The Quickening by Joely Dutton

The Quickening

I feel warmth from her belly at my shoulder blades while mean air pricks my nose. I’m watching my breath come out as dragon smoke, with my powers traipsing quietly through the inside of my head. She gives my chest a little pat and I look up to where her face peers down. Her smile is a question asked with her eyes and I reply with mine. We wait in grey and fog but her woolly jumper is a brighter version of the sky.

We come out every weekend to watch my dad run and she pins his number to his vest then waves him off with me and my sister. On sunny days she watches me poking the ground with twigs. When I’m tired she strokes my disobedient hair. We wait. Til the sound of drumming feet carries panting men, and sometimes women, who I cheer for loudest.

On these cold days she stands behind me and holds me close. She rubs my hands.

There’s a twitch near her belly button. She doesn’t react and stays with her fingers linked at my collarbone. The twitch stays too, pulsing against my back.

‘Your tummy keeps moving. It’s really annoying.’ I say, and I deliver it like the popular girls in my class do. They notice things I don’t and have opinions. Lately, quiet parts of my brain are uncurling, turning towards these girls’ words.

She draws in her hands and steps away from my back, which the cold rushes in to claim.

‘I’ll stand over here, if I’m annoying you,’ she says.

My eyebrows rise to apologise, to say I got my opinions wrong, but my mouth misses its chance.

Shivering supporters start to clap and shout, roaring as melting men stamp the road in front of us wearing mud splashes up to their thighs. ‘Go on, Dad!’ my sister yells, and I clap so hard that my numbed fingers sting.

I shout nothing to my dad, who will get his medal either way. I clap for my mum, rhythmical hands smacking out notions that trip quietly through the inside of my head.


The Quickening


Joely Dutton’s short fiction has appeared most recently in The Drabble, Reflex and Riggwelter. Say hello @JoelyDutton.


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Image: Robert Delaunay Public Domain