High over South London

Three bodies, white underwear, bare skin, in troubled sleep on a mattress on the floor. One on his back, corpse-straight, chest and shoulders broad and flat, a T-shirt round his head like a badly wrapped turban. A second tucked like an embryo, his shape too small for his man feet and legs: a crooked body, knotted knuckles and dented fingernails from years of difficult work. His eyes, blue and clear as a fresh summer sky, are lost when he drinks. A young woman lies beside him, soft against these angles, defending herself from spiked knees and elbows. She has found temporary relief between the edge of the mattress and the sofa. Her stomach and legs are bone white, and her hair is short like a boy’s, a brutal cut to the head. The day brings wakefulness, as they cough through lack of air, with a bitter taste at the back of the throat. The walls are thick breeze block, the windows floor to low ceiling, with no curtains to keep out the rising heat and light. They might have slept in a room where the windows open, and the morning butterflies flitter in on a breeze, from over the bustle of Brixton Market, and the opening doors of St Matthew’s church as the crypt is cleared of its club night filth. They are high, surrounded by miles and miles of sky. They might have. But restless, their ears whistle still with a cellular memory of music too late and too loud, the desperate last drops of Limoncello once the beer and wine ran out. She rode on his back as if he were a horse, and he dropped her to the ground. Compressing her spine and stunting her tail, but she’d hardly felt it then. Will she learn? The bruise will be so large with such fine tones of yellow, purple and brown, that it will stop the drunks in their drinking, just for a moment, when she stands on the banquette to expose herself at the pub that afternoon.

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