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by Rosalind Goldsmith

He looks asleep. He’s not. He surveys the scene to see what might be threading through the gloam — one wending its way, or skipping home after extra curriculars, alone and waifish, angel-light and golden-haired, toting a little knapsack and traipsing home, all unsuspecting, all innocence and light of heart.

He lies in want, alone. He won’t wait long. In his rearview, a tiny figure. No, not viable, this one, crossing over the street now, too late. No, she’s heading back this way, zig zagging back to him. She approaches the car.

He rolls down the window, tells her that her mother has asked him to drive her home. She hesitates. He smiles and opens the door, and she gets in. He locks the door.

Night is closing in now and closing in fast as the car speeds out of town and down an empty highway.

In less than an hour, the mother on the rack, the police out in force. By morning, neighbours out too, stepping with care, side by side through long grasses, back yards, empty lots, school yards and ravines.

When the police find her hours later she is dazed and walking along the edge of the woods between the highway and the trees. Apparently, the only thing missing — the knapsack.

They drive her home and she runs into the arms of her mother, and her mother holds her for minutes, won’t let go, weeping and stroking her hair.

She is alright. She is alright. At home, she drinks apple juice, eats toast and peanut butter and the next day she plays with her friends in the school yard. She is alright. She returns to school when her mother is certain she can manage, and she goes to all her classes and completes all her assignments. She is alright. She laughs with her friends, goes to birthday parties, sleepovers, and bakes cupcakes with her friends in her mother’s kitchen. They watch her carefully. She looks the same. Is the same. She is alright.

She is not. Inside, she carries the child she was when she died. The dead child. The murdered child that lay in a ditch, her golden hair transgressed with mud, her face turned sideways to the earth, leaves raked loosely over her body. And as the girl grows, the dead child stays with her, sits on her pillow at night and whispers stories, teaches her the ways of people, scrawls weird words on the walls of her room, guides her, all smiling, through the dark warp of dreams. In the morning, the stillchild holds herself wall-eyed and hollow-hearted before others who would come near, keeping them always at bay with a little clenched fist. And if the woman dares speak, the child turns to her, lays her finger against her lips and calls the woman to silence. And she wraps her earth-stained arms around her, cradling her in shame, holding her. Still.

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She has also translated and adapted short stories by the Uruguayan writer Felisberto Hernandez for CBC Radio. She began writing short fiction four years ago. Since then her stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Litro (print and online), Popshot, Understorey, Filling Station, and Burningword Literary Journal, among others.