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by Melissa Goode

Erica ran down the internal stairs of the pub, from the hotel rooms above to the bar below, a boy under each arm. She shoved them onto chairs in the dining area. They were about six and four years of age.

“These kids need chips. They need chips now,” she called to anyone.

Mark came to the doorway of the kitchen. “Alright, alright,” he said.

“These kids need chips,” she said, again, quieter.

Mark saw that Erica was white and green, her eyes wide, popping out of her skull. Her freckles were stark.

“Is everything okay?” Mark said.

“Their mum is having a long shower. They need chips,” Erica said. She begged. She turned to the kids. “You stay here for Mark, okay? I’m gonna be back in a second.”

She moved away, swaying as if drunk.

“Where are you goin’?” Mark called after her.

“Where’s Warren?” she said, moving to the back office. “Where the fuck is Warren? Fuck sake.”

Erica spotted Warren at the doorway to the beer garden, speaking with a rep. She said something to him, she didn’t know what. Warren stared at her, squeezed her shoulder. He walked straight to his office, smiling at a spot above the children’s heads as he passed.

Mark poured the chips into a paper lined basket. The boys watched him with their same clear, green eyes. Mark held a squeeze bottle of tomato sauce above the chips and raised his eyebrow at the boys. They nodded fast and seemingly in awe.

“Mum will want chips too,” the older boy said. “We’ll save some for Mum.”

“Sure. I can make her some later,” Mark said. “Dig in.”

The children ate hungrily, as if they hadn’t eaten for some time.

Warren returned to the bar, poured a glass of brandy and handed it to Erica who was slumped on a stool. She rested her head on the bar, her shoulders moving up and down with her breath. Her white-knuckled hands gripped the edge of the bar. She sat up slowly and downed the brandy, the entire glass.

“God, they won’t breath test me, will they?” she said.

“No,” Warren said. “Why would they breath test you?”

Erica shook her head. “You’re right,” she said. “I can’t fucking think straight.”

“You’ll need to. The police will want to talk to you. Get a statement. You’ll be right now after that brandy,” Warren said. “Get back over to those kids and act normal.”

She stared at him.

Warren gave her a stick of gum. “Act. Normal,” he said, pouring himself a glass of whiskey. “Go on.”

Erica chewed the gum, stood and walked towards the children, her shoulders squared, her mouth shaking. A crystal hung suspended from her car’s rear view mirror. This was what she thought of as she got closer to them. She thought of driving a long way from here, into the sunset, the crystal winking light until the sun dropped away, the children asleep in the backseat.

Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, New World Writing, Cleaver Magazine, Litro Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review among others. One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company Jungle. She lives in Australia. You can find her at www.melissagoode.com and on Twitter @melgoodewriter.