In box-shaped bedrooms, little girls dance to Katy Perry with the window open. They use the hairbrush, like their mothers before them, and cast shadows over carpets; silhouettes of happiness. On the street below, young mums push perambulators, and call their morning greetings to their neighbours. Their children are always prettier, the ones whose mothers’ figures bounced back to a size eight four days post-birth. The older mothers never quite get it right; they send their children into PE with discount trainers with made-up logos. The younger mother knows. And of course, that sort of thing matters, in the playground.
The grandmothers arrive in the afternoon for some of the children, in M&S jeans and nautical t-shirts. This is how pensioners are now, you know. Except, of course, that’s a half-truth, as the bulk haven’t hit bus-pass territory yet, and remind you whenever they can. They talk to the NQT as though she’s one of the students, and they feel elevated – young, and wise, and contradictory – and flash a smile at the single dad constituent (choose hyphenation as you wish), thinking, “still got it”. Though what “it” is, is anyone’s guess.
When four pm chimes, little brown chairs scrape in around little brown tables, and pease pudding is layered thick with ham and bread, and sugary tea is doled out into cups and saucers, and occasional mugs when a set is under someone’s bed. The window-cleaner walks past, gives the glass a tap, and collects his change in a filthy apron. This money’s got legs, and it’s headed for the pub.
The barmaid pours frothy pints into smeary glasses, and clicks gum against her molars. Her shoes are tucked away in a corner, and her pop-socks soak up the slops she makes. Six hours to go, and no-one will be waiting in the bed, with bread, and tea. Grandma is playing Hungry Hippos with the children – the same box from when the barmaid was a blonde skipping-rope champion, on her way to the Olympics, or so she said. She paces the passage when business is slow, the paisley rug worn from night upon night of the same gone before.
The pace seems slower in these outskirts, people say, than in the city. They’re wrong. Blink just a second too long, and it’s gone, and the shadow on the carpet is sitting, very still indeed.