by Dilys Rose
ZBIG STANDS IN the back lane beside bin bags gutted by a seagull or a city fox, shields his cigarette against the gritty wind and considers his choices:
go back inside after the smoke break and deck the money-grabbing bastard boss who docked his wages for being late to work—
go home to his wife, a local girl he might not have given a second look but when the baby was on the way he wanted to do the decent thing and now his bastard boss has docked his wages—
go round to the corner shop, buy a flat quarter bottle, or maybe a half—either would slip into his pocket—do the rounds of the park bench boozers, stop when he hears folk speaking his own language—
go back inside wearing the chiselled smile of a man who has no alternative—
go back inside and trash the place—
go back inside, slip on the boss’s leather jacket with the fur collar and leave like a weasel—
phone Tad, the bright-eyed dolt who followed him here, who’d swallowed the shit he’d fed him about grass is greener and life is sweeter—check whether the doctor has seen to his head wound and if the kid’s not out cold let rip about his bastard boss who can’t understand that a man has other things to think about than the lunchtime service—
dig loose change from his pockets, take a bus to the coast, fill his lungs with sea air, scoop up handfuls of damp sand, let the soggy grains slip through his fingers and add up how much more, for how much longer—
go to the skanky internet caf, check online for cheap flights home—right now the trees would be golden, the plums ripe, his mother standing with a full basket at the end of the narrow plot, squinting into the fat, autumn sun, the crackling sky loaded with thunder, the slow, sweet-voiced girl from high school, pouring beer and plum brandy in the village bar, laughing at jokes about the ones that got away and not caring about her bad teeth—
Zbig’s smoke—and his break—are done. He lights up another.
Dilys Rose lives in Edinburgh and is a novelist, short story writer and poet. She has published twelve books, most recently Unspeakable (Freight, 2017), a fact-based historical novel, and a poetry pamphlet, Stone the Crows (Mariscat Press, 2020). Sea Fret (Scotland Street Press, 2022) is her sixth collection of short stories https://www.scotlandstreetpress.com/product/sea-fret.