NOT TOO BAD

Damien told miss Ashley that he wasn’t feeling well but she was having none of it today.

Perhaps a little preoccupied herself to be truly responsible for a busload of needy children. She catches the whiff of resent in her head and shook herself a little. She was not her mother, she reminds herself though presently the thought brings her no comfort. “What is the matter love?” She asks Damien with a passable impression of her usual boundless warmth. His face breaks into a wet smile seemingly now relaxed and again, greatly amused by the joke only he seems ever able to understand. He cocks his head back in a gale of mad, gleeful laughter, his little arms gnash the air. “You seem well enough to me dear.” She tells him placing a brief hand on his shoulder, completing their usual transaction before moving off to the front of the bus to take her seat beside Arnold. As the bus pulls away from the curb outside the centre, Ashley leans back into her chair and betrays the smallest, almost incomprehensible sniff. She might have closed her eyes for a moment. She becomes numbly aware of a clumsy hand on her knee and follows it up into the almost defiantly unworried face of Arnold.

“How are you h-holding up Ash…with ev-verything?” He asks as he retrieves his hand from its friendly gesture of comfort to resume it’s traditional involuntary fidgeting with its twin. Ashley tries to summon the tough mask to plaster across her tired features but for whatever reason –possibly all of them– finds that she simply cannot. She looks passed Arnold out the window at the rolling concrete and steel thinking of it. All of it, letting it be real just for this wink of a moment then heaves a steadying sigh at the very peak of which everything falters and disappears, is still and light. For a moment. She turns her gaze back to Arnold having found that armoured smile and lies,for his own good and perhaps hers also, “Not too bad.”


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