Clock Work

Janet Hancock

Close up of red shoes on a white surface in a store window. The shoes are heeled with a closed toe and ankle straps. In the background, the store has gray concrete walls, two large chandeliers, and some spot lighting. Handbags are displayed on the wall at the right and in a glass display case behind the shoes. Three mannequins are lined up in a row facing left at the far back. Red is the predominant color of the items on display.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

One a.m.,
cross the river,
stop to glance at
placid, black water,
wishing it were her Danube;

past house with
basement steps
on which she slept
the first three nights;

stop to inhale woodsmoke
of oven in bakery cellar,
warm herself by the vents;

snarl of prowling cat,
voice raised in anger
behind dark window;

up bare staircase,
avoiding doll with broken arm,
breathing in pee and curry;
Katya’s perfume lingers
in chill room,
Katya has not tidied the mattress,
duvet rumpled with
union jack cover,
coffee dregs in
union jack mug,
no money for meter;

a few hours to sleep,
Katya will be back at
eight a.m.,
expect her to get up
so Katya can crash out,
pillow smells of Katya,
turn it over;

in the morning, wander past
shop windows and
red shoes with a strap;
at work by eleven a.m.,
clean up, wash up,
lay up, serve:
starter, main course, sweet, coffee,
fix smile,
think of red shoes with strap.


Born and brought up in Worcestershire, Janet Hancock trained as a teacher in Oxford. Although history remains her first love, for many years she taught English in the south of England to military officers from the Middle East and Francophone Africa. She has had prize-winning and shortlisted short stories published online and in anthologies. Published poetry is in South 63 and the forthcoming issue 76 of Tears in the Fence. Beyond the Samovar, her first novel, set in Russia and England, 1919-20, was published in 2019 by The Conrad Press. She reviews for the Historical Novels Review. Email: janet.hancock[at]

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