It was an accident

“I killed a bee once” she said through lips twisted by that one eye she has closed to block out the sun.

“In a glass, I mean. Not like, from it stinging me”.

Her hands were hidden beneath her thighs, her legs swinging back and forth over the brown water flowing in the river beneath us. This old, rickety bridge was just where we went to once everyone found out what happened to her sister.

I looked at her, but remained silent, wondering whether this story would be the one that turned the key in the lock.

“It was buzzing around in the daisies and I’d just finished my drink. I just wondered how long it would last under the glass but I forgot about it. I got bored of watching after awhile, and then I just forgot, and then that afternoon, mum came in from the backyard carrying my glass”.

She was picking at a freckle on her knee, knowing it wasn’t going to come off.

“I went back out there and it was under the flower, just laying there. It didn’t move when I poked it, so I guess I killed it”.

She was staring at me again through that screwed up, sun-staring face of hers, waiting for me to say something. To connect the dots between this story and the question I’d asked her.

“So was it kind of the same deal with Ashley? Just something you did and then got bored and forgot about?” I asked.

She nodded, watching the brown water below us.

“You wanted to see how long she’d hold out, waiting for you to find her?”, I pushed.

She shook her head.

“She wanted to play, I wanted to not play. I got sick of her whinging. I told her to go hide and I’d find her. But I didn’t even look. I forgot she even existed once I told her to hide. I just.. I was busy. Stupid busy. Just chatting online and tumblr”.

Faster now. Her words weren’t flat and far away like they had been these past few months. They had feelings in them and I could almost taste the tears they carried.

“I got hungry. Like, hours later. Hours. The sun had moved so far. The house was dark on my side and I remember that I suddenly got real cold. Heartcold, not weather cold. I remembered her. And then I heard the silence. It was the silence of her not being in the house.”

The words hadn’t slowed as much as they had started to detach from her. I could feel my skin begin to prickle as she recounted the moment that the pure horror of her realisation began to walk up her spine.

“Four hours, Tristan”, she whispered.

“It was an accident”, I reminded her, watching teardrops bloom on the denim of her shorts. “You didn’t know she’d hidden there. You didn’t hear her in the shed. You didn’t know the coolroom had locked and you didn’t know she’d had an asthma attack”.

The silence stretched as we watched logs and leaves come and go beneath us. I didn’t know if she’d heard me.

After awhile, she looked up at the sky again, barely needing to screw her face up.

“The sun’s moved”, she observed in the sad voice she had been wearing since Ashley died.
She grabbed the rail and pulled herself up. “I’d better go”.

“See you tomorrow?”, I asked the back of her.

She shook her head, stopped at the end of the bridge.

“They don’t want to be here anymore. The house. The town. The sympathetic looks they get”.

“So.. what? You’re going? You’re moving? When?” I shouted in panic, taking a step towards her as she began to turn around to face me, hurt and fear clouding her face.

“Two days, if we can get packed. Mum doesn’t stop crying. She sits in the shed, outside the cool room. She won’t let removalists come in to do it for us. Dad’s stopped talking to me. To anyone that isn’t mum. Now the only thing that breaks the sobbing is mum’s crying and dad’s shh’ing”.

She was gripping the railing and I could feel the guilt radiating from her.

“Abby, it’s not your fault. It was a horrible accident. You know her asthma was bad. You didn’t do anything to her.”

“I didn’t do anything for her” she whispered. I didn’t know how to respond.

“They don’t say it, but they hate me just as much as they love me. I’ve killed pieces of all of them”. This time the words fell in ragged, drool-dripping heaves. Her eyes were pouring pain onto the worn boards of the footbridge. I was beside her in seconds, helping her to the ground.

“Have either of them spoken to you?” I asked, my arms wrapped around her as she shook. Inhuman sounds came from her throat.

“This is the first time you’ve spoken about any of this to me. Is it the first time you’ve spoken to anyone?” I asked, squeezing her, desperate to hold her, to love her.

More inhuman wailing. Guttural, choking, mournful cries so painted in pain that I felt my own tears dripping from my chin.

The sun moved a little closer to the hills as we sat on our bridge, grieving for Ashley, and for Abby. Eventually, her grief turned to exhaustion and her eyes began to stare into nothing.

“My mum misses you. I think it’s time you stayed over at mine again”, I said, guiding her to her feet. She followed, like a puppet, hearing nothing, seeing even less.

