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by Janelle Hardacre

She doesn’t cry. She didn’t when she was attacked by a punter last week or when another woman stole the trainers off her feet. She didn’t cry when she was rattling and only had an old paper fiver in her boot or on the day her baby girl was taken away.

But now, she hicks in air like a tantruming toddler, liquid falling out of all the holes in her ruddy face.

“No, no, no. I can’t have. Please, no.” The half formed words slide out between sobs. You’d like to think that if you saw her in the street you’d help her. A young, put together woman, wearing good quality calf-length boots with newly dyed violet hair which she’s grabbing in clumps as she sobs and changes direction. But then, it’s dusk, misty, hard to see. You’d get a bit closer and realise what she was saying through the spittle and tears.

“My phone. I need it. No, no. Please. Have you seen my phone? It was in my bag this morning. I know it.”

***

She runs on stilettoed heels, her ankle folding over every so often making her stumble like a drunkard. She punches the metal-shuttered door of the clinic, rattling the flimsy building.

“Please. Gemma, Mary. Anyone, please help me,” she shrieks.

The security door begins to shudder up, too slowly. She bends down and sees the feet of a support worker through the glass. “Help me. Please.”

The support worker shouts and exaggerates mouth shapes through the window. “Goodness. Shelley. What’s happened? Are you alright?”

“My phone. I can’t find my phone. Please help me.” An oval of condensation blooms.

“Oh Shell. I’m so sorry. I’m sure it’ll turn up soon. You know we’re closed now? If you come back for this evening’s session, someone can help you, yeah?” She taps a pretend watch on her wrist with one finger.

“You don’t understand. Please, please. I need it now. It’s gone. She’s gone.”

“I’m sorry, Shell. We’ll see you in a few hours, ok? Go and retrace your footsteps, eh?”

The mechanical shutters clang. Shelley picks a direction and walks, hugging herself against the biting air.

***

The only photos of her daughter are on that phone. She wakes up every single morning and goes through them. There are 13 pictures. A new one just came through of her first day at school. She talks to them, tells her little girl how proud she is and that one day soon, when she’s sorted herself out, one day soon, she’ll be back to bring her home.


Janelle Hardacre lives in Manchester and writes short fiction when she’s not working in communications or singing. Her work is published in Ellipsis Zine, Pygmy Giant, Paragraph Planet, FlashFlood Journal and Reflex Fiction. Her story Late appears in William Faulkner’s Typewriter, an anthology by students from Comma Press’ short story course. She blogs at janellehardacre.co.uk and tweets @jhardacre1.

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