“That girl’s been sitting out there on the wall all morning,” my mother says. “What does she want?”
“Nothing,” I say. Another one. It’s a blessing Mum’s so forgetful these days.
I could go and tell the girl she’s trespassing. But like the person who stole the donor profiles from the clinic and put them online, she probably won’t care about what’s legal or not. Instead, I watch her from a corner of the window, using my handkerchief to wipe away the icy fog of my breath on the cold glass.
She’s plump in her grey padded anorak. When she turns sideways to get something from her backpack – lunch? – I see she has yellow blonde hair scraped back in a ponytail and her cheeks are reddened from the wind.
I move away from the window. I have things to do in the house. I like to sort my papers and do my research when Mum’s watching her soap operas or napping, so I can avoid her interrupting me with requests for cups of tea. I replenish the fire with logs. It’s nearly 3pm when I come back to my spot at the window. The girl is still there, as if she’s waiting for someone to come out of the house.
I sigh as I take my own anorak from the peg. I head out to the front of the house, sneak up on her from the side.
“This is my wall,” I say. “You’ve been here all day. I’ve been watching you.”
“Pervert,” she says. Close up, she’s older than I’d guessed her to be.
I shrug. I’ve heard worse.
She sighs. “I’m waiting for someone.”
“That’s probably me.”
She regards me carefully. Then: “No, someone…”
Younger? Better looking? Less gross? Not so rotund? With more hair? I’ve heard it all before.
“Come inside.” I lead the way, not looking back.
While Mum snores in her bedroom down the hallway, I repeat to this girl what I’ve told the others – that there’s no point wanting anything from me. I might have got paid – expenses, they called it. Mainly cash or vouchers. It wasn’t much, not by today’s standards. Just take a look around this dump, I want to say to them. I live with my mother, for God’s sake. A mother who complains she’s never had grandchildren — but I don’t tell this to the girl in front of me now. I’ve got nothing to offer. No stories, no adventures. Nothing of interest. Nothing.
The girl folds her arms and listens, but she’s not like the others; there’s no tears or backing away slowly before scurrying to the gate. She waits patiently as if she expects there to be more, as if I have not told her the full story. I walk across to her and reach for her shoulders. As I did with the others who might have lingered, I push her firmly towards the door.
She spins back towards me, throws my hands off her.
“How many of us?” Curious rather than indignant.
She goes over to the fire and kicks at a log with her Doc Martens, setting off a fierce burst of sparks. She plonks one foot on the fire stool. She stands there, steadily gazing at me. Waiting. Expecting me to answer.
“I’ll have a glass of water while you’re thinking,” she says. “And don’t even think about lying. Because, believe me, I’ll know.”
I stare back at her for a long while before going into the kitchen and turning on the cold tap. I feel something unusual happening to the muscles in my face. I guess I don’t even know why I went back to the clinic all those times. I probably couldn’t say; I never gave any thought to the outcome. It’s as if it all happened so long ago, to a different person.
“Okay, then,” I say, handing her a glass of water. I realise what is going on with my face: I am smiling.
There’s a spark of my younger self in this one.
I could get to like her.
Kate Mahony’s short fiction has been published in international literary journals and anthologies including: The Best New Zealand Fiction #6 (Random House, New Zealand), Landmarks UK, 2015, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), 2015, Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, 2018), Litro New York, Flash Frontier, Takahe literary journal, Meniscus Literary Journal (Australia) and Mayhem, Waikato University Literary Journal. Her stories have been shortlisted in a number of competitions. She has a MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. She is currently writing a novel set over three time periods. More here: www.katemahonywriter.com