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Even the postman gets a chance to hold the baby in a game of Pass the Parcel that never reaches Shona. Ten minutes ago, all the talk was about how lazy Jade is, and how little she has been missed since she went on maternity leave.
‘At least now we know who was eating all the Hobnobs,’ Lauren said, and they were still laughing when Jade burst in with the baby in a designer buggy and a disgruntled-looking toddler.
They compliment her on how quickly she has lost her baby weight and Shona wonders who will be the first, when she goes, to comment on the muffin top that overhangs her jeans.
‘Was it an easy birth?’ asks Lauren. Jade launches into a graphic account of her labour. The postman turns pale, hands back the baby, and makes his exit.
‘You’ve made the right decision, Shona, not having kids. I don’t know why I keep putting myself through it.’ The others laugh. Shona wonders how old they think she is, and what marks her out as a woman who will never have children.
Jade lifts her t-shirt.
‘Not often I get to get my tits out at work,’ she jokes. Shona heads for the Ladies’, taking her handbag.
‘Don’t you trust us?’ shouts Lauren.
In the cubicle, she rummages in her bag for a fluff-covered tampon. She thinks of calling her husband, then decides to give him a few more hours of hope.
Back in the office, the toddler approaches her.
‘Shona doesn’t do kids,’ warns her mother, but the child places her doll on Shona’s lap. It is the weight of a real baby and has a blue biro bruise on its temple. Shona rocks it gently.
‘Poor little thing,’ she whispers. She waits to be told she is doing it all wrong and is strangely comforted when the child remains silent.
About Alison Wassell
Alison Wassell is a short story, flash and micro fiction writer from North West England. She has been published by Reflex Press, Retreat West, NFFD, Bath Flash Fiction Award and The Cabinet of Heed. She was placed fourth in the Summer 2022 Reflex Flash Fiction Competition.