My mum was walking through the hallway when I opened the door. She took one look at me, at Abby, and her face crumbled. A surprised, hearthurt gasp broke from her chest and she took a couple of rushing steps toward us. Abby responded by throwing my arms off her and running to my mother, burying her face in her shoulder.

I walked around them to the kitchen, where I began to make cups of tea that neither of them would end up drinking. I phoned Abby’s parents to tell them where she was, but nobody picked up. I left a message, hoped they would check it.

Abby spent that night curled in my mother’s arms, their heads fused together, my mother’s caring whispers eliciting silent, healing tears from the girlfriend I lost the day her sister died.

The next morning at the breakfast table, as my mother fussed over bacon and eggs, Abby stretched her arm out, closing her hand over mine. She smiled, then, and her smile sparkled in her red, swollen eyes.

I smiled back, but inside me my heart swelled. Inside me, I wept with relief, and an overwhelming sense of love.

Too soon, this joy was broken by the flashing lights of a police car outside. Too soon, this sliver of peace that had settled on Abby was shattered by the Policeman asking Abby to confirm who she was. Too soon, did I once again hear the sound of inhuman wailing that had broken my heart as Abby was told her parents were dead. By their own hand.

I haven’t seen her in a long time. She hasn’t seen me in even longer. Abby doesn’t see anything anymore. She stares, but she doesn’t see. She doesn’t speak, listen, love, laugh, draw, write, cry or live at all – Abby sits in her hospital bed and stares.

Three years later, I still see that smile she gave me across the breakfast table, and I still whisper “it was an accident”.

She still doesn’t hear me.

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Soul for a soul. Adult / hunting themes. Do not read if it upsets you. I don’t like it either, but sometimes this shit just falls out of my brain, yo

Watching little things die was Dell’s secret hobby.

Her family was comfortably wealthy. They weren’t rich, but they didn’t have to check the bank account before buying anything, so they lived where all their counterparts lived, in a quiet, bushland suburb where none of the mums had to work, or clean, or even raise their own children. Not when they could pay others to do it for them.

This gave Dell a lot of free time, and at 15, a lot of independence.

Her school grades were above average, and her parents were too interested in their own lives to push hers too hard, as long as she wore the right clothes, showed off at all the right parties, and stayed out of all the wrong trouble, they really paid her no mind at all.

Dell was perfectly happy with the arrangement, keeping to herself and her books, playing her violin, and keeping fit with her constant bike rides to hike in the bushland that bordered the town.

She wasn’t an excitable teenager, like the TV girls, or the real life ones that paraded around at school with their lip gloss and their shortened uniforms. Dell was naturally pretty, and naturally smart, and naturally slipped under everyone’s radar.

She wasn’t popular, she just wasn’t disliked.

School was easy for her, with no real unhappiness to speak of. People just didn’t do anything for Dell. She could smile and pretend she cared about their weekend, or their party, or their newest boyfriend who they haven’t kissed yet, but his friend’s cousin told her friend’s sister that he wanted to, so they’re going to do it tomorrow at lunch time.

Dell just didn’t feel anything about it.

The only time she ever felt much of anything was when she was in the bush, wandering, searching her traps for signs of rabbits or possums, or feral cats.

She hadn’t always trapped them. She began by watching a fox tear into a rabbit one very early, misty morning, but watching was only okay, for awhile. The next time she witnessed it, she threw sticks and rocks at the fox, hoping to make it drop the squirming, fluffy, red thing.

Instead, the fox tore away with it, leaving Dell feeling anger, and frustration, and this unsatiated sense of hunger.

On her third encounter, she managed to hit the fox in the head, and it dropped its quarry and ran. Dell ran, too, scooping the squealing hare into her hands.

She sat down, crossing her legs, and laid its twitching body before her. She ran her fingertips across its fur, just brushing it, like a soft breath snuffing out a candle. Its eyes stared widely into hers, sporadic twitches giving the semblance of a fight to its slow, painful death.

Dell watched, transfixed, for an hour and a half, as the hare’s life ebbed away. She had never felt closer to any living being before this.

The next time Dell caught a fox with its kill, she won it once more, only this time, the fox had sufficiently broken its neck, and the rabbit was dead.

It was still warm, but it was dead, and boring, and gone.

She left it there, and walked home.

