Sue Pearson

The Gardener

Illustration by India Hibbs

You push your finger against the grubby bell and are not surprised that it’s broken. The grey front door has no window, no knocker, only a spy hole and a slit of a letter box. You hear music from inside. You knock. First, sharp with knuckles, then pounding, with your fist.  Still nothing.  You fiddle with your lanyard and glance back to your car, parked up onto the pavement behind you. It’s been a long day.

Gingerly, you push at the rusted metal flap and call through the letter box.

“Hello? It’s Sam. From Children’s Services? Mrs Phillips are you there? Hello!”

You can hear someone singing along at the back of the house, a deep voice.

“All I wanna, Be no Other, Be together…” Beyonce.

Mr Phillips.

Funny you were listening to that song on the way here.

“Mr Phillips? It’s Sam…”

Suddenly footsteps running down stairs and someone is behind the door.

“Dad, it’s the social, dad, can I open the door?” and you hear the child fumbling with the door catch  and behind her someone coming.

“Out of my way, April!” His voice demands immediate response.

The door opens and he is in front of you. You can hear children’s cartoons in the background.

You hold your ID card on its lanyard out towards him, but he ignores it and looks you up and down. You assess him too. He is slightly taller than you, wiry with a ‘Peaky Blinders’ haircut and an indigo dot, high on his right cheek.

“Mr Phillips, Hi. I’m Sam, we met at the Initial Child Protection Conference. Do you remember me saying we had an appointment today so that I could chat to April and Jordan, at home?”

He looks at you, his head at a slight angle as if he was deciphering what you just said.

“Nah, I’d forgotten that like.”

“Oh well, I’m here now, can I come in? Hi April!”

April, still wearing her school sweat shirt, is balancing on one leg, on the second step of the uncarpeted stairs. She holds the bannister and leans out from it, watching her father. She smiles shyly at you and glances back to her dad.

You say, “I’ve seen April and Jordan at school over the last couple of weeks to introduce myself, Mr Phillips, and I’ve brought some colouring in to do with them today, if that’s ok?”

Mr Phillips steps back from the door.

“You’d better come in, then. The missus is out but I’ll put the kettle on if you want.”

You edge into the narrow hallway past a row of coats on pegs and a neat line of shoes. Smiling at April you reach out to touch the girls arm, giving it a quick, friendly rub.

The hallway is painted a tired beige and marked randomly with what appears to be splashes of old tea or maybe juice, lower down, scuff marks from shoes. The door shuts behind you and the stains are less distinct. There are no pictures or photographs, although you spot two nails knocked into the wall at head height.

Mr Phillips leads the way into the living room.

“Jordan, switch off the telly, social’s here.”

A large screen TV mounted to the wall dominates the room along with two sofas, one pushed back, against the wall opposite and the other in front of the window. Jordan is curled up there, thumb in his mouth and attention fixed on the noisy cartoon.

“Jordan!” his father barks and grabs the remote, switching off the screen.

Jordan begins to whine.

You step in front of the boy and squat down.

“Hi Jordan, remember me. I’ve come with that colouring in I promised.”

Jordan’s frown twists to a sleepy smile, his thumb still in his mouth.

The living room is immaculately tidy. You feel concerned. Had the children not been present, there would be little to suggest their existence at all.

“Can we colour in here, Mr Phillips. We can use the coffee table.”

“Aye, but divn’t make a mess, she’s obsessed with keeping the place clean, their mam. I’m starting the kids’ tea, so I’ll be in the kitchen. “

You kneel on the floor and begin to take pictures and colouring pencils out of your bag.

“Great. Thanks, Mr Phillips… actually, is it ok if I call you Dave?”


“Will Ruth be home soon?”

“Nah, she’s gone to see her sister.”

You turn to him and notice April loitering in the doorway looking uncertain.

“Come on love”, you encourage the girl.” Come and sit with me.”

“Is Ruth ok?” you ask Dave above the child’s head.

Dave looks towards the kitchen.

“Aye, her sister’s poorly. She’s gone to make their tea. She’ll be late home.”

You settle down with the children. As you each chose pictures, you ask questions about their day at school and about their friends and teachers mentioned at your last meeting with them. They discuss their picture choices and share coloured pencils.

