Penny for the Guy

Exiting the Station my eyes hurt, just enough light and too many pints at the Manby Arms the night before; watched two men play pool, one with a hand behind his back all cocky-like – me and Keith taking pot shots at each other’s drink with torn off bits of beer soaked coaster (Sunday arvo, too many loose hours flitting round us like wind-blown crisp wrappers.) Along Broadway, three kids pulling a cart they’ve made from bicycle wheels and a wooden crate. I skip sluggishly left, take a half-step, want to avoid this collision. But they’re in my face, one wearing a way too big woollen jumper and a fiercely, friendly grin. ‘Penny for the guy?’ Holds out his hand, taut like a flower straining too hard for the sun, drained of colour. He must be eight. Among rags in the cart is an effigy I mistake for something dead, a doll the size of a small baby. ‘Penny for the guy?’ This is old England swinging and Big Ben and bobbies on bicycles and I’m a kid again in my backyard with Papa and all the Sky Rockets and Tom Thumbs and Penny Bungers and Catherine Wheels alight at once from an errant spark and we’re diving for cover behind sheets hanging from the Hills Hoist. I’d never heard of King George and Guy Fawkes was a hero every November ’cause I’d cycle down to the milkbar on my dragster with ten dollars Papa gave me to buy my wares. At Stratford station, I’m penniless and hung over and a long way from the shop and the time in this light with these kids and their Guy dead in his rags, eyes agape and a rude little mouth open as if it might utter something.

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