The Manchester Review
Sarah Butler
You Would Leave All This
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‘Half these buildings were black as night when we moved here.’ Her eyes are sharp green, like Jessie’s, the skin around them puckered into thin folds. ‘We saw the last of the pea-soupers – I’ve told you that? Couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. It wiped the edges off the place.’ She holds a cigarette, jammed between stained fingers, the ash just, about, to topple. ‘And would you look at this place now?’ She makes a sweeping gesture and the ash drifts towards my coffee. ‘All glass and what-not. That hotel – I heard there’s a swimming pool, in the overhang – you can see the city through the water. Who the hell would have thought of that?’
            I take her out for lunch, once a week. A different place each time. We are working our way through every sandwich bar within a fifteen minute walk of Piccadilly Gardens. ‘We’ll never get round them all,’ she says, with some degree of glee. ‘Never-mind they’re always switching about. I’ll be dead before I’ve eaten one of those Paninis in all of them.’ Paninis are her new favourite– it always used to be jacket potatoes.
            ‘Cat’s got your tongue today?’ She raises her eyebrows to say she knows something’s up and would I just get on and tell her. She’s never been much good at silence, or secrets, or waiting. We’re sitting outside so she can smoke, backed up against the cafe window. The ridged metal back of the chair pushes into my bra-strap and bites at my thighs. I’ve ordered a salad, which I’m regretting. She has a mozzarella Panini and I am mesmerised by the strings of melted cheese.
            ‘Dan’s got a job.’ I keep my gaze fixed on the table. She flicks ash into a shallow metal tray which already holds two stubs, the brown filters greased with her lipstick.
            ‘Another one?’
            ‘He was head-hunted,’ I say.
            ‘Sounds illegal.’ She juts out her jaw and kneads her lips together. Market Street ebbs and flows before us. I watch people’s feet. Sandals, flip-flops, running shoes, kitten heels.