Mia blows gently on the bus shelter window. Her warm breath crystallizes on the cold glass, distorting the glare of the red and white lights of passing cars. Isobel watches as her daughter rounds her finger over a central point, drawing endless circles in the mist.

Isobel looks down the road as the sixty-five approaches. She follows her daughter past the driver’s cab and up the narrow staircase to the front seat. They settle in, bags on the floor, warm breath blowing onto cold hands as the driver below shouts for a straggler to hurry.

The bus bows a little under the weight of its newest passenger. Doors hiss as they close behind him, a sneer at his tardiness.  And then she hears him speak: a rich baritone that filters through the bus. He speaks in short, staccato sentences, answering the tin rattle of another voice muddled by the noise of the engine.  As he speaks, a familiar melody pours through Isobel’s memory: a flush trill sonata that flutters in time with the beating of her heart.  His distinct tone grows louder, accompanied by the measured timpani of footsteps climbing the stairs. A chorus of strings are set to symphony as the brakes are released and the bus jolts into motion.

His voice is so like another that has etched its mark on Isobel’s heart, but she will not look back. She will not turn to him and smile, as she once did on a summer’s day, when a boy with blonde hair and thick, evening stubble returned a playful grin as he moved to sit next to her.  She will not look back to that first kiss shared outside the off-licence, to the bristle of his rough cheek against her thigh, to the weight of his body on hers. To intertwined fingers held up to block the morning sunlight. To gentle arms that held her close when two pink lines appeared on a white stick. To the tear he quickly wiped away when a white spot hovered in a black cave, its centre pumping rhythmically, like a metronome setting the beat.  She will not look back to the shattered glass on the roadside, to red and blue flashing lights illuminating his bloodied, motionless hand.  To Mia’s first wails as she was pulled from the womb, her cry full of sorrow, as though she already knew, was already mourning.

As the symphony reaches its climax, Isobel chances a glance to the window. She sees the reflection of a tall figure with black hair.  He descends down the narrow staircase, his phone held tight against his ear.  The weight of the bus lifts as he steps out onto the pavement. The closing doors hiss again, and Isobel allows herself to breathe.

Mia blows gently on the window. Her warm breath crystallizes on the cold glass. Isobel watches as her daughter rounds her finger over a central point, drawing endless circles in the mist.

Natasha O’Brien

Natasha O’Brien grew up in the United States but returned to her native England in 2012 and has been pursuing her academic and creative writing ambitions since. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Suffolk, and in 2020 obtained a MA in Medieval and Early Modern Textual Culture from the University of East Anglia. Her creative work has appeared in the online literary magazine “The Write Launch”, and she was longlisted for the 2022 Student New Angle Prize. She is currently working on her first novel, a historical fiction set in the 17th century. Natasha lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs near the Suffolk coast.

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