rear-gunner

He tracks the fighter as it stoops towards him. It is a shadow in a dark sky. He must not fire too soon, or the muzzle-flash will give him away. Exposed and alone at the tail of the bomber, he holds his breath and waits. Every nerve is crackling. When he feels that he can see the face of the pilot through the gloom, he presses the trigger. The clattering of the guns leaves his ears ringing. He does not see his target fall to the ground; he is already scanning the sky above him, where the next predator will appear. He knows that there will be another; there always is.

He walks in through the works gateway, snap-tin in hand. He is with a thousand others, who are trudging in solitude, or clustered into chattering groups, or wheeling bicycles and removing cycle-clips as they go. There are tall dark walls on every side, but they can not spoil his mood. At the end of the shift he will collect folded banknotes and a couple of coins in a small manila envelope. For a day or two his pockets will jingle.

He points across the valley to the gleaming surfaces of the shopping centre, and then to the neat greenery and tidy houses of the new estate. Flashes of sunlight reflect from car windows. “This was all mills and factories, once,” he says. “The sky used to glow in the night from all the furnaces, and you could feel the drop-forges shake the ground. It all went years ago, of course.”  The young man smiles, but says nothing.

He walks bent double now, his stick tapping the ground, a caricature of age. Across the street, children wage lethal war with plastic weapons. They do not see him.

 

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