Two weeks later, she had made and placed her own snare. It was for a class project, her parents were told, when she asked them if they could help her make it. Of course, neither of them could, but they were sure the local hunting club would have something they could provide.

Why learn things when you can pay someone else to do them?

Dell convinced her parents to help her get the materials, and she would make it herself, from the plans provided by school. And by “school”, she meant “the internet”. They were impressed by her determination to do it properly, and eagerly complied.

Her parents were proud of her, and when Dell returned, hours after placing her snare, to find a rabbit exhausted by its attempt to escape, Dell was also proud of herself.

When the rabbit was squirming in her hands, and its tiny little heart beating hard and fast against her palm, Dell smiled, a genuine smile of feeling. Real happiness, excitement and that sense of connection simmered inside her, warming her blood.

She tightened her hands around its neck, let it hang in front of her, kicking wildly. She smiled at it before twisting her hands, breaking its neck. She didn’t break it fully, and it let out a painful wail.

Oh, that moment. That snapping, cracking, vibrating moment where her body felt the destruction of its body, where the frenzied kicking became death-throe twitching, as severed nerves sent confused and broken messages to almost-lifeless limbs.

Dell never forgot that moment.

By the time she was 18, she had become a proficient hunter, a silent killer with no requirement for the meat. Her hunger was sated by the kill itself.

By now, however, others had begun to hunger for her.

She still carried herself through school a present but unreachable girl whose eyes were always staring, through you, past you, but never at you. Her disinterest in any one person of either gender, probably because of her plain, but pretty countenance, rather than alienate her, caused them all to want her, want something from her.

She spoke, and laughed, she smiled and even instigated conversations, but she did this with everyone. There were no groups or cliques she belonged to, she just existed, and one at a time, people would go to her, for a small conversation, a chance to be the first person who could get close to her.

The popular girls tried, the quiet girls tried, the football players tried, and the bad boys tried. They all got close, but no one person got closer than another.

By the time school went back at the end of her 17th Summer, things had changed.

People began to hate her and her constant, unconscious rejection of them. They began to make life difficult for her. She couldn’t understand why, and didn’t think to ask, but over time, the taunts of the boys and the jealousy of the girls formed the picture for her, and showed her what she needed to do.

Though she hadn’t developed the ability to equate human contact with feelings of her own, she could see that others equated her every move with some kind of feeling attached to them.

In the same way she stalked her animals, to find new places for her traps, she observed her schoolmates, taking note of their reactions to her words, or her actions. When she pretended to be interested in their verbal autobiographies, their eyes lit up, like her animals, but not in the same terrified way.

Theirs lit up in an excited way, and she could see in the boys, that sometimes their eyes would go heavy and glazed, the way hers felt when she anticipated her next kill. So did a couple of the girls’.

She understood. They wanted to feel close to her.

She began to listen more to the girls, to spend time with them outside the school. They went shopping for hours. As a thing for fun – an uncomfortably foreign concept for Dell, whose mother simply brought clothes home for her. They talked about boys, and the places they had put their hands, their mouths, their cocks.

Dell knew about cocks. She had the internet. And SBS.

She just hadn’t really considered them very much. Like the rest of a human being, it didn’t seem important to her.

Apparently it was supposed to be important to girls, so she listened, and she learned. Mostly via the internet.

By the end of that first term, Dell had plans to go camping with the popular group – the footballers and the short skirts, and one of the footballers in particular had been the most insistent that she go.

Dell didn’t know if he was attractive. He was just the one she enjoyed looking at the most. He hadn’t had many girlfriends, even though he was a footballer, so Dell assumed that he mustn’t be the best of them. That didn’t bother her, she just needed to do what girls should be doing, or people would start to look too closely, start to ask questions.

In the time between the end of school and the date of the camping trip, Dell received daily visits from the boy. She didn’t dislike them, but she couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. She didn’t like that everyone else felt something that was invisible to her.

If she tried to feel things, maybe she would.

When he arrived in his car, to take her to the campsite, he told her not to worry about bringing her tent. He said there were plenty out there already, and he’d hoped she’d share his.

She smiled, hoping that was what he wanted. He smiled back, and told her to get in.

As the sun disappeared and the stars came out, Dell began to relax. She was in the bush. She knew this place. Her traps were scattered all around here, probably filled with animals, some of them already dead of shock or exhaustion.

Alcohol was flowing through her body, warming her blood and confusing her brain. Everything felt soft, and light, and… happy.

