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Author: Paul Croucher

Permanent Jewellery

New day. Second bus. Down straight and narrow roads. Good of Uncle Terry to sort me out. Good of his mate too. Fucking job centre.

Induction begins. Probation period. Shoes trape in mud. Room smells of citrus fruit fighting stale boots. Piles of invoices everywhere. Trapped from the draft by a watch. Sarah tells us the don’ts. Prettiest girl I’ve seen in thirteen months and three weeks.

Told to move slabs first. Yes, sir. Got to start somewhere. Heavy. Like giant monuments from the past. Arms creak under the weight. Used to being inside.

“Pint afterwards?” Would love to, but can’t. Got to be home by seven. They laugh. Ha-ha. Old me would’ve lumped him. New me now.

Second day. On time. Shoulders as stiff as prison bars. Hot. Wearing shorts this time. Planning pay cheque now. Trainers, phone. Give Mum some too. Proper son.

Sarah brings daughter in. Earrings stretch her lobes. Red with the burden. Daughter talks. Asks why I’ve got a watch on my leg. Sentence lingers. Sarah puts finger to her mouth.

Slabs brand my hands. But keeping up. Until load dropped. Support went. Bits of rubble everywhere. Uncle’s mate comes out. Has one of those eyebrow piercings. Fucker goes up and down when he twitches. Like a dumbbell. Bet he thought good idea at eighteen. Things are.

He stares me out. Checks out my jewellery. My permanent jewellery. My blank anklet.

“No second chance with them,” he says. Lad writes ‘damaged goods’ on the bag. Rest goes on the scrap heap.

Ten minutes later, “Office”. Door closes. Customer visit. Terry should have said. Nothing personal. It never is.

Flash Fiction by Paul Croucher
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The Goalkeeper

The rain came down in needles, injecting itself into the pitch. What were once green sinews now turned to brown junk. I punched together my decaying gloves and tried to protect what was mine.

I saw it from a distance. The high, the thrill, of scoring. I should have told his mum.

At half-time, I thought we still had a chance. But habit took hold, and a lunge was made; a tooth lost. I wanted to tunnel into that gap, discover the darkness. See our enemy. But when the fists flew I stood back and watched as boys did what they thought would make them men.

It was a mistake. An error to think my words were bigger than others. Addiction, it turns out, will make any promise you ask.

I raced out when the hospital pass came. The missed chances circled my thoughts, and then all I saw was the fallen, and me, muddied, looking up for forgiveness. None came. All in black, the ref pointed to the spot. Towards our goal, towards me. Penalty.

He took me to one side. The tubes and machines told me the rest. From then on his mum read him the results and we stopped talking in sentences.

Slowly, people dispersed. I tried to be big, to puff out my shoulders. Then, for the last time, to catch his eye. One step, and it came. The skin of the ball brushing my fingers, the last touch, as it defeated me.

“Don’t switch off!” I pleaded in the dying seconds.

Afterwards, I stared at the floor. The needless loss enveloped the room and the gaffer put a consoling arm around me. “Some things just can’t be saved,” he said.

He can say that. But I’ll always think I should’ve stopped it.

Flash Fiction by Paul Croucher
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