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by Kate Jones

She’s caught the 3.15 train, as instructed by her father. As trees and fields give way to the concrete blocks of the city, the muscles of her stomach tighten.

She pulls out a book from her rucksack sitting on the floor between her feet. She sees the school book she’s supposed to be reading languishing at the bottom, ignores it, pulling out instead a tattered book of fairy tales and dropping the rucksack back onto the floor with a thud.

She opens the book she’s been reading since she was six years old; she knows this because inside, on the flyleaf, is an inscription that reads To Martha on your 6th birthday, Love Mummy and Daddy. She traces a finger idly over the signature and realises she hasn’t seen the two words tagged together like that in so long.

Opening to the contents page, she scans the familiar names, like the names of her non-existent siblings. Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel. She counts off the stories that have wicked stepmothers until she loses count, feeling the gnawing sense of doom again.

She falls into her book like Alice down the rabbit hole, plunging into the familiar tales of princesses and fairies, goblins and witches. She could likely recite the tales without the print before her, but holding it gives her strength. She tries to avoid the stories with stepmothers today; focuses instead on happy endings.

What she doesn’t think of:

She doesn’t think of her father kissing her goodbye when, at the age of twelve, he’d thought her grown enough to understand why he couldn’t stay. She doesn’t think of the woman she’s going to meet now, at the end of this journey, her father’s new bride. She doesn’t think of her mother’s accusatory looks as she left this morning.

She doesn’t think of the disapproving gaze of the woman opposite, at a girl of sixteen reading fairy tales.

She simply loses herself, again and again, in the stories of her childhood. When everything was the same. Simple, uncomplicated.

When both her parents tucked her in at night, and she didn’t have to choose sides.

Kate Jones is a freelance writer and editor based in the north of England, with a passion for short fiction. Her work has appeared in many online magazines and genres, including Spelk, The Nottingham Review, The Real Story, Ellipsis, and The Short Story. She can be found loitering on Twitter @katejonespp.