More smiles than usual lit Dell’s face, and the boy spent the night with at least one part of his body against hers at all times. His smile beamed at the night, at his friends, at the girls, at the world, because he had won that most coveted of prizes: that competition to get the girl.

He kissed her, and smiled, they drank and they laughed, and when he left Dell’s side to refill their cups, down came the flock of painted faces, babbling incoherently about Dell and the boy being “soooooo cute” and “about time”. Dell giggled and smiled with them, and soon found herself wrapped in the arms and confidences of the popular girls.

One of them. What a privelege.

When the boy asked if she’d like to go for a walk, alone, Dell knew what he intended. She knew she didn’t care either way, and she put her hand in his, and followed.

He leaned her against a tree and kissed her, and whispered words she didn’t even listen to. After a time, she discovered they were both on the ground, kissing and writhing and leaves and dirt. She really didn’t care about where his hands were going, or what they were doing.

Her body was responding, and doing the things it did when she was alone. She enjoyed that feeling, so she let him continue, kissing him when prompted, moaning as he moaned, but still not finding a connection to him.

She rolled her head to the other side to escape the small twig that had been lodged there since it began. As her eyes grazed the view beside her, they lit upon a snare, empty, and live.

Her blood began to sing with anticipation, and her eyes to glaze with feeling.

She stared at the boy, who stared back, awe widening his eyes as he witnessed present-moment life flicker in hers. She considered snapping his neck, but Dell knew how that would end. You aren’t allowed to kill rabbits in jail, so jail wasn’t the place for her.

Dell grew up, and into her body. She used it with anyone she felt like, but she didn’t use it often, preferring to be out there, holding her animals and sharing the most profound moments of their lives, so when she arrived at her trapsite to discover a man stealing one of her kills, she reacted as wildly as the thrashing animal he held.

Terror filled his eyes at the sight of the enraged woman racing toward him. He dropped the rabbit and turned to run, but she had flung herself upon his back, her fist beating against him.

He stumbled, and crashed into a tree, falling to the ground with her beneath him. He scrambled to get up, to detangle his legs from hers, but she bit him, hard in the neck.

“What are you doing you crazy bitch!?” he roared, slamming his body against hers, and hers into the tree. The breath was knocked from her lungs, and he rolled off her, panting.

She lay on the ground, clutching her chest, each breath causing her pain.

“I’m sorry lady, I just.. what the fuck, you’re fucking crazy!” he screamed, getting to his feet.

“My kill”, she panted. “You took my kill!”

“You set that trap?” he asked with a confused, shocked expression.

“I’ve been trapping here since I was 15. That was my kill and you stole it”, she said, eyes hard, her breathing harder.

“I know. I shouldn’t have. I just wanted a look at the trap. I bought this land a month ago. It’s private property. I wanted to know who was trapping, and, it’s a good trap. You really set this?” he asked again, fear replaced with curiosity.

“I made it”, Dell answered, climbing to her feet.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble with you”, the man sighed.

“I came out here because I like hunting, and I didn’t get much opportunity to do it in the suburbs. I don’t care if you hunt here, but I’d like to come with you sometime. I don’t like hunting with guns. I prefer to do it like this.”

Dell didn’t respond. She stared at him, weighing her options, and seeing a familiar gleam in his eye.

“Maybe” was all she replied, before heading back home with a new feeling inside her.

The wounded flies

“I didn’t know how to buy underwear”, Jack smiled, from the bar stool beside me.

His hands were grease-blackened from decades spent beneath the body of a jacked up car. The grease had pooled in the wrinkles that deepened over the years, and with Mabel gone the way she went, well, sometimes he might forget to take a shower for a few days. Or sleep in a bed. Or cook a meal.

We were sharing war wounds, this lonely old drunk and me. At 32, I already had my own contribution to the Things Only Widowers Can Understand list.

“I didn’t know how to work the TV”, I replied, the ghost of a smile whispering through the pained grimace that had become my constant expression when something made me think of Janie. Which was every three to seven minutes, on average.

“With Janie working from home, and me never really watching TV, I never had to actually touch it myself. I discovered this the night I got drunk and decided I wanted to watch our wedding video”.

“That’s one thing I can say is I’m glad that sort of technology wasn’t around in my day. Photos and memories are hard enough”, Jack slurred over the top of his beer.

I nodded, and drained my whiskey. It burnt my gums and my throat on the way down, before settling like a small volcano in my sloshing stomach.