You enjoy these ‘getting to know you’ sessions, the easiest component of your Family Assessment. The children have begun to relax with you and now, April leans against your arm, busy colouring in a picture of a fairground. She has kept within the lines meticulously and is colouring each balloon in a bunch held by a showman she had already dressed in a black top hat and red coat.

Still perturbed at the sparseness of the room you ask them about their favourite toys.

Jordan says that he likes “Fortnite” which he plays on his dad’s phone. April twists her finger through her hair and puts down her pencil.

“Do you want to see our bedroom, Sam? Mummy painted my bit with flowers and Jordan’s bit with stars.  And then I can show you all my pictures I’ve drawn. We stuck them on the wall. We keep our toys there too, if you want to see them.”

You want to whoop.

“Let’s just make sure that your dad is ok with that,” you caution. You don’t want to be accused of snooping.

“I’m tired of colouring. I want a drink,” Jordan announces jumping to his feet and scattering pencils.

An old transistor beside the cooker plays music quietly. You see that although worn, the kitchen is, as the living room, absolutely spotless. Dave fries sausages in the pan and nods his agreement to April taking you upstairs.  As you turn to leave the kitchen, you notice a cracked pane of glass in the kitchen door.

“I’ll get that kettle on for you coming down again”, he says, watching you leave.

You follow April up the stairs and into a bright single room. Your feet sink into carpet, dark blue and shot through with yellow, red and white streaks. Windows, overlooking the back garden, are framed with rainbow patterned curtains. April guides you to admire her pictures stuck to the wall and other pieces of craft that she has made. As she chatters you notice, with relief, board games, cars and lorries and other toys in boxes under the children’s bunk bed.

April tells you to cover your eyes and turns you to stand in front of the bunk bed.  At first you don’t notice, but then gasp as you look at the wall the bed is pushed against. On the top half, a hand painted picture of Jordan, his face a concentration of joy. He straddles a space rocket which soars up into the darkness of the universe, past planets with rings and translucent mists and stars, some shooting their luminous trails through space.  You imagine how this looks to the little boy at night.

You bend down, to where April sleeps. There, a garden, beautiful with lilies, violets, crocuses and daffodils growing up between blades of grass. On a swing, attached to the strong bough of an apple tree, April. High in the sky, legs outstretched before her, her face focussed and her hand extended to grasp a rosy apple as she swings.

“April, did your mummy paint this?”

April looks delighted at the impact the wall has had on you.

“It’s so beautiful, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”

You picture Ruth at the Child Protection Conference. Her pale face strained. Her thin arms wrapped about her body as she pleaded with the gathered professionals. How she’d wept, begging them to believe that she was well and that she did not need the medication her doctor had prescribed. The drugs that numbed her mind.

You will take photographs of this mural once you have permission from Dave and Ruth. You feel that this is something that must not be ignored in your assessment.

“Is yours a picture of your garden?” you ask.

You move towards the window and immediately regret the question as you look out on patchy uneven grass, a withered tree in the middle of it, black bin bags piled against the back fence and an abandoned spade.

Someone had been digging.

“Is dad making a veg patch, or a flower bed for your mum? That will be fun for you to help with.”

You feel the air shift in the room and turn to April. The crocheted square she had lifted to show you, hangs forgotten in her hand.

“April… what’s the matter?”

You kneel down to the child. Her face, so animated seconds before, is pale and distant. She glances at you and looks away. She wraps her arms around her thin frame and looks at you again. The look of her mother.

“Dad dug it. I watched him do it and when she… when mum, came out and saw, she ran back in but he caught her. I saw him pull her and she screamed but he put his hand over her mouth…It’s my secret. They don’t know what I saw… daddy and Jordan, they don’t.”

“April, where’s your mum?”

You feel cold and sick. April’s face is shell shocked and you know, absolutely, that this little girl has witnessed something terrible. You glance back into the garden at the dug earth.

April’s breath comes in bursts. She shakes her head, you think, trying to lose those images and you pull her to you. April pushes away to continue.

“Daddy put the soil on her. I saw him. With his spade. The light outside was on and when he went inside the light went off and I watched the dark. I waited but he didn’t come back.”

