CHAPTER 8 – Screen time


I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to glimpse you in every window.

Pablo Neruda


The day was cold, with a sky that threatened rain. It took every ounce of Dawn’s resolve to approach the first car. She repeated the DIY mantra, over and over, silently. “Do it well, with a smile, and begin your new life.”

To make sure, she had spent the past week observing from a bench near the traffic lights. Using her dad’s stopwatch to time how long the cars stopped in the slip road that took the traffic off the A127 towards Rochford and the airport. At the height of the morning rush, in between the green and red lights, there was enough time to do two vehicles. Two quid. If the drivers paid up. The trick was working out who would pay.

She was a natural with words. And Maggie’s funeral that day provided an easy chatting point. “First time today that Big Ben will go silent since Winston Churchill’s death in 1965,” said her first paying punter, in a red Ford Focus. The second, who looked like a librarian, was less respectful. “Bloody woman was always rattling on about saving taxpayer’s money – now look how much they’re spending.”

Dawn knew how to listen, when to smile. She focused on leaving perfectly clean screens. And trying not to attract wider attention. The police were an unknown factor, so she muted her outfit. Camouflage puff gilet over a black teeshirt. Black joggers, cap and Doc Martens. She had worked out a deal with the nearby pub on refreshing her buckets, in return for doing the boozer’s windows each day.

As Maggie’s coffin began its London journey, towed on a gun carriage, Southend banter bounced off Dawn like a rubber ball off a wall. “Can I put me hand in your bucket, darlin?” asked one jack the lad. “Only if I can wipe your rim,” she flashed back. “You can bend over my bonnet and rub me to a nice shine anytime,” said one dirty old geezer.

Guys had always liked her looks. Her new occupation might have been more fun, but for the recurrent memory. Three weeks ago, she was tidying up in the garden shed where Steve did his ‘second job’, as he liked to call it. Form books up on the shelves, computer on the desk, back copies of the Racing Post littering the floor. She had found the credit card company bills tucked down the side of his armchair. Their old normality could never return.

And yet there was something else. She could niff it in the air, feel it in her waters. Something wider and bigger, dwarfing their financial troubles. With no proof whatsoever, she knew with absolute certainty that things were about to get weirder. No turning back for her, Steve, the kids, everyone.

“Get your chammies out, love!”



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