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by Jo Mortimer

Peter pulls an old pair of pants from his back pocket and plunges them into a bucket of warm, soapy water. He leans his father’s wooden ladder against the back wall, takes a deep breath, and climbs.

Across the way, two lads swing open the back doors of their gleaming white van, unwind metres of bright yellow hose, and turn on the tap of their 500-litre tank. Banging techno blares up the street. They shout to each other, “What a doss — should have done this years ago!”

Such a beautiful sunny day — the worst possible time to clean windows, but Peter has long since forgotten his own reflection, like he doesn’t exist to himself. From the top rung, he wipes clean the feathered edge of a songbird’s final heartbeat, brushes away a dust storm blowing in from the east. The noonday sun warms the back of Peter’s neck, draws the sweat from his brow. His missus is forever telling him to stop at lunchtime, but he’ll plough on, devouring whatever she puts in front of him at the end of the day.

Down on the ground, the lads scrub with their fancy brushes, sun in their eyes, squinting through a fine spray of water and rainbows. Job done, back in the van, feet up on the dashboard. They work their way through doorstop sandwiches, crisps and a cheeky lager. Cracking day.

They have their eye on Peter’s round — he’s not long for this game, they think. He’ll jack it in soon, surely, look at the state of him. But Peter has a magic touch, no-one minds him taking his time — he’s a grafter, and the sort that goes downhill without purpose. Besides, he has his eye on them, too.

Silver clouds bloom over the cricket pitch, the grass glows. Van doors slam shut, soapy streaks stain views across the Downs — distant thunder signals the end of the day for those fair-weather boys. They’re off to divvy out cash over afternoon pints, but Peter sees a day’s work as exactly that; on to the next job — he’s only just getting started.

Jo Mortimer lives in the south of England, at the foot of the beautiful South Downs.