She drops her voice to a whisper and submits to your arms.

“Then the light came back on and her hands were moving, like they were growing up from the soil. And then she was pushing it all off her head. And coughing. And she climbed out. And she was wiping it out of her eyes and coughing more. It was falling out of her hair and I saw it in the light and I was scared. I wanted her to go away because I thought daddy would see her again and push her back. “

The voice in your ear is urgent, she can hardly catch her breath such is the need to pour all of this from her. Your head spins with your responsibility. Nothing could have prepared you for this. From somewhere inside you hear yourself make soothing noises against this barrage.

April begins to shake. “Mummy got out of the ground and then she went to the back door. I couldn’t see anymore but I could hear her crying, trying to get in. Banging on the glass. Daddy came and he shouted because it was broke. And he let her in. I heard them in the hall and the picture of me and Jordan crashed off the wall. Then daddy came up and made a bath. I jumped into bed and pretended I was asleep.”

“April, your tea’s ready!” Dave’s voice comes from the bottom of the stairs.

April’s eyes round.” It’s my secret,” she says her eyes boring into yours.

“Sam, I have a cuppa for you too.”


She sits on the stool at the end of the table while the kids eat. She is small, looks like she thinks she’s too good for us. I give her a mug of tea. She thanks me but doesn’t look at me. She talks to Jordan but looks at April. I lift my mug to drink. Jordan is talking to her about seeing the moon through his uncle’s telescope and she is only half listening. She should be taking notes about that, or something.  I’m not having that.

“Everything ok then, Sam?” I ask. “Did you see what you needed to, upstairs? Our Jordan has always loved his rockets and space and that. Haven’t you, son?”

Jordan smiles mushed sausage at me. His mam would’ve telt him to keep his mouth closed.

Sam doesn’t look like she’s left school, never mind being qualified enough to come in and break up a decent family.  I watch her struggling to meet my eyes, but she does it.

“Sounds like it.  You know ever so much Jordan”, she smiles at him.

There is something else in her eyes, something I didn’t see when she arrived.

“April and Jordan’s bedroom is just lovely too. I can’t get over the mural…”

‘Ever so much’, ‘Just lovely’, ‘mural’…fuckin’ poncy witch.

“It’s great that you and Ruth were able to do it up for them. Are you hoping to redecorate the rest of the house?”

She sounds so fake I could laugh in her face.

“Oh aye, bit by bit. You kna how it is. We wanted to get the kids sorted first. Would that be something you can help us with, like. Maybe some money for the stair carpet.”

As I’m talking she’s looking between me and the back door. She’s seen the broken glass. I know she wants to ask me about it. I can see her cogs turning, whirring, whipping up some huge fuckin’ conspiracy theory. Aye, she’ll sharp have that down on paper.

I tell the kids to hurry up. Jordan asks if mummy is coming home tonight and April drops her fork on the floor. Sam jumps up and they both scrabble under the table for it. Sam rubs April’s back. Will she leave off pawing at me bairn. They climb back up but the air starts to crack around me.

I stare at the kids. She stares at the broken pane. She gulps her tea, I sip mine. Jordan asks for more water. I take their plates and tell them they can have just half an hour of telly. It sounds good, not too much. I can tell that Sam wants to go with them. I offer her more tea. She says she has had enough.  I brush past her, to pick up the plates. Too close. She flinches and tries to cover it up.  She slips off the stool and I am in front of her.

“Do you need to ask me anything?” I say.  Her eyes are fear. I could eat them.

“About the door?” I say.

She recovers herself and hands me her empty mug. She is watching our hands.

“Well, I did wonder how it got broken, and… is it safe?” she mumbles, her voice breaking a little.

“Yeah, me and Ruth, we had a bit of an …accident”

I could laugh again, I’m baiting her. She’s breathing fast now and I imagine how it would feel to put my fist around her neck, watch her squawk like a fuckin’ pigeon. I could go with that, after all the hole is dug outside and me kids is glued to the telly, but then I hear the door open and Ruth cries “I’m back!”

The kids yell “Mam”, and April wails “Mam, mam” and she’s sobbing and Sam’s wide eyes and open mouth tell me the lot.



Sue Pearson is a current MA Creative writing student having stepped away from a career in law. She began writing 2 years ago and enjoys creating short stories.Through the MA she has also had the opportunity to explore writing for Children and Young Adults and creating poetry. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, a collection of Short Stories and some poems. She lives in Newcastle with her husband and two children. This is her first publication and her ambition is to have more


Taylor Sheppard

Empty Home

Illustration by Amy McCartney



Sitting on the back porch, Lydia watched her mother adjust a tiara on her niece’s head. It wasn’t the best day for her mother to be outside, particularly with the chill in the air, but her niece insisted. So, with her mother’s stubborn personality, they had been at the party for over two hours already. Lydia understood why she had to be there but as another stray balloon popped and a child wailed over their spilt ice cream she couldn’t help but try to meet her mother’s eyes. Less of a question and more of an insistence.

Are you okay? A lift of her brow asked. Her mother nodded. Should we leave? To this she hastily turned away. She hated answering Lydia’s questions.

Lydia glanced at her brother. He was at ease with a child’s spill proof glass in his hands as he mingled. He stopped to talk to some of the other dads while also cleaning up. It looked as if caring for his family was a breeze, which Lydia guessed was exactly what he was going for.  A perfect example of doing it all. Lydia rolled her eyes.

She looked back at her mother who adjusted the blanket around her shoulders. She knew it’d be time to take her pain medication soon.

Maybe after that… Lydia fantasized. She had a list of things she could be doing but as she slowly made her move towards the door, her mother’s cool voice asked her to stay for a bit longer. “I was only going to ask Ben if he wants help with the presents.”


Later, after sliding into the quiet reprieve of her mother’s car, Lydia noticed the buzz of her phone. She ran her fingers over the glass and read message after message from Nash. He always sent multiples as if what he had to say was urgent. It never was of course. It actually seemed a bit unnecessary for a grown man with two kids.

Come over tonight. It’ll be fine. Unless you have plans with someone. You there? The girls left with Hannah this afternoon.

She sighed assuming they had cleared this up earlier when she had slid out from between his warm navy sheets right as the sun broke through his window. Lydia had already filed his request away in her mind by the time she untied her running shoes and prepared her mother’s breakfast. Yet he had thrown it back into her hands. This was supposed to be her one non-complication. Without responding, she backed out of her brother’s driveway.




“We didn’t know if you’d show up!” Jamie pushed a fizzing glass in her direction.

“I doubt that,” Lydia replied nodding towards the drink. Jamie shrugged in reply and looked away. She hated when Lydia pointed out those small, kind gestures. Hated wasn’t the right word; embarrassed.

She sat down next to her, listening as their table had the usual check in. Lydia had known most of these girls since grade school. Every two or three months Lydia received a group text as if they weren’t all aware that they would order the same drinks at the same restaurant at the exact same goddamn time.

“They have responsibilities,” Jamie had previously defended them while driving her home one night. Lydia responded with an empty glance. “Well, responsibilities they actually care about,” she amended with a smirk. Lydia liked that Jamie never really cared when she had an attitude.

Lydia always chalked up Jamie’s willingness to attend these dinners to the fact she didn’t go to high school with them.

They had first met at a campus bar where Lydia liked the anonymity. How each year the faces changed. The exact opposite of how she felt in her small town.

Lydia would have a couple of drinks before glancing across the bar at Jamie. After a few weeks of this, and Jamie being the last one left as her friends paired off, she had come over to Lydia and introduced herself.

It had almost been a year since then.

Now, Jamie sat next to her and sipped her Jack and coke, interjecting into the conversation right as Lydia’s phone buzzed. She couldn’t know who it was but she had her guesses. Lydia closed her eyes and tried to take a deep breath. It was this feeling that churned up from her gut; the sense of being pestered. The urge to shatter all the glasses on the table. It was ever-present. Gnawing, gnashing, tugging at her conscious; begging for attention. A need to be tended to.

