The Boulevard Of Broken Glass
This story is cross-posted at 50YFN here.
Siân Hannigan crossed from nTown into nHigh via underpass, the carriageway traffic rumbling above her. She exited onto the broken-down street, paused to get her bearings, and moved on.
In some parts of town, the ground crunches underfoot – accumulated years of discarded glass, broken and ground down, coat the concrete pavements. The city gave up on maintaining these streets. Crossing the imaginary boundary from nTown to nHigh, Siân stepped onto one of these glittering pathways. Like a native, she took it in her stride.
You’re going to Northam High, you wear boots, you walk careful, and you try not to fall down. She thought.
Pretty good advice in general, she realised.
The early evening street was deserted, and well enough lit by the moon and the streetlights that she could see anyone coming from a mile off. The mix of buildings here was odd – local commerce jostled with worn red brick residences, the results of Noughtie gentrification that didn’t stick. Mumbling of music and raised voices came from behind pub doors.
She pulled herself in, hunching up against the bitter cold. She had expected a lift to the gig, and wasn’t dressed for winter. Goosebumps prickled on her bare tummy, and the fuck-me boots and lissom skirt left her legs exposed. She felt stupid wearing the skirt. The LCT material it was made of, designed to pick up and visualise ambient transmissions, and calibrated for local traffic, was staying a static, light grey. Every now and then, it would pick up some stray wireless activity, wordflicker shifting across it like a placeholder.
nHigh was a satellite dead-spot most of the day – very few of the locals had the means to make coverage worth providing – besides, they liked to keep things wired down and difficult to intercept – so here, after dark, the skirt nothing but an impractical fashion glitch. At least her top was better insulated then it looked, bra well padded, black lace over it interwoven with temperature regulating micro-filaments. Her hair gave some comfort, too, long and feathered against her back, the black bushiness of it extending down almost to her arse.
October nights were cold this far from the remote-heated city centre, where Christmas crowds frenzied. Christmas was like a habit that the country got into years ago, and never thought to drop.
Not here on Mary Street, though. Here there were just drunks, hiding in the orange light of the pubs, vents spurting smoke out into the crisp air. Siân breathed it in as she walked. You weren’t allowed to smoke, most places – she felt comforted by the subversiveness going on down here.
The gig was going to be shit – she had known it since getting the assignment. The venue was an old converted church that acted as a rest-stop on the way to whatever mean fame real artists could muster now. The band, some fuckdog faux anarchists whose name refused to stick in her mind, were allegedly on the way into that particular celebrity cul-de-sac. Her editor wanted a positive review, but Siân already knew what she thought of their music – same as it ever was. She had heard it all before. They were a copy of a copy of a copy, like everything else in her life, the signal and the noise eroded through time by repetition.
Siân knew that she had to show willing. But at twenty two years old, she sensed that the music she was covering shouldn’t be making her feel so old.
Where the light hit the pavement, the glass looked like a million tiny cut diamonds, spots of crusted blood here and there.
No boots for pigeons.
She grinned, despite herself, and tried not to think about the dogs that lived in places like this – brutish, slab-headed things, pre-bred with hard, calloused paws and broad grins.
In the shadows, only the sharpest glass caught the light, glinting like stars.
Siân tried not to get pissed off, but it was hard. With so much of the stuff out there either estate-authorised tribute acts for decades back artists, or worse, digitally generated new songs from those same old, dead twats, bands like this one tonight should be a source of hope.
Siân felt her hands forming fists, and stopped for a second. Breathing exercises, half remembered.
She heard glass break nearby, and pricked her ears in its direction. She could hear something, a sound from her childhood. Crossing the road towards the noise, she felt the cold prickles of a pressure drop on her face, and her skin flustering out toward it.
She stood outside a pub. The sound was voices, older voices, raised to sing, a piano being played, badly, inside. Not, to be fair, as badly as some of the singing. But the song… the song was one that she remembered sung by her parents, always in the winter.
Her dad was the kind of Irish that all English were around St Pats – envious and not Irish at all. Her mum was middle-class Winchester, married down. But this particular song was traditional to them, and to the people inside the pub – she could tell from the feeling that hearing it put in the pit of her stomach.
…Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing…
Fuck yes… she hadn’t put her finger on it, because it wasn’t there to touch in music any more, but this was what it was supposed to feel like. Triumphal. Tragic. Aspirational. Messy.
She wanted to know the name of the place, so she looked up. At around the same time that the sky opened.
In her four years in this dirty old town, it hadn’t snowed at all. Now, it came down. Millions of snowflakes, tiny and unique. The music played, and Siân felt young again.
She couldn’t read the name of the place, but didn’t suppose it mattered. The gig would not be good, she knew, but now that didn’t matter so much either.
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