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Jane Downing

Beatrice asked if he’d remembered their hats. Arthur said they were in the backseat of the car, and swayed slightly, nudging his shoulder against hers. It was a gesture of solidarity, of affection, as reassuring as his words.

Another couple stepped out of the crowd and up to the trestle table where the organisers were sitting. A group of Girl Guides were called next. They took a while to get through. As groups left the church hall, Beatrice and Arthur waited patiently, side by side, like a salt and pepper set. They could always be relied on; forty-seven years of marriage stood as proof to a certain degree of stamina.

Eventually they were called, the last to be delegated a zone and follow the line of volunteers out onto the streets with official badges and blue buckets. Arthur had bell-ringers' hands; he kept the as-yet empty bucket hugged to his chest, like an extension of his potbelly. Beatrice had her hands free to collect the photocopied map, laboriously highlighted with the triangle of streets they were to canvass. They had on their special running shoes, bought in 1989 and never, strictly speaking, used for the advertised purpose.

Charity does not always begin at home. These fluorescent pink-smeared street names didn’t look like the best place to start, though. Arthur knew the way. He’d taken their old car out there every year for a service, whether it needed it or not.

He was in the driver’s seat to the treeless roads of the industrial area. They parked in the unhappy shade of a brick wall. Even young ones with graffiti on their minds had avoided the place. A grass-man genuflected in amongst his herd of Victas and ride-ons, dancing his green sticky arms as he surged and sagged and surged on spurts of pumped air. Arthur gave him a slight bow as they passed. The sales rep in his office stood, to better dig into his khaki pockets. The coins rained into the bucket, pennies from heaven.

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