Jamie glanced at her. Concerned eyes probing, she asked if she wanted to leave with a downturn of her mouth. Lydia didn’t respond. She wasn’t sure how to voice it. She gulped her drink and barely had the mind not to slam it back down. Jamie discreetly placed her hand on Lydia’s thigh. Her thumb attempted to rub comforting circles. Lydia wanted to settle into it. The steadiness she offered. Instead, the glaring question of what is this? tugged at her incessantly.

“Your alarm’s going off,” Jamie said.

Lydia tensed as she reached into the pocket of her jeans. The overflow of messages and guilt she knew had to be waiting just behind the screen. Wordlessly, she switched off her mother’s evening alarm.




“How was the party?” Jamie asked as she drove along the empty streets.

“Mom lives for get-togethers like that. Screaming kids, mingling with neighbors-”

“The gossip.”

“Yep,” Lydia felt her eyes droop. Exhaustion, alcohol, probably a mix of both.

“You’ve been tense all night.”

Lydia let out a deep sigh.

“Perpetual exhaustion? I feel that,” Jamie glanced over at her.

A tilted head moving against the headrest, she met Jamie’s eyes for a brief moment.

“How’s work been? That co-worker giving you an attitude?” Lydia asked.

“Of course he is! Makes me want to pull my hair out.”

“I’m sorry,” she watched the red-light shadow over Jamie’s face. “Does he still carry around that massive bottle of tomato juice?”

Jamie groaned in response, “I’m so sick of the smell.”

Silence settled around them as Lydia rubbed her eyes. It wasn’t even midnight, yet she felt the pull to crawl into bed. Tug the sheet over her head and let the deepest sleep pull her under.

Her brother had called earlier and said he brought their mother home after the party. His tone was clipped, which she expected. It was his questioning of where she had gone, how long she’d been out that was unexpected. Why would he want to hear about the goings-on in her life? Lydia was sure he wanted her to feel guilty. And she did feel a little bad for leaving the party but she couldn’t find it in herself to apologize, much too tired for that sort of thing.


“Why can’t you talk to me anymore?” Jamie broke the silence. Her hand was up before Lydia could respond. “Don’t feed me bullshit. You’re my best friend. I know.”

Whatever conversation Jamie wanted to have, it already sat heavy on Lydia’s chest. Something else to tend to. She didn’t want to be a bitch, she just wanted to breathe for two damn seconds; nobody asking anything of her. The only response she could muster was a small shrug.

“Is it because of what I said the other night?” Jamie looked dejected. A better friend, a better whatever they were would’ve offered her some sort of comfort.

“I swear that isn’t it.” Lydia tried to put as much meaning as she could into her words yet they still fell short.

“I’m just as confused about this as I think you are,” she said. “Clearly we don’t regret it.” She raised her eyebrow, as if there was a question she wanted to ask but couldn’t bring herself to. “I can’t read your mind, Lydia. You have to give me something.”

“I don’t regret it,” it was the smallest piece of solace Lydia could offer. Still, it left her feeling exposed. “Things have been busy…”

Jamie didn’t look convinced. Her face was flushed, which Lydia knew was a sign that Jamie was close to crying.

“I’ll call you?”

Jamie rolled her eyes but nodded.

“Thanks for the ride.”

“Yeah, well I wasn’t about to let you drive home.”

Lydia didn’t have a retort. At least one person cared enough to get her home in one piece.

“You know Lydia, I do all of this because you’re my friend. Because I care about you,” she swallowed hard, “But lately you’ve made it so hard for me to like you.” Jamie wouldn’t look at her.

Lydia opened the car door, the need to throw something pounding through her eardrums. She shut the door but without slamming it. She didn’t really want to upset Jamie anymore. She once again hated that part of herself that caved in to cordiality.

They stared at each other for only a moment. As she watched Jamie back out of the driveway, she felt a lump form in her throat.

The car was disappearing around the corner as Lydia’s eye caught something and she jumped.

A dark blue sports car crawled up the hill. It was too dark to see in through the windows. Her stomach clenched, imagining Nash behind the wheel. Yet as the car moved on she tried to convince herself it wouldn’t be him. Why would he be out this late driving around? Her mother lived in a big subdivision. The odds it’d be him were slim.

Even still, he knew the red glow of tail-lights would tint her fitful night of sleep.




