by O J Gwyne
Struggling along a wind-blasted moorland road, a ragged little girl clutches a faded blue shawl over fair wispy hair, its frayed ends clutched tightly beneath the chin of her small defeated face. She is alone.
“Sweet little thing,” says Simon, nodding at the painting. “Not sure it’s worth £60 though.”
Martha shakes her head. “I don’t think it’s sweet at all.”
Simon disappears while she’s still speaking, leaving her with only a CCTV camera brazenly positioned at eye-level. Acutely aware of being watched her neck prickles. Outside a breeze has picked up.
Simon reappears. “Best price they can offer is £55.”
“Don’t buy it.”
“You liked it a minute ago.”
“It isn’t me who likes this sentimental tosh. Poor consumptive little thing,” says Martha, looking again at the sallow-faced child. “What a terrible journey she’s on.”
Before another argument erupts she walks out, out into a deserted tourist-trap street of tea shops and knick-knack emporiums. Above her a decrepit shutter bangs to and fro on an attic casement, dust and litter blow past.
That evening Simon takes down a reproduction Turner hanging in the holiday cottage’s living room and replaces it with his new purchase, only to discover the frame’s warped. Turbulent air currents swirl beneath the eaves as he frets and fusses and, despite the inevitable misalignment, he calls to Martha to come and admire the painting.
“Thursday” he says, “a child with far to go.”
Martha is jolted awake in the night by the wind’s persistent shrieking. Simon’s dead to the world. Brittle with disorientation she rises and goes to the window. Wreathed in moonshadow with pointed, half-starved features obscured, a small figure battles towards the cottage. Martha can feel a dark eye fixed upon her. The ragged little girl has not much further to go.