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  • Sara stepped out the front door with an artificial spring in her step. Whatever happened in life, you had to turn up and shut up; her grandfather had taught her that. Her daughter, Willow, ran down the stairs and caught her mother’s hand as they stepped into the world. Sara didn’t know, as the two of them walked up the street, that her seven-year-old daughter had lain awake last night listening to her mother sobbing. Willow held her mother’s hand even more tightly than she did yesterday.

    Across the road in number 17, Eric watched the lovely mother and daughter skip up the street: oh, to be that happy, he thought. Eric waved to his wife as she left to start the first of her four cleaning jobs that day. She had to work all the hours she could, now that his hip had grown more painful. He could still climb up to the attic when the house was empty and those steps were like a stairway to heaven. Up there he could try on the dresses and the high-heel shoes, and in the mirror, he didn’t see Eric but the beautiful Titania. What harm was he doing? He felt certain that God would understand.

    Helen did what she always did at this time every morning: she would eat her breakfast and watch the world go by from her window. She had stopped putting milk in with the corn flakes, and had gone straight to drowning them in vodka. It gave her a warmth and glow that porridge had once done. She knew that by 10am the sun would be shining in her head no matter what the weather was outside. Passing folks would wave at Helen – the smiling happy lady who sat looking from her window at number five.

    Kelly smiled at the mirror. She had to get the first smile right. It had to look natural, welcoming, and loving. She didn’t want her eyes to give the game away. She had to get it correct, for her sake and for his. He wouldn’t be coming home for another week but every spare minute she had, was spent practising that smile. It had been his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when it had happened. She told herself that she had married the man, a brave soul with a good heart and not the legs - the ones he had left in another country.

    Sandy walked to the store to get a newspaper, one that he knew he wouldn’t read. Newspapers only sold misery and lies anyway. What was really important was the fact, that if he made it there and back without stepping on a crack in the sidewalk – then he wasn’t a failure and his wife was wrong.

    Katie watched Sandy through her dirty window. She wanted to tell him that he was married to the wrong woman, and that she could love him much better than that wife of his. Somehow Katie’s life had passed her by as she had nursed her long-gone mother. It was probably too late to say to Sandy, she thought. Then she heard the voice calling on her again and she wondered if she was going the same way as her mother and grandmother.

    Another morning was almost over in the street of the beautifully broken, and up and down the road the silence was almost deafening.

    bobby stevenson 2016

    Photograph of children playing in the street taken through a window [1949-54] Nigel Henderson 1917-1985 The papers were acquired by the Tate Archive from Janet Henderson and the Henderson family in 1992.
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