Another run. Another heart-healthy breakfast for her mother with no less than five color coated pills she had to coax her into taking. It always took a solid hour to get them all down after she put up such a fuss. By then there was lunch and appointments. The haphazard nap she’d try to talk her mother into while she stole away for an hour or so to scroll through job applications. Inevitably she’d end up on social media, scrolling through everyone else’s life.

She would blink and it was time for dinner.

The daily routine.

Repeat, repeat.



You’re still ignoring me? Fine. Can we meet? I want to know what’s going on. It’s all I’m asking for. You can manage that I’m sure.

As dusk arrived, Lydia laced up her running shoes and made her way up hill to the house around the corner. It was in the midst of being built. It was a few doors down from where Nash and his family lived. A convenient middle ground for when his wife was in town.

The foundation of the house came together within a day or two but after the sheets of plywood formed the walls and the roof had been attached, it was left empty. A for sale sign stuck against the curb. She hadn’t seen anyone come by to look at it in months.

Lydia watched as the plastic fluttered in the breeze.

Today she had given in. She and Nash had never made any sort of commitment, their entire relationship built on sex and her need to get away from her mother’s suffocating house. But if she was to start mending things, figuring out what the hell was going on, maybe it was best to start with someone who had the least attachment. And ever since she saw the ease with which Jamie pulled away, she had wanted to try and fix things.

“Wasn’t sure I’d see you,” Nash stood against the banister where a set of stairs were only partially complete.

“I said we could meet. I wanted to talk to you, too.”

“Is this about you not coming over at all this week? Or, you ignoring my messages?”

Lydia sighed, wiping the sweat of her palms on her shirt, “I should’ve said something.”

“You’re damn right you should have.” His eyes flashed with anger. He inhaled a shaky breath.

“Nash, listen. There were other things going on and I couldn’t–”

“Is that why you were out with her the other night?”


“I saw you with her.”

Lydia felt suddenly cold.

“This wasn’t meant to be serious–”

“That isn’t for you to decide! Clearly you have time to go out with your little friends,” he spat the words as if extracting venom.

This wasn’t the reaction she had pictured. Had he been this disgusting all along? Was it something missed as she had snuck out of his house, consumed with her endless duties of pills and appointments?

Lydia thought back to her niece’s birthday party. A slow-motion haze of her brother and mother laughing together as she got on her hands and knees. She cleaned up the drippings of ice cream. A child crying nearby as she scooped up a dollop of icing. All in the name of being a helping hand. There had been a rise of panic as she felt cemented into the moment. Like this was a snapshot of her life thus far. And this is what she had accomplished. A picture frame she couldn’t escape from. Lydia had watched the ice cream roll down her niece’s arms in carved out paths. Little rivulets of milk and sugar that met at her elbow, only to pause before descending onto the concrete.

Lydia was pulled from the memory as Nash slammed his hand against the wall.

“What the hell is going on?” Nash’s face was red. She noted his anger but still said nothing.

Wasn’t making the decision to break things off just something else she had to waste time thinking about? None of it mattered. None of it was important. She could shut her phone off for days; let her mother’s house suffocate her so she wouldn’t have to face any of them again. Wouldn’t have to face what might come next.

Her heart had begun to pound. That all too familiar warning of being exposed.

“I need to go,” Lydia said.

“What?” His expression hadn’t changed.

She took a step back at the same moment he reached for her arm.

“We haven’t talked about anything! Especially not that friend of yours that you have so much time for.” His voice reverberated so loudly in the empty home, “just stay for a minute dammit!”

He gripped her arm right above the elbow.

“You need to listen,” he said. “I don’t know what the fuck has gotten into you, but you need to straighten it out.” His face was so close to hers that she wanted to pull back, but she was frozen. A cold dread that wouldn’t allow her to speak. Her body was ice.

“Do you hear me?”

She nodded. It was the only response she could manage for a brief moment.

Something inside was whispering to keep calm. Deescalate. But she couldn’t listen.

She yanked her arm and his grip loosened. One more tug and she had backed away. She ran through the frame where a front door was missing.

Nash’s words echoed even though she couldn’t make sense of what he said.

