Author : Victoria Benstead-Hume

We made it to twenty-eight weeks before my neighbour reported me.

Twenty-nine and the doctor classed it tainted. As if that mattered.

Lace curtains lend a sheen of respectable domesticity to the surgery sat on the edge of the dead-zone. But no-one watching would be fooled. The overgrown hedges and singed grass, the stream of women coming and going, the guards stationed at the door signal what goes on behind.

Fat-bellied women crowd the room; dull pastels and faded florals, stained tablecloths with lowered heads. Eyes avoiding eyes. Avoiding admitting we are worse than murderers.

I shift on my seat. Nylon clings to the back of my knees. I crave the luxury of cotton.

Silence ticks on.

“Seventy-one.” The surgeon rubs his baggy eyes.

A woman passes, swamping me with the acid stench of fear.

“May I?” I whisper to the shadow beside me.

Never enough food but cigarettes to drown in. She shakes one loose. My ink-stamped hand trembles. I hold the cigarette as my mother did, fingers curled. We press lit against unlit. As I inhale, our eyes meet; my mirror. She looks down, at the number printed there and looks away.

Closed-door screams.

I dream about escape, about sticky fingers, about salmon leaping through clean streams, about the time before—But they are fairy tales.

A siren drowns out the sobbing as the door opens.