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by Annelise Altman

You’ve got that look on your face.

The one where you raise your eyebrows so high they disappear under your fringe. Your chin points down, your lips pout, your face twists to one side. It makes your cheeks ruche. Face like a smacked arse. That’s what grandma would have called it. She never held back. Maybe I’m more like her than I realised. She’d have told you straight. And I’m telling you now. You never looked your best when you pulled that face.

But you’re not pulling that face anymore. You’re running your fingers through your hair, pacing up and down. It’s only a matter of time, you say. Before they come knocking. It was just words, you tell me. You didn’t mean that I should do it. It serves them right, I say. They shouldn’t have kept your money. And anyway, I didn’t leave my name. You raise your voice to tell me how green I am. You ask me if I’m stupid. A hard swallow leaves me with no answer. Your skin fades grey and you tell me that for my sake it’s a good job I’m your little brother. You shake your head as you look out across the city sky. It’s a long way down. You say we might have to move.

I watch your hefty fingers caress the cigarette paper without dislodging the contents. You fire it up. Its tip blazes a furious amber. I shake my head when you ask me if I have any more. That was the last of it. But I know where I can get some, I tell you. You disappear for a moment in a cloud of smoke, drawing the last of it back up your nostrils, leaning your head back against the chair. You pass it to me and I take a heavy draw, shutting my eyes. In a distant voice I hear you ask me again what it was I said. And I tell you. You ask me if I realise what I’ve done. I did what you wanted, I say. You put your head in your hands, telling me how much I’ve screwed up. You start the pacing again. And then you stop. You heard a noise at the front door, you whisper. I look up at you and freeze. You’ve got that look on your face again.

And now so have I.

Annelise Altman is a writer of short fiction from the UK. Most recently her writing has been featured online at 101 Words, the RMR Audio Art Journal and as the winner of the Weekly 500 at The Short Story. She is on the editorial team at platformforprose.com.