Lydia’s body buzzed with energy. A tremble that started in her feet until it echoed inside her. Bouncing off one organ and hitting another. She forced herself to run. Her mother’s looming house in the distance.

Only a few more yards away. Her knees wanted to lock.

Only a few more feet. Shallow breaths in and out. Thoughts racing so fast she wanted to laugh.

As she neared the house, instead of feeling any ease she only had the urge to keep running. The house couldn’t calm her pulse at all. There was no waiting embrace of relief inside. Instead, she slid into her mother’s car and locked the doors.



I’m outside. Can you come meet me? Please?

 Lydia paused between typing each message. She was no longer shaking but she still felt a tremble settled right below her skin. She was parked outside of Jamie’s office. She just wanted someone next to her to tell her it was all going to work out. Everything felt as if things had veered off track in some past moment she knew existed but couldn’t pinpoint. And all she wanted was for Jamie to look at her full on and remind her it would all be okay. Maybe Jamie could offer that reassurance at least.

Or more like it was her turn to apologize. Tell Jamie everything that had been going on with Nash.

I know I’ve been… What could she say? Her throat felt constricted, a sob willing its way up. I just want to talk. I know I should’ve been talking to you this whole time but it’s been hard.

Lydia stared at her messages. An ellipsis appearing for a moment only to disappear. She stared at her messages longer, pressing against the glass when the screen would darken. But there was no response. No waiting arms to be found here either.



Ben stood with his palms pressed against the counter. The tips of his fingers growing white. He had called while Lydia sat waiting for Jamie; an offer to sit down and talk for a bit. It wasn’t the person she wanted but it was someone nonetheless.

“You need to stop pawning this stuff on me and grow up,” he said.

“Ben, she doesn’t want to hear anything from me.”

“It’s the way you treat her Lydia, I swear.” He let out such a long sigh, “I know things have been tough lately. I really do.”

“I can barely take care of her. Mom won’t listen to me.”

“She’s stubborn but it isn’t that dramatic.”

Lydia wouldn’t meet his gaze. He didn’t know. He had his own family with his own problems. He didn’t really care.

“I try to help but I don’t know what else you want me to do Lydia,” he shrugged.

“Can’t you just listen to me then?”

“I’m trying!”

Lydia was silent for a moment. She didn’t want another fight.

“Maybe she should look into staying somewhere, you know?”

He shook his head, “Don’t start this bullshit up again. It’s pointless.”

“Of course it is. Anything I suggest is bullshit to you, right?” Lydia scoffed.

“Just…talk to her Lydia. You’re her daughter after all. She doesn’t need to go anywhere else,” he offered a faux sympathetic look that nauseated her. “Or maybe you should try to listen for once.”


Lydia sat in her mother’s car. The only sound a quiet hum from the engine. An old keychain Ben had given their mother when he was a kid dangled from the ignition. Lydia’s only refuge had become a car that didn’t even belong to her. It seemed so fitting.

What did she even want? Her personhood had been reduced to a simple fixture. She was supposed to be content with standing in the corner, being reliable, yet here she was. Screwing that up. Forcing even the people she wanted away. It felt like her last life-line had dissolved.

Lydia knew that Ben would never leave their mother to fend for herself. Swooping in to save the day was a boost to his ego as the eldest. He took all the credit but he would never learn when to refill each prescription. He couldn’t tell you how their mother would mindlessly tap her foot when she was ready to go to bed. He didn’t know that she was always more tolerable on Thursday’s after her weekly call to her friend, Ayla.

There wasn’t any where to go. Lydia knew that. But sitting here only made that realization more prominent. The weight of having to stay here wasn’t one she could bear any longer.

Her hands hovered above the wheel for a moment. A split second of hesitation.

And then a chime from her phone broke the spell. Lydia glanced at it just as her mother’s evening alarm began to go off. She silenced the noise and turned it face-down.

The hum of the engine loosened the knot that had been tightening within her gut. She switched on the radio to break the silence and she put the car in drive.




Taylor Sheppard is (mostly) a prose writer with a love for female-led stories and YA literature. She recently completed the creative writing MA at Newcastle University and received her BA in Psychology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which she affectionately calls home (mostly because her cat lives there). More of her writing and musings can be found at