• Henry Neilsen


This story was submitted to the Australian Writer's Centre "Furious Fiction" entry for the month of April, 2020. See here for the details and list of entry requirements.


The apron of the driveway met the roadside with a sheer abruptness that made it seem as though the cracks in it were created by force and not age. I sat next to it, drawing silently with a stick held in my non-dominant hand. Anyone looking at me that day would have assumed I was a sullen boy, perhaps with a slightly broken home or at very least not a well off one. My shirt was far too big for me, old and worn with stains where the pigment had washed out. My shoes were caked in a fine layer of mud and held a pair of odd socks that were probably on the high end of an acceptable number of days of continuous wear.

My mother wasn’t due home for at least another two hours, and my suburb didn’t have much in the way of traffic after school. I’d usually potter around the streets until I got hungry, then make my way home for a snack. Today, though, I was waiting for someone.

I didn’t even notice her approach. I was so intrigued by the icons and imagined stories at the end of my stick that it wasn’t until her shadow crossed my vision that I looked up.

Penny stared sullenly at me, the lemon yellow of her dress spoiled by patches of muck that had dried out. Her shoes, usually pristine, were scuffed and grubby. Her hands were the only thing clean about her, those having been washed thoroughly by the nurses at the school after the incident at lunchtime.

“Hi Penny,” I said.

“Hi,” she offered back, obviously not happy to see me.

“I brought you something,” I said, and pulled my backpack toward me. She stepped back, and I didn't blame her. Her eyes lit up when I pulled out the ribbon she usually wore in her hair, slightly damp but otherwise clean. I held it out to her.

“I saw it left in that mud puddle when you ran off.” I said, “After the boys were splashing you, I mean. I thought you might want it back, so I washed it for you.”

Penny took it gently, and held it with both hands. She stared at me then, as though she was trying to see if I was going to do something more. To mock her, or somehow make her horrible day even worse. She decided I probably wasn’t going to do that.

“Thank you,” she said.

As she wandered down the street, I watched her walk to her house around the corner. Once she was out of sight, I pulled off the dirty shirt of dad’s that I’d stolen, along with my spare pair of runners and the socks I’d pulled from the dirty clothes pile. I reached into my bag again and got out the clean clothes I’d stashed there, and pulled them on as fast as I could.

That’s better, I thought, as I walked towards home.


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