Shortly after, Winston was on his shift. He started at Putney Bridge and as usual began to remove the chewing gum from the pavement. It was easier now that they had given him the stick and claw. It was kinder on his back and he could play games with it. He challenged himself with picking up a bottle top in one go or tweezing an apple core by its stalk. The bridge was wide and long and only ever very busy if the rowing was on. He crossed it, picking, then walked back, shaking his head yet secretly pleased at litter freshly dropped. He crossed the road and worked his way up the other side, picking. He would then negotiate Putney High Street and at this point it would become extra challenging. Today, though, had been unusually hot. The heat made crispy the teenagers, flirting, flustered, often leering, they would prowl and parade. It slowed and made sweaty the sports fans who he’d see again later, jeering and punching each other. As always, Winston became tangled in leads guiding guinea pigs for dogs but today they yipped at his ankles in irritation too. Like normal, prams blindly and sometimes not so blindly pushed into him but today he ducked, dived and had to weave around charging children too, loaded with ice-creams and whatever else they’d commanded. Winston had to fight the urge to use his stick and claw like a baseball bat. He passed the station to the hill and it was simpler, quicker and he would finish at the top of it. He was outside the Green Man pub and about to begin his last cigarette butt mission of the day when he saw Benjie. He stepped into the road, bent down and picked up the bird. The body was hot and heated Winston’s glove until the latex began to melt. He moved to the side and softly placed the bird in the curb’s cool shadow and protection. The people at the bus stop looked at Winston in a dismay that was quickly overcome by a familiar contempt.
On a still, silent street it hunches under a dim lamppost. The light drops, rounds the figure’s back and falls to a puddle at its feet. Around, a few lost and wandering rays find their purpose in a deadlock with thickening wisps of mist. A lorry passes; first felt, then heard, then seen. In its dumb trance it turns right at the lights and will shortly become part of the conveyor belt to Dover. To take steps closer is for it to fade from monochrome filter to a palette of sepia and watery pigments. The sky, deep, dark blue with dreams and nightmares is moon and star-less. There is no room for them tonight. The weak, burnt orange of the lamp barely picks out the grass a few metres away. A fly draws patterns in the light while it sleeps. The silhouette bobs and shuffles from foot to foot in giddy excitement. Dribbling and demented from the pleasure of it all, soon it will have the compulsion to remove its cloak. But then with squinting uncertainty it could be carved of onyx. Some small steps closer. Chisel in grip it scrapes a vertical line off a sign, now in view, reading ‘PUTNEY HEATH’. The procedure has the precision and solemnity of a holy ritual. It stops, panting, and some time passes in gargoyle lifelessness before it cracks and crumbles to begin with the same measure on the horizontal. At last the chisel takes its final peel upwards, stripping stark black from naked white and leaving the question mark of an empty space behind. Suddenly the street is deserted. Only the fading clash of chisel on pavement remains. The lamppost stands over it, reluctant in its revealing and unable itself to hide. Its only offering flickers for the letters ‘PUTNEY HEAT’.