Down Station - Simon Morden

1

Mary looked at the watches in the window with an emotion that swung like a metronome between wonder and envy. They were beautiful, glittering bright with polished metal and inset jewels, and they were so very expensive. They shone like the sun, and they belonged on her skinny wrist. The work that had gone into just that one with the silver-steel bevel and the three separate dials must have been incredible, and no matter how many hours she worked, however hard she saved, she’d never be able to afford it in her lifetime.

The price tag was almost incomprehensibly high, as if whoever had written it out in fine, precise figures, had daydreamed away and added too many zeros. It had to be a joke; an obscene joke, even, aimed right at her. She wasn’t laughing.

A hand came out from behind the display to snag the stand. As the watches retreated, Mary could see into the shop beyond. Tall glass cabinets with black velvet squares that showed off the clarity and colour of the gems, the coolness of the platinum, the warmth of the gold. Blond wood on the floor. Rich red on the walls. Lights. Lights everywhere.

She was about to turn away into the night when she accidentally caught the eye of the woman dismantling the window display. For a moment, the immaculately made-up face, powdered and shadowed and lipsticked, froze, taking in Mary’s scruffy Puffa jacket and scraped-back coils of black hair, her dark eyes and the acne scars on her cheeks.

And for a moment, rather than scorn or derision, a slight, secret smile and a rise of an artificially arched eyebrow. Neither of them could possibly afford to shop there. Then she turned her head – a voice, calling from somewhere unseen – and she hurried away towards the back room.

Mary imagined the clacking the woman’s stiletto heels would make on the floor, the soft smell of a floral perfume, the whisper of material as stockings brushed against a tight pencil skirt. She imagined the woman’s boss, paying her a pittance and using her beauty to sell beautiful things.

Her fingers, buried deep in the pockets of her jacket, curled involuntarily into fists. A brick wouldn’t break these windows, thick and laminated. And even if it did, and she grabbed a watch in the second before the alarms went off and the street behind her filled with blue flashing lights, and somehow she avoided immediate capture – what would she do with it? She couldn’t possibly wear it, and fencing it would leave her with, at best, a few quid in her pocket because the property would be red hot.

She’d be better off lifting something with a plastic strap from a display in a department store. More her style. More in keeping with her budget.

However: she had faithfully promised the magistrate she wouldn’t do that again, because she had a job now, and was taking responsibility for her life, just as her solicitor and her probation officer had told her to say. It was a promise that, to everyone’s surprise, including hers, she’d kept for nine weeks now, along with the job they’d got her.

She hadn’t had to take it. She could have told them to stick it – except that everyone was expecting her to, and that, perversely had made her jut her chin and say she’d do it. It had probably been the deciding factor in keeping her out of Holloway.

Mary turned from the window and the dazzling reflections of light. The street, though busy with black taxis and red buses, late-night theatre goers and rich kids, seemed dark and mean. It didn’t help that the sky was so low: bulbous clouds descended almost to the rooftops, pregnant with rain, turning the harsh sodium glare a deeper red.

From away over Richmond, the first growl of thunder reached Leicester Square. For a moment, the sound stilled every other noise. People looked up, realised they were unprepared for a downpour, and contemplated their choices.

By the time Mary finished her shift, it would be morning and the storm would have blown over. She’d walk all the way back, tired and dirty, to her hostel along the freshly washed pavements. But still, inexplicably, despite everything, free. Not exactly free: she had regular meetings with her probation officer, a wispy thing called Anna who didn’t seem at all afraid of her, and then there was her Anger Management course, which wasn’t a surprise in the slightest, and her supervisor at work who would