The Keysmith




Rycrofts shoe repair and keycutting has a bold handpainted sign, retaining a forgotten craft of lettering and colour. It stands on the crossroads next to the Streatham Hill station, where busses idle their way down to Brixton. The window shelf inside is scattered with local business cards and empty jars. The old smith watches us lazily, plugged into a litre of water. It drains with a slorp and gurgle. Finally we’re greeted with a gasp of air which turns to a rasping laugh. ‘You know I was so gone last night. There’s that point where you think, here we go, this one is gonna set me off till I don’t know how many more. Damn.’ Dropping his glasses, he is sober. Calculating the notch and groove of brass, before turning to the cutter. The shrill grind and pierce drowns out the noise of traffic. Handing back the fresh set, he sees me looking at the jars and gestures toward the ceiling, sagging yellow-grey with rain water. ‘Tha’s the trains. I say to the transport, but there’s nothin’ they can do, nothin’ any of us can. Tha’s Sixteen quid.’ We pay and make to leave. ‘Good luck with the hangover’ I say. ‘I ain’t hungover I’m still drunk.’ He rasps. ‘Good luck around four then’ and he gives me a sad, knowing nod. We take the keys back to the flat but they jam in the lock.

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