Silver in the Sky
Though she had spent the early evening showing off in shining splendour, the moon grew suddenly shy and coy; covering herself with an inky cloak of cloud and allowing only occasional brief glimpses of her heavenly body as the darkness deepened around her. Below, in the damp, dank streets, the perpetual orange glow of the street lamps was reflected, weakened, on the rain-slicked road; their mirror-image rippled and fractured in puddles as cars crashed through them, sending up an oily shower of grey to splatter further onto the pavement.
In the alley, a battle-hardened tomcat with torn ears and truncated tail scavenged through an overturned dustbin for leftover chicken bones and morsels of chip-shop fish still in their wrappers. At the sound of a bottle skittering across the stones, the cat was jolted from its feast and, fast as lightning, zigzagged its escape, gracefully leaping atop the wall and disappearing with a backward glare of golden eyes and a disgruntled yowl.
With a shuffling gait, a huddled figure edged its way between the flattened cardboard boxes stacked against the wall and the row of overflowing bins remaining upright. Stooping, he grasped the greasy rim of their fallen comrade and methodically returned the refuse to its rightful place, carefully picking through the discarded food packages, newspapers, bottles, jars and cans, and straightened up the bin. Eyes searching, he located the lid and jammed it on top, closing off the sweet-sour odour of decay with an air of finality, and pushed it back against the wall to rejoin the ranks standing to attention.
Mission accomplished, he stepped back before pulling his frayed coat collar closer around his throat and his mottled cap lower on his brow, bracing himself against the chill of the night air. Then he threw back his head and gazed up at window of sky above him, hemmed in by brick walls on either side. Here, the harsh glow of city lights barely touched the dark expanse above, and as he watched with watery eyes, the lid of clouds lifted and the night sky revealed a tumble of flickering stars and the silver pupil of the moon winked at him.
For a moment, they remained, smiling at each other, man and moon, and then, lowering his face, he spied, glinting in the moonlight, a coin. Crouching low, he crooked his fingers around it, then polished it against his sleeve, wiping away the grime of the alley till it shone; a golden replica of the silver circle above him. Glancing upwards once more, he raised his prize in salute to the moon, which was already retreating behind a bank of clouds, leaving misty rainbowed hues to mark her place.
The coin safely deposited in his pocket, he picked up his feet once more and emerged into the suddenly noisy street, weaving past couples and parked cars to the café on the corner, to buy a cup of coffee and cut through the cold. There, sitting at his table in the window, hands wrapped around the crackle-glazed mug, he gazed out at the night and smiled; searching for the silver in the sky.
Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©