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by Damhnait Monaghan

Even though I’m almost fifteen, my mother still walks me to the bus stop every morning. I stare at the splotches of gum on the tarmac while she adjusts my collar or fusses over my perfect black plaits. Then she puts her index finger under my chin, tilts it up, and moves back a few feet.

“Smile,” she’ll say, pointing her phone at me.

Most days I do as I’m told. But if I’m “in a strop,” she’ll add, “Is that how you want to look on the ‘Missing, Please Help’ posters? Is that the face you want flashing up on social media?”

Really Mum? Like I’ll care how I look when I’m lying dead behind a skip? Or locked up in a shed by that creepy bald guy who lives two doors down?

But she never lets me get on the school bus until I give her a proper smile. So when the bus driver shouts, “You got ten seconds,” I’ll fake a huge grin, like I might make if there was actually anything to smile about in my life. Then I’ll slink to the very back of the bus, ignoring the comments about my psycho mum.

But this morning is different. My lips are fizzing. I can barely keep them inside my face. I swear I could wrap a smile around the planet today.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” Mum says as she angles her phone.

She doesn’t know I found an old tee-shirt in the loft. “Born to Run,” it said. Must’ve been Dad’s. It’s in my school bag, with some clothes, a pair of scissors, and a bottle of bleach. So by the time the police ask Mum for “last seen wearing” photos, the only thing about me that will look the same is my big wide grin.

Damhnait Monaghan is a Canadian now living in the UK. Her stories, real and imagined, have appeared or are forthcoming in Understorey Magazine, Still Point Arts Quarterly, The Incubator, Spelk Fiction, The Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine and Inside the Bell Jar.