SPARE CHANGE by Karen Jones
CW: Swear words, alcohol, sex
Rhona has no suitcase. No one has a suitcase. Where have they ever been? Where would they go? She layers t-shirts and sweatshirts and tops it all with her dad’s tweed coat. A carrier bag will do to hold underwear. Her hand hovers over schoolbooks. Pulls back. What’s the point? Deodorant, shampoo, comb, lip balm all go into the bag. Lights out when she leaves. We don’t have money to fucking burn in this house!
Notfairnotfairnotfair. It was just once. ONCE. Some of the slags at school have been with every single guy. Just once and she’s caught, swelling and floundering and drowning in this shallow end of the gene pool she was born into. So close to out. Soclosesoclosesoclose. Top of the class, uni guaranteed, first one in the family, everyone’s pride. Now they’re saying bride. Never. Rather die. Rather they all die. Rather leave.
She waits until they’re drunk. Midnight. Midnight every night. Staggering to bed, laughing, noisy, sloppy sex. At least they’re happy drunks. She’s never had a drink. Never will. She’ll never be like them. Except for Thing. Once she was Thing, but that was different, because she’s different.
She’s never been in the bus station this late at night. The stench of diesel from idling engines and cigarette smoke from idling passengers makes her cough. She’s never smoked. Can’t now – bad for Baby. Baby. The word makes it solid. She couldn’t keep calling it Thing – not now. She and Baby. New city, new life.
The sodium in the bus station’s lights burns orange into her brain. It’s a happy colour. All the people she’s seen in magazine photos look happy in London. She says the name with her long vowels: LuunDuun. She laughs, drains the dregs of her coffee. The woman on the opposite bench looks at her, sees the bulge under her coat. Rhona smiles, waits for a kind word, camaraderie, all women together. Instead, she gets a sneer. The woman gets up, drops a pound coin into Rhona’s cup, shakes her head and walks away.
On the thrumming bus, Rhona sees her reflection flicker in the window, sees what the woman who thought she was a beggar saw, raises the collar of her dad’s tweed coat and sinks into its rough warmth. Her fingers delve deep in the coat pockets, wrap around money she got for the straight ‘A’s in her exams. Money she’s saved from her job at the local chippy, money her gran gave her to get things for the baby, is all distributed in different pockets – even some in her shoe. She knows about pickpockets. Her fingers find something else. Cold metal. She pulls out her dad’s spare housekey, thinks about tossing it under the seat in front, but puts it back, tightens her grip on it until it digs into her palm, makes her eyes water. She closes her eyes and lets it slip into a hole in the coat’s lining. The bus pulls away.
Karen Jones is from Glasgow. This year she’s won 1st prize in The Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize, Flash 500 and Retreat West Monthly Micro. Her stories are published in numerous anthologies and her N-i-F is published by Ad Hoc Fiction. She is Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review. She tweets @karjon