Holding Hands With Giants
'Will you marry me?'
She squeezed her eyes shut. Disappear. Not forever, just until you stop nag, nag, nagging. 'Well?'
'Av told you no. Now just roll me a cig will you?'
Strange faces glared from passing hordes. Unkind, judgemental, aloof. Perched uncomfortably on a bench at the top of the Moor, he despaired at the volumes pouring in and out of Debenhams. Spend, bloody spend, is that all they did all day? A family of luminous mannequins in expensive togs mocked, you'll never dress like us they snorted. Wouldn't want to. He wrenched open the metal baccy tin displaying his granddad's initials. A perfect cylinder delicately rolled from damp fingertips, then handed over. Her mystical brown eyes rescued him from mannequins watching his every move, lighting up her face, drawing him into a paradise lost. He felt aroused as she puffed on the skinny pipe, oblivious to his gaze.
'Could I come for tea tonight?' She fidgeted. Had she not heard? Had it become one bad question after another? Did she want to end it? 'Well?'
'Look, you know what social services said, you're not supposed to visit when my kids are there.'
'Sod social services, you trust me don't you? …Well don't you?' Shoppers sensed the airing of dirty washing - fluttering pigeons pecking for crumbs of scandal.
'Shh, people are looking, you know we have to pick our times.'
'Owt with initials SS is bad. Granddad told me about SS in the war, these twats are just as
'Shh, we'll sort somert...Anyway you talk about gerrin' married but you hardly take me anywhere!'
'Bollocks! We go all o'er. Park, club, pictures, Meadowhell... once. Anyway, where's tha wanna go?'
'O'reyt, O'reyt. I'll pick you up Thursday night then.'
'Underneath, wear that-'
'Shh, not here!' It seemed Debenhams were having an end of season sale on frowns of thunder, as they hailed down.
'O'reyt, just don't 'av that dopey velvet trilby on.' He poked his finger under the hat so it toppled to the bench.
'Gi'ore!' She reached for the hat, exposing raised discolorations on her arm, before tugging the sleeve back. 'I was gonna get you a cornish, now you're getting a sausage roll!'
'A cornish, eh? Wahoo! Look at what you could 'av won.' She rattled around in her pocket, producing a silver and copper mix.
'Ere, get two cornish and two vanilla slices.'
'Cornish and vanilla – you sure you don't wanna get married?'
'Nah! Eh, don't forget my change!' He took the money and stood.
'It must be love, love , love. De, der, de ,de de. It must be love, love, love...' Shoppers gawped, wondering who the bad busker was, compelled to tut loudly or ensure their sophisticated heads were seen shaking discontentedly, before slotting back anonymously into the crowd. She looked away pretending not to know him, before succumbing to a fit of giggles, eventually giving
him the rods. He ambled to the bakery smiling, until catching sight of a mannequin in a tuxedo
staring him down.
He couldn't meet at her flat (SS interference again), instead their usual place on Fitzalan square. Heading up Commercial street, he marvelled at the changes since walking hand in hand with granddad. Now, metal tracks lodged in the street and in cleverly constructed bridges, allowing multi-coloured Supertrams to drone past, soaring above the doomed park square roundabout faithful. Passengers thought nothing of the bright plastic intestines bursting out of the concrete rib cage, of Ponds Forge. He remembered it being built for the student games, and imaged pretentious students competing on the flumes. Sebastian splashing down in a games record of 7.93 seconds, pinkie raised triumphantly, while Troy cursed. Tossers. His only recollection of the games was the unfortunate astronaut, Helen, dropping the torch at the opening. Watching on TV his stunned granddad proclaimed: 'Never be afraid lad! Don't lose the moment; always show your Sheffield steel.'
He clocked her in the square buying chuddy from the funny tiled kiosk.
'What you grinning at?'
'Me? Nowt, I'm always happy, don't you know that by nah?'
'Yeah right, anyway where you taking me?' He hooked her arm, steering left towards Arundel Gate. The usual stop, start traffic from buses, black cabs, and commuters battling home to their loved ones egg and chips. Tall, grubby buildings either side amplified the industrial gloom as exhaust fumes proliferated. Oblivious, a homeless man sat amongst it all, legs covered in tatty tartan blanket, diesel lungs, a shallow polystyrene cup raised in hope. They'd only turned one street but it contained two decades.
'Are we off to Odeon?'
'Wait and see...'
'Eh, Tracey says that Hannibal is good, dead scary, she says.' He bustled along not wanting
her to dwell on a flesh eating cannibal, then stepped upside the Odeon, at the railings edge. 'Where you going? Is summat up?'
'Av got summat to show you, look.' He pointed far across the horizon, allowing her eyes to trace his finger. Towering above a bank of trees, Park hill flats: bleak, bare-faced, brutalist, yet she sensed something else. Two concrete footbridges connected the blocks of flats, holding hands with giants, and there on the highest footbridge she saw. She saw. Sprawled across, overlooking the whole city, large white letters, a text so bold, so outrageous, she gasped. She looked at him, then back, covering her mouth in amazement. It read, 'Clare Middleton I Love You Will U Marry Me'
'How did you... You're mad, crazy...'
'Well? Will you?' he urged. She looked back and forth once more.
'Yeah, I will!' He pulled her close and squeezed hard. A life moment of incredible clarity – settled down with Clare, their own kids, no SS, Blair in power, Thatcher long gone, all in a born again Sheffield.
'Thanks granddad,' he whispered up towards the concrete giants, hoping they would pass the message on.