“Voicemail’s the hardest”, I replied, pushing myself up off my bar stool and nodding to the bar tender to pour us another round. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called her phone. I don’t know if I’ll ever ring up to have it turned off. I just keep paying the bill each month”.

Now it was his turn to nod with understanding as I unfolded a twenty and dropped it on the bar. “I’m going to take a piss. There’s his cash when he comes back”.

I wormed my hands into my pocket and made my way through the back of the bar. The carpet had ceased to be fabric many years ago, and was now just a brownish-grey paste of cigarette ash and stale beer. It stuck to your shoes and made your flesh crawl, but it was home.

At 4pm on a Tuesday, the bar was only populated with the handful of dedicated regulars who knew each other by name, but spoke to each other only in short nods of acknowledgement. One of them, a heavy bloke named Bob, in a cheap, polyester suit and runners, sat in a booth near the bar, beneath a greasy lamp covered in dust, doing crosswords and drinking vodka.

In another booth a few rows back sat Karen, an overly-friendly, prone-to-crying, used-to-be-blonde woman with a penchant for whiskey and wine. She was exhausting, but thankfully her attention was occupied today by an unfortunate stranger who came in here looking for an easy woman. Well, he’d found one, but nothing is ever really easy.

I did my best to avoid making eye contact, the unwritten law of the seedy dive. When you’re at the bar, it’s acceptable to mutter an exchange about the weather or current Prime Minister’s latest arsehole policy, but when everyone was safe in their own personal drinking hole, you avoided any circumstance that would force you to intrude on their solitude.

People who wanted to be talked to sat at the bar.

I reached the bathroom door and steeled myself against the wall of stench I was about to encounter. It wasn’t the smell of piss, that smell I can tolerate, even on a grand scale. This was the smell of cheap urinal cakes. A lot of cheap urinal cakes.

I held my breath and did my best to avoid touching any surfaces with my hands. I pissed as quickly as I could, thanked God above that Management had at least forked out on taps that sense your hand beneath them, and fled from that filthy room like the hounds of hell were chasing me.

“Why don’t you just wait until he’s got his back turned and go into the women’s?” Jack asked me when I got back to my chair.

“Well, for three very good reasons”, I replied, hauling myself onto the bar stool.
“1. It’s the women’s bathroom;
2. Karen might follow me in there and;
3. I never thought of it”.

Jack laughed, finished his drink and slowly slipped out of his chair.

“See ya tomorrow, kid” he said, giving me a gentle slap on the back on his way past.

“See ya, Dad” I replied, watching my old man make his way toward an empty home. A man who hadn’t gotten used to it, he’d just had more practice at facing what I was still unable to face, myself.

I caught the bar tender’s eye and ordered another whiskey.

I took it to a booth and sat down, dragging my crumpled crossword from my back pocket.

A new little MadeUp: A break in a well-worn path

Everyone thought she had freckles until someone from the church dragged her in off the street and gave her a bath.

Lopsided Lola they called her afterwards.

She had run from the house all fish-belly naked, her fat-girl tits uneven and puffy against the hideous bulge of her raised-on-TV stomach.

Clothed only in shame and anger, Lola ran from the house and its dusty street lined with children who owned books, toys and functioning parents. The children chanting “Lopsided Lola, Lopsided Lola” to the same tune they had used to tease her her whole life. It was only the words that ever changed.

Running from the street, Lola realised she couldn’t go home naked. If she went home without clothes, there would be nothing for her stepdad to make her take off, hurry up, before that bitch comes home with the milk.

Instead of going home, Lola hid in the park next to the river, moving from ditch to ditch as families walked dogs, threw Frisbees and laughed in the sun.

When darkness had surrounded her, she returned to that house, to the street whose children were now safe and full on the other side of all those  windows leaking out warm, glowing light.

Pulling sticks from her hair, she crept to the church lady’s door. A fat, grubby fist knocked twice before returning to its customary place clenched at her side. Nervously, she used her arms to try to hide her body, thinking that if she wasn’t so fat, it would actually be possible to do so. Knowing that if she wasn’t so fat, people wouldn’t mind so much anyway.

The door opened and happy hallway light spilled out, bathing her. The scent of meat and the kitchen-hum of a woman reached out to her, while a shocked and Proper husband glared down at her from the doorway.

