The lights of the street flickered in yellow and red, Maisie pulled her jumper down over her hands and looked at the red lights above the buildings. She always felt relaxed and sleepy when she saw a red light; she remembered the rooms she used to stay in when the streets were too cold. A bar heater would be turned on, and it would glow on the wall. It stayed red all night. The girls would struggle to get a bunk nearer to that heater. Tracy came and sat beside her, and they both spent a moment looking at the bronze lions that flanked the steps of the library.
“Tony told me that if he could flog those lions, they’d be worth a mint,” Tracy said. “Do ya have a smoke?”
“A smokes worth a dollar, but I have one for you,” Maisie answered, pulling two cigarettes out of a wrapper that once held a hamburger. A little bit of red sauce stained the paper of one of the smokes and Maisie saw this. She wondered if it would burn ok or if it’d taste different. She held the stained one back for herself and gave Tracy the other. “Smoking,” Maisie said as she handed the girl the cigarette, “Kills 480,000 people in the US each year.”
“God, I hope I’m one,” Tracy laughed.
“So when’s Tony gonna do it?”
“Steal them lions?”
“They weigh too much to carry off.”
Maisie lit her cigarette and then lit the other. They both took a deep breath of the smoke.
A working man coming past stopped and looked at Maisie. “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” she answered.
“You should be in school.”
“I’ve graduated with a degree in minding.”
“Minding my own fucking business.” The girls began to laugh; the man said a few more things before walking off, but they ignored him. Just as he was speaking the morning sun came over the copper roof of the library and lit the square. The street lights, still aglow, would soon be off.
“I love this time of the morning,” Maisie whispered.
“I hate it; all the creeps are out. Early morning is the worst time.”
“Where’d you sleep last night?”
“I worked, I did a few jobs. I’ve not slept yet. Where’d you?”
“I stayed at Carla’s place.”
“Was her boyfriend home?”
“No, I wouldn’t be there if he was.”
They sat silently for a moment as a flock of pigeons gathered by the statue of T. S. Eliot.
“What are you doing today?” Tracy asked, dropping some ash from the end of her cigarette.
“I’m working at Ericson’s. They’re putting me on the register today.”
“It don’t pay much, why don’t you come with me? I made twelve ‘undred dollars last night. Here look.” Tracy opened a cloth bag studded with red and blue sequins. Greenish blue looking notes were shoved in so that they were all screwed up, there were a lot of them.
“Give us a twenty?” Maisie asked.
“Sure,” Tracy pulled a twenty dollar note out, smooth it between her fingers and passed it to the thin blonde girl. Tracy was chubby, with a beautiful face, but she would, in a few years, become fat like her mother. Deep down she was jealous of Maisie; Maisie was thin and sharp like she had been cut from stone.
Maisie put it in her pocket. “I gotta start work now,” she stood up and lifted her jumper to show her supermarket uniform underneath. Her thin legs showed prettily under her dress. She let her jumper down and then dropped her cigarette and stamped it out.
“See ya; I’ll be here tonight at five if you want to get some dinner.”
“OK, I’ll meet you here.”
Maisie smiled and climbed down the wet steps that seemed to slope back too far so that each one held a puddle of water. Maisie then skipped from a patch of sunlight to another. She looked up and noticed the lamps were all off now and the early morning sun danced in the leaves of the Kurrajong Trees. She turned back to looked at Tracy and stopped. Tony held Tracy by her arm and was violently tearing her purse away from her. Maisie felt the twenty-dollar bill in her pocket.