The Brush – by Wayne Dean Richards
It was late November and the sky was full of snow and the shops were already full of Christmas stuff but she stood out so I followed her into a steamy cafe.
She sat alone at a table near the window and drank a cappuccino. I ordered the same so I’d be in step with her, sitting two tables away, close enough so I could see she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring but not so close, I hoped, that it’d be obvious I was watching her.
Ten minutes passed. I wished I had on my good shirt instead of an old sweater, frayed at the cuffs. When she finished her cappuccino I followed her out of the cafe and along the high street to an office block at the top of the town.
The front doors swallowed her up. If I’d looked like I worked there, if I’d looked like I worked anywhere, I’d have gone in after her.
I crossed the road to the bus station. When she came out I was going to speak to her. I wouldn’t try and smooth talk her because I’ve never been any good at it, and since the operation I slur. My best bet, I decided, was to come clean: to tell her I’d seen her and had followed her and hoped she believed in love at first sight and felt it for me – because I felt it for her.
In the end I got so worked up I almost missed her. She was crossing the road, going away from me before I made my legs move. When I got close enough to call out to her she stopped and turned. I said: “I know this’ll sound mad, but bear with me a minute, please, because it’s really important – ”
I hear banging. The old man in the next room beats on the wall with the handle of a brush. I must’ve been shouting again. I didn’t mean to. Why do rented rooms have such thin walls? Through the window I see a grizzled fox nuzzling an overturned dustbin, the scars of his life in his watchful eyes, whilst behind me the banging continues.
“Alright!” I call, and when the banging stops I close my eyes and wonder how many years it’s been since I saw her…
Wayne Dean Richards is a well-known local writer whose stories have been published in numerous journals internationally. Some are collected in At The Edge (1999), funded by West Midlands Arts, and more recently in Cuts (2013). His fast moving crime novella, Breakpoints (2002), has a distinctly Black Country feel, despite that fact that the setting isn’t named.
The setting isn’t made specific in ‘The Brush,’ but Wayne tells us that it was inspired by an experience he had in Dudley, and this knowledge will surely augment the atmosphere of the piece for those who know the town. It is a tale of urban alienation that is typical of his style and themes.