“Where are your clothes, child? You can’t walk around naked! Where are your parents?” he demanded in a fluster, searching the street behind her.

“I knew she’d come back!” came the church lady’s voice, followed by the clash and clang of heavy dishes being hastily dropped onto a table.

“Don’t make her stand out there where all the neighbours can see! Bring her inside, Harold!” chided the church lady, wiping her hands on an apron tied around her waist.

Lola simply stared blankly as Harold moved aside to let her into the house.

Life had been easier when she was just “that fat little Biggs girl. You know, that family that lives at the Morrell farm”.

Lola was never introduced, merely explained, and that explanation was always followed with a clucking of a tongue, the shaking of a head, or the wrinkle of a disgusted nose.

She had developed a hard callous around her feelings in the mere eleven years she’d spent in this world. She had grown accustomed to the names people called her, or the way they only saw her when they wanted someone to feel their anger. Lola knew she wasn’t part of their world, she had her own place, on the outskirts, with the rest of her family, yet separate to them simply by being “too young to know any better”.

Now this church lady has started telling people to treat her nice and Lola can see they don’t want to.

“Why don’t people like that just do us all a favour and move away into one, big, loser town? That way we’ll only have one place to avoid!” they had joked the day her mother had driven the car into the side of the bank.

Nobody stopped to help her mother that day. Nobody rushed over to her, like Lola had seen on movies. Everyone just stood back and shook their heads at her. Some laughed while most tried desperately to look anywhere but at the crumpled car and the woman with the broken mind who had crumpled it.

“Now look at her, shrieking at everyone for laughing. That kid’s got no hope.”

That kid believed them still, which is why, when the church lady and her husband ushered her into their orderly, neat living room, she stood petrified, her entire body radiating tension. This was not her place.

“Is she deaf?” asked the husband.

“No, dear” replied the wife, handing Lola her own underpants, freshly laundered.

“Well, mute then? She doesn’t speak!” he pushed.

“Well, you’re speaking enough for all of us, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?” she admonished sharply, the cold set of her eyes saying more to her husband than any words ever could.

“Cup of tea”, he announced, clearing his throat and leaving the room.

“Lola, I have the rest of your clothes here. They’re washed now” the church lady said, gently holding the clothes towards the grubby little girl standing in her living room.

“Now, you’re welcome to come here whenever you want to, Lola. You don’t have to come here if you don’t want to, but you’re always welcome. I like to do my garden through the day. It would be nice to have someone else to talk to while I do it” said the church lady.

“What’s your name?” Lola asked, still staring blankly ahead.

“I’m Mrs Wells, but my friends call me Harriet. You can call me Harriet too”, she offered.

“If I come, will I have to talk to anyone else?” Lola asked.

“You don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want to, Lola. Not just at my house, but anywhere. Do you understand?” Harriet asked, kneeling on the floor to force Lola to look at her.

“Nothing you don’t want to do. I’m sorry if the bath scared you today. I wanted to make you feel better, not worse” she continued.

“I put dirtfeet on the floor” Lola mumbled.

“What do you mean?” asked Harriet.

“The water was hot so I got back out, and I put dirtfeet on the floor and the towel. I wouldda got in trouble so I ran away” Lola finished, absentmindedly picking at a scab on her right thigh.

“Oh, dear. That’s nothing to worry about, those things can be cleaned right up!” smiled Harriet.
“You should see the mess Harold makes when he has been fixing the motor on the car. He puts dirtfingers everywhere!” she continued.

Lola’s eyes widened in shock.  Mrs Harriet was smiling. When her stepdad put dirtfingers everywhere, her mother would shout and he’d call her names and tell her it didn’t matter anyway because the whole house was dirt because she hadn’t done any housework since alcohol was invented. After that, there would only be bread for dinner because her mother had taken her whiskey to bed and her stepdad was watching TV.

“Pop your clothes on and I’ll make you a plate. Do you want to call your family?” Harriet asked.

Lola shook her head. It was dark now. Her stepdad would be away at the bar and her mum doesn’t remember she’s there most of the time anyway.

Harold tried to make small-talk with Lola, uneasy in the silence that had descended on his dinner table. When Lola gave no response, Harriet would fill in the blanks, always finishing with an “isn’t that right, Lola?”

Lola would nod, or shake her head, but didn’t expand or provide alternative explanations. She sat at the table, her dirty arms hovering awkwardly above the tablecloth in an attempt to keep it clean.

When their meal was finished, Harold collected their plates.

“That’s what I like to see in a growing girl! A good appreciation of food!” he smiled down at Lola.
“You don’t by any chance also appreciate ice-cream, do you?” he asked, wiggling his greying eyebrows at her.

Despite herself, Lola giggled and nodded to him.

“Then that will be two bowls of ice-cream coming up! Harriet, who I secretly suspect of being a spy, says she doesn’t like ice-cream. Which is exactly why I think she is a spy!” he whispered conspiratorially to Lola.

“Spies have excellent hearing, Harold” Harriet said from beneath her arched eyebrows.

“I’m done for!” he shouted, dramatically dumping the dishes into the sink and hurrying out the door.

Lola turned to Harriet, caught between fear and laughter.

“What happened to him? Are you really a spy?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Not at all, dear. Harold went to the bathroom. He just thinks it’s funny to stay in character as he does things” Harriet explained.

“Ink arakter?” Lola asked.

“Like in a movie. The person you see on screen isn’t really a pirate or a bank robber. It is a person playing the character of a pirate. Harold was playing the character of a man who suspects his wife is a spy, and he just got caught and needed to run away.” she said.
“To put it more simply, Lola, Harold is a big, silly idiot.” she laughed.

Lola laughed too. She didn’t think Proper grown ups said idiot. Especially not church ones.

“Psst! Lola!” came a whisper from the doorway.

She turned toward the sound as Harold’s balding head peeked around the corner. He motioned for her to go over there.

She looked at Harriet, who just smiled and rolled her eyes.

“Psst! Lola!”

Grinning, she stepped down from the chair and tiptoed over to the doorway.

“Who is it?” she shout-whispered.

“It’s me, Harold The Brave. Is that crazy spy lady still in there? Is the coast clear? Is it a safe time for ice-cream?” he asked, his head darting from side to side, checking that nobody was hiding in any other rooms.

“Mrs Harriet is still in there” Lola whispered.

“Harold, stop being an idiot and come and get the child some ice-cream”, Harriet sighed from the table.

“Curses! Lola! She heard us! I think she’s more than a spy. I think she’s a witch! Tomorrow, when you come back to visit, we will try to find her flying broomstick! I tried to fly on the one she sweeps the porch with, but that must be a fake! All I did was land on my bottom in the garden!” he told her, grimacing in remembered pain.

“Let’s pretend we don’t know anything about her being a witch. We’ll go in there and get some ice-cream and then tomorrow… tomorrow we’ll show her all the proof we need!” he enthused, taking her hand and leading her into the kitchen.

“Spies on that side of the table. Ice-cream enjoyers on this side”, he said, picking up the ice-cream scoop and waving it menacingly at Harriet.

“… and idiots get to sleep outside with the dog”, Harriet replied, folding her arms across her chest.

Lola was enjoying every minute of their pantomime.

After her bowl of ice-cream, Harold offered to drive her home.

At the look of disappointment on Lola’s face, Harriet reminded her that she was welcome to visit whenever she wanted to, and that she would really love a friend to talk to when she was in her garden.

As Harold and Lola walked to the car, she waved goodbye from the porch.

“Wait! I forgot!” Lola shouted, running back to Harriet.

“Am I allowed to call you Harry?” she asked.

“Uh, wha- sure you can, dear” came the confused reply.

“You said that your friends call you Harriet and I can too if I like, but you are Harriet and he is Harold and so you are both Harry. You can be Mrs Harry and he can be Mr”, Lola explained.

“Lola, I would be delighted if you called me Mrs Harry” Harriet laughed.

“Okay, good!” Lola said, and ran back to the car Harold had started.

“She said I can call you Mr and Mrs Harry”, she explained as she clambered onto the front seat, slamming the door behind her.

“Between you and me, I think you should call her ‘Mrs Hairy’!” Harold said, turning the car onto the road.

Lola laughed most of the way home, until the streetlights began to grow thinner, and home began to grow closer.

When they reached the long driveway of the farm, Harold went to turn in.

“Mr Harry, I want to walk the rest of the way. The car will make mum wake up”, she said.

Harold nodded, knowing that the real reluctance came from her fear that her family would try to destroy the small bubble of happiness she had just discovered. He and Harriet would need to speak to her parents if she was to spend time in their home.

“Don’t forget, Lola. I need you. Nobody else can help me find Mrs Hairy’s flying broomstick!” he reminded her.

Lola laughed again.

“Don’t call her Mrs Hairy, Mr Harry! She’ll put you in trouble and then I’ll have to undo the spell!”

She darted up the driveway and Harold turned the car towards home.

A long time later, his key turned in the front door and he found Harriet in the living room, a pot of tea ready on the coffee table.

“I’ve seen her around, you know? Without ever ‘seeing’ her. All I saw was her family name, her fat, grubby stomach always poking out of shirts and shorts that should have gone to goodwill months before.” He said, sadly, taking his chair next to the fireplace.

“We always say that there’s no helping people like that. They don’t want any help, they just spit it back in your face” he continued, picking up the teapot and filling his cup.

“What I’ve learned tonight is that part of what makes them who they are, is us. Our attitudes, our instinctive reaction to their appearance or the rough way they speak. They don’t want our help because it is never genuinely offered. It is only offered as a means to make us more comfortable with them, not to make them more comfortable in themselves” He paused then, reluctant to put his next thought into words.

“That girl has more reason to hate us, than we’ve ever had to hate her, and yet, she doesn’t. We are the freaks and monsters in this town, Harriet. We who sit on high, judging everyone else who walk below us, and yet it’s only in our own minds that we have placed a distinction between them and us.  All Lola wanted was acceptance, to be included in something, wanted somewhere. When I look back at my own life, that’s all I’ve ever wanted, too.”

When he didn’t continue, Harriet spoke.

“Lola isn’t full of hatred yet. But she will be. As the years go by and her treatment remains the same, Lola will learn to hate. Lola will become her mother, or her stepfather. She will become her uncle who beats the prostitute from the roadhouse every payday. Or she’ll become her sister who is the prostitute at the roadhouse because she will grow up believing that she deserves no better.”

“For tonight at least, Lola discovered that she is wanted somewhere, even if it’s with old Mr and Mrs Harry”, she finished, glumly.

“Hairy. You’re now Mrs Hairy”, Harold corrected, his sparkling eyes grinning at her over the rim of his teacup.

Just the beginning of one more unfinished story

She can hear the Town Bell’s dull, mournful cry from the back room of the house.

The curtains are closed, but the silvery moonlight echoing through the edges tells her it is just past one am. She doesn’t know what has brought her to this room. She can’t recall the last thing she remembers, there is a fogginess that obscures memories before she can place them.

She is standing in the doorway, darkness pooling across her body like breath. It is always present, surrounding you, unnoticed, then suddenly a sound or a flash and you realise it is there and has been for a very long time.

Fear rushed through her body with a pleasurable sting as the hair on her skin tightened. It was just like lowering yourself into a hot bath; it hurt, in such a sweet, private way. A memory jolted her back to another place. To a cold room in an old house with a fire that never took. She was naked, her bruised knees cold and red on the stone floor. Her torso was draped across the knees of a man, twice her age and girth. Her arms were stretched before her, each hand tightly grasped by another older gentleman; one slim in a suit and glasses, the other wearing a dark denim jacket and a lingering aroma of sweat and engine oil.

Her head was rolling about to the accompaniment of a sharp crack which pierced the silence and tore through the room like thunder. Tears rolled down her cheeks and blood stained her chin and teeth, pooling in the cracks between them. She didn’t hear the cracking sounds anymore. All she heard were the heavy breaths and repulsive grunts of the men in the tiered chamber surrounding her. She could feel their eyes on her even if she couldn’t see them – the stage lights blind her but the gentleman customers are provided the luxury of anonymity.

The fat man who was slapping her arse knew the show must go on and Genna’s blood was now dripping on the floor. Her body was so unresponsive she was biting her lip with every slap. The boss wouldn’t be happy with this. She’d be off the stage for a week or more. There isn’t a gentleman customer in the world who would come to this establishment to see a woman with broken lips and the fat man knew he would be in special trouble for damaging this one, she was the diamond in the crown, the boss’ daughter.

Genna wasn’t sure how long the memory lasted. When it sloughed off her, the moonlight echo around the windows had moved a little further and was now casting sharp, biting beams across the floor. As awareness of her body returned, pain shot from her feet to her thighs, pulling her legs from beneath her. She had been standing still for at least an hour.

Crumpled on the floor, she began to weep. When the salt of her tears reached her lips, she screamed, for the memory was a recent one.