beauty, books, fiction, love, short fiction, women

Assignment

Slater perched on the edge of the bench, her heels beating out her nerves into the asphalt. She blessed the bobbing idiocy of the pigeons with flung pinches of breadcrumbs. She checked her phone for the time, pulse fluttering with doubt that she had it wrong.

The weight of responsibility pressed on her like the depths of the ocean, distorting her perceptions until she doubted the simplest tenets and routines. She was past excitement, having spent so long at work until she had lost her sense of herself.

There were children playing on the jungle gym across from her. She watched them whilst still flinging breadcrumbