The Shortest Day

She walks across the road to the pharmacy. She sees the city in the far distance, down on the plain. The door and shopfront window are a milky sheen, reflecting the December clouds.

She swings the old Saab onto the sharp curve of the slip-road, accelerates, indicates and steers across two lanes. The short motorway – a three lane precursor feeding into the outer ring road – flashes past her. As she ascends the steep ramp to the roundabout, she slows down for the lights, rising to the summit. The road surface leading out beyond the bonnet, the gantries, the high concrete walls diminishing towards the crest of the hill, the blur of buildings beyond the junction, the tallest towers and the sky itself, all bleached in dusty sparse December hues, all painted with the same grey brush.

It seemed inescapable but here she is, the vivid pea green of the soggy moorland fields, the black furrowed mud and her shadow darkening the surface of the puddles. Her hood is up, the Pennine rain lashing against it. She closes the gate behind her and wends down the path towards the valley floor, past the ramshackle farm or mill or whatever it was. Past the outhouses and potholes and under the gigantic concrete columns of the viaduct. Beyond the thin sliver of the lake, urban outposts are still visible, then the gentle sweep of the hills, turbines, battalions of pylons.

With practised care she unhooks the barbed wire, opens the gate and starts up the sharp incline, past the danger of death signs plastered onto fence posts until she reaches the point where she cannot stand without hitting her head. She sits in the shade on a fold out seat produced from her rucksack and begins eating her sandwich. The enormous turrets obstruct her view, inevitably, but below her the valley is green and verdant, a stream winds through, sheep graze oblivious to the rain falling heavily, either side of this massive canopy. She sips some coffee from her flask and looks up to the darker grey of the concrete roof, the underside of the M62, unable to hear her own thoughts amidst the roaring, relentless traffic only metres from her head. Beyond the slim girders, between the massive slabs of carriageway, there is a gap for drainage through which she sees the sky. Another shade of grey.

Winter Solstice

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