“I didn’t. I -”I reached a hand out to take the money and get her change from the till when with a snake’s quickness, Hannah’s hand struck out and grasped mine.
It hurt when she squeezed but she relaxed her grip when she heard a woman’s voice pipe up from behind a curtain stretched across the doorway marked PRIVATE. STAFF QUARTERS.
“Hannah? Is that you?”
The hate in Hannah’s eyes was shrugged off as easily as a tramps coat from small shoulders and again she smiled with the warmth of an aunt.
“Ah, hello Abigail. I was just saying hello to your boy.”
“Has he apologised for making up stories.”
Hannah looked at me and the hard wooden floor seemed to melt away hideously.
“There’s no need for that,” Hannah said. “I’m sure he realises he made a mistake.”
My hand pulsed painfully when she finally released me and stepped back.
“Keep the change,” she said and turned away and then in a louder voice, called to my mother; “I’ll see you Thursday, Abi.”
She waved once and then with the tinkle of the door bell, was gone.
The world seemed to turn slowly in the vacuum of air she had left behind. My heart drummed against my chest and the whooshing blood beating against my ear drums blocked out the rumble of wagons passing outside.
Rain knocked against the window but I took no notice.
I had more than seven pound change.
Mother had never given me pocket money but just like that I was the richest boy on the street. I could go out and buy sweets until I exploded.
With money paid from a dead child’s insurance.
It’s a bribe, I thought when my senses returned.
A means to keep me quiet.
My flesh shivered and again I thought of that river.
I scooped up the note and put it in the cash register, wanting no part of it.
Tonight I would lock my bedroom door and windows and pray for the dawn.
* * *
“Mom, I’m telling you – she’s a murderer.” Mother shook her head till her fake gold earrings beat against her cheek and left green smudges.
“Oh, Sam – all these wild stories is why you have no friends,” mother moaned, looking. “What about the werewolf in the high street or the ghost in the bathroom? I know you want to be a writer but you’ll make more money inheriting this hat shop.”