Vulnerable, Breakable. By Zack Wilson.

            The first hint of winter in Hillsborough air and I’m boarding a Yellow Route tram to town and work. Office girls, neat in black hipsters, trying to move heads in the wind to keep their hair in check, check anxious times whilst fat office boys with slab faces of soft dissipation text their mates. We move as a throng as the tram arrives, jostling for position. I’m on and I turn right up three steps to where there’s no seats so I stand, leaning against the window of the empty driver’s cab at the rear of the tram, facing the way we’re going.

            Standing, I’m conspicuous amongst the seated ladies, one of whom is more conspicuous to me than the others. She’s looking out of the window, a still, slight built brunette whose bony knees poke through the fabric of her black trouser suit and make her look vulnerable, breakable but with a defiant female strength that you know would endure with a quiet, white flame. Her eyes are large and pale grey, her cheekbones high in a thin, brown face that makes her teeth seem larger and whiter than they are behind the little pink lines of her lips that could nibble with gentle precision. She’s wearing simple flip-flop black leather shoes. Her feet are long and thin, tiny toes with pale pink nails the same shade as her lips. A silver ring is on the middle toe of her right foot. Smooth, brown feet, just a little bit dirty.

            Small breasts push her pastel purple T-shirt out from a bony chest, revealing ribs under taut, tanned skin in the gap rather than a fleshy, voluptuous cleavage. A delicate, avian chest, hollow boned and finely detailed. Her eyes are great half-moons, huge lids entirely covered with cloudy blue shadow that accentuates the tiredness, beautiful tiredness that sleep won’t fix that’s heavy in her gaze. She’s just right for me, the same age I’d guess, disappointed but still hopeful, not yet cynical. Ready to save us both, if she can.

            She picks up the free newspaper, The Metro, and holds it awkwardly in front of her, picking at the pages rather than slapping and beating them like the large girl with the ear phones sat next to her. She glances up from the paper, and our eyes briefly meet. I feel myself blush like a greedy schoolboy caught with a fistful of jam and she half-smiles as she looks out the window with a delightful malice of awareness in her pale eyes, her beautiful power. She’s hooked me by the time the tram halts at the University.

            Many passengers leave our little space, many replace them. The seat next to her is free and I’m about to sit next to her, already rehearsing gentle opening moves to begin some unfaithful manoeuvre, some dalliance, some regretful dance, years already stretching ahead in my perfumed mind.

            I’ve made my first step when a raw-boned youngster takes my place. A lanky student skater, wearing black flared trousers hung with many useless pockets. He has untrimmed, shoulder length, mucky brown hair and an indoor shade to his skin. He’s wearing a skull’n’crossbones T-shirt, the poisonous bastard. She turns away from him and the silent wall she builds excludes all man. She turns to the window, and the demure, confidential invitation that was in her eyes has gone.

            It’s my stop next, West Street. I have to leave her. I alight reluctantly, bundling myself off with the dozy herd, turning my head as the tram pulls away from the stop and all I can see is a brief angle of her knee and a wisp of rich brown fringe before I have to face work.

            There’s an unspeakable sadness rising from my heart to my throat, like the time years ago when I worked in a call-centre and a whelp-faced boy sat next to a beautiful girl from New Zealand with coffee brown skin and a soft, snowy jumper who beckoned me to join her with a big smile but I couldn’t because I was busy with a British Gas complainer on the line. She never spoke to me again, only waving once, regally with her fingers, on her way home on her last day a week later as I bicycled past like a Britpop small face.

            I’m small and sad now, drizzle beginning to flatten my hair and moisten my cheeks. I bet she works at Meadowhall, travelling on the Yellow Route like that. I think I’ll get the Blue Route tram tomorrow. I don’t think I could handle seeing her again. I wouldn’t want to tread on those perfect little toes.

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