites hard through your socks. In the end we swerve the new pavement and walk in the gutter instead. It’s quicker, easier. We get used to it. Anyway, be summer soon enough. Mrs Johnson’s still not written to complain to the council over Murphy’s burnt pads or the York stone being took but just you bloody wait! Because she will, and when she does, they needn’t think they’ll get away with this, not any of it, right?
Cath Holland is a writer of fiction and fact based on Merseyside. She is published in Mslexia, Know Your Place – Essays on the Working Class (Dead Ink Books), Story Cities (Arachne Press), NFFD anthologies, Fictive Dream, Spontaneity and lots more beautiful places in print and online. Twitter: @cathholland01