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by Helen McClory

The muscles of the poplar trees beat about, and the warm night is full of calls, or there is worn-hour haze, but invisible so in a darkness like this, a rain green darkness, and feet follow unseen feet across uncertain ways, between high and waving grass, spatters of mud on legs, boards, slipped shoes and sighs, until at last a light, at last glowing yellow crackle on the far side of the bridge, there, on the far side of the rushes, between the rushes and the full dark wood, where the café is, and nothing at all else.

It’s the very end of weariness, this place. Against all exhaustion constructed, brick and black woodwork frame. Inside there’s Marsh, Yu, and the rest. Four aluminium lights above the bar, and Moll behind, a rag hung on the steamer, well-polished oak, heeled footsteps, a paper fallen open, a quiet word, a raised knee, deep old chairs of buttoned leather, great frontage to face the world and let it never enter, or enter, as it needs some still. So the rain comes ever lashing on the other side and keeps the rushes in their trouble. So you’ll meet me there, some day. Marsh stirs the foam into her cappuccino. Jazz music, rusty warm saxophone. Someone looks up, looks away. Don’t be too sad, my patrons. You have your names, at least.

Something needs to be adjusted — a collar, a piece of biscuit. The world is ending, with its recurrent jagged stability of ending, with the tearing of the poplar, with the night as it ever was as muted racked. While the menu here chalked always is the same. A blueberry muffin with sawdust crumb Yu gets every time. A tall waterglass refresher set by Linnet, the shade in corduroy overalls. Sigh like them, over a cup, at the dying world, and the rain. What do we know about heaven so it might be this slight. Ambient and coorie. Down in the pelted river there’s a sunken boat. Shallow in the wood a memory that combs into our shape. Don’t say once here you’ll go out in this again.

Never to be gone out in night and alone, Moll thinks. That’s work, too. Never to be the river or the beaten reed. The fell boat we remember but not are. Ours will be a different fate. To have a shape in black avowing and the yellow of the lights is this: quiet company, smell of coffee, buttered toasted cake. This end. And Moll watches her people. Steam on the huge windows, a trickle of dark in a reflecting droplet, was what the poet said. A wooden stirrer snaps and the world will be taken catastrophic by a storm, but, just, aside from us.

Helen McClory’s first story collection, On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her second story collection, Mayhem & Death, was written for the lonely and published in March 2018. The poetry is coming. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart. Find her here.