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by Clare Riley Whitfield

Like a million fleas with Tasers the rain hits me straight in the face. We wear short pleated skirts of no practical purpose so our legs look like raw chicken. I cross my arms and put my hands inside my jumper. The girl next to me is huge, in every way, and the skin of her legs is riddled with green and purple veins like motorways. We stand, a heap of flesh on concrete, where 100 painted lines make meaningless shapes in all colours.

Someone should tell the teacher that blowing a whistle in people’s faces is not international sign language. I feel my eyes fill with tears but I won’t let them spill over.

I’m good at that.

When she blows her whistle in my face again, I think about ripping it out of her mouth and throwing it on the ground. I feel her spit on my cheek as she ushers me off. Thank fuck. I join the others wheezing on a bench. Teenage gangly legs bend and curve like bones, a warped glockenspiel made of shins. The big one with the motorway thighs gasps into an inhaler.

It rains all the time here and everyone is packed in. We live like tins in cupboards. Auntie has a tiny flat where the furniture is butted up against the walls. The dining table sits in a corner so only two people can eat at the same time, though there are three of us. I prefer to eat in the front room and watch TV anyway. I hope to learn English quicker this way. I am waiting for the day it starts making sense.

Auntie’s boyfriend is younger than her. She is as thin as he is fat. They have noisy sex in the room next to mine. I lie there, listening to them grunting. Sometimes I hear wet noises, like water slapping against the side of a boat so I put headphones in. I can fall asleep listening to music quite loud.

I’m good at that too.

He shouts and waves his hands as if conducting an orchestra while the buttons of his shirt strain to hold it together. Auntie gazes from under her false eyelashes and acts like a virgin.

He laughs at my skinny legs and pretends to look for my breasts with a telescope. Auntie finds this hysterical but then she is desperate.

Sometimes he blocks my path with his stomach. He will ask if I have a boyfriend and brush hair that isn’t there from my face. Once he passed me Auntie’s sewing box but thrust it close so his thumb was against my chest. He wiggled it about like a worm trying to find my nipple, and ran a fingernail over it. I pushed the box away and thought how good it would feel to stab him in both eyes. I can’t risk making him angry, but I don’t want to encourage him.

This is what I need to get good at.


Clare Riley Whitfield first had the feeling she wasn’t where she was meant to be when she found herself standing in the rain sniffing compost on a peat bog in Co. Kildare, Ireland. After many years as a retail buyer including purchasing cat litter, rim blocks and garden gnomes, she has now retreated into a converted garage with no heating and spends a worrying amount of time talking to her dog. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative & Critical Writing at the University of Winchester and can be found on Twitter at @whitfield_riley and Instagram at @clarerileywhitfield.

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