Father and I, Refuse Collectors, District 6 by Danny Beusch

Father used to call me a cry-baby, back when it was warm and tears flowed. But this weather, cruel and relentless, has hardened us all. Another record-breaking winter: the tenth in a row. My gloves, patched and re-patched, just aren’t thick enough; the cold pierces everything. At least we’re spared the smell of death. Small mercies.

We carry our stretcher through the park gates, grass crunching underfoot. The trees glow, ghostly-white, as if dusted with icing sugar. I close my eyes, try to remember the taste of icing.

‘Watch where you’re treading. The poor bastards.’

Couples, families, strangers huddle together. Waiting.

‘What about her?’ he asks.

She’s twenty, at a push, in threadbare leggings and a denim jacket. Never stood a chance. I pull off my balaclava, put my cheek against her pale blue lips. A shock of warmth.

‘She’s breathing.’

He bends down and feels her pulse. Through the foggy haze two men haul their stretcher to the unmarked lorry, flash ID, and climb inside. They emerge wearing thicker coats, new shoes, guilty smiles.

‘OK sweetheart, the lass has passed now. Let’s take her away from this.’

Danny Beusch lives in the UK and tells stories, succinctly. They can be found online and in print. Follow him on twitter @OhDannyBoyShhh.

Image: Tom Barrett