Today's Reading

A crack of thunder booms overhead. The sky behind them turns brilliant white. Sheets of rain sluice from the sky. Lucy stares at Samia desperately. "We have nowhere else to go," she says.

"I know," says Samia. "I know that. I can take Stella. But you and the boy and the dog, I'm sorry. You'll have to find somewhere else."

Lucy feels Stella push against her leg, a shiver of unease running through her small body. "I want to stay with you," she whispers to Lucy. "I don't want to stay without you."

Lucy crouches down and takes Stella's hands. Stella's eyes are green, like her father's; her dark hair is streaked hazel-blond, her face tanned dark brown from the long hot summer. She is a beautiful child; people stop Lucy on the street sometimes to tell her so, with a soft gasp.

"Baby," she says. "You'll be dry here. You can have a shower; Mémé will read you a story..."

Samia nods. "I'll read you the one you like," she says, "about the moon."

Stella presses herself tighter against Lucy. Lucy feels her patience ebbing. She would give anything to be allowed to sleep in Mémé's bed, to be read the book about the moon, to shower and slip into clean pajamas.

"Just one night, baby. I'll be here first thing tomorrow to collect you. OK?"

She feels the flutter of Stella's head nodding against her shoulder, the intake of her breath against tears. "OK, Mama," says Stella, and Lucy bundles her into Samia's flat before either of them can change their mind. Then it is just her and Marco and the dog, yoga mats rolled up on their backs, heading into the heavy rain, into the darkening night, with nowhere to go.

* * *

For a while they take shelter beneath the flyover. The constant fizz of car tires over hot wet tarmac is deafening. The rain keeps falling.

Marco has the dog held in his lap, his face pressed against the dog's back.

He looks up at Lucy. "Why is our life so shit?" he asks.

"You know why our life is shit," she snaps.

"But why can't you do something about it?"

"I'm trying," she says.

"No you're not. You're letting us go under."

"I am trying," she hisses, fixing him with a furious gaze. "Every single minute of every single day."

He looks at her doubtfully. He is too, too clever and knows her too, too well.

She sighs. "I'll get my fiddle back tomorrow. I can start making money again."

"How are you going to pay for the repairs?" He narrows his eyes at her.

"I'll find a way."

"What way?"

"I don't know, all right? I don't know. Something will come up. It always does."

She turns from her son then and stares into the parallel lines of headlights burning toward her. A huge cannon of thunder explodes overhead, the sky lights up again, the rain becomes, if it is possible, even heavier. She pulls her battered smartphone from the outside pocket of her rucksack, turns it on. She sees that she has 8 percent battery charge left and is about to switch it off again when she notices her phone has sent her a notification from her calendar. It's been there for weeks now but she can't bring herself to cancel it.

It says, simply: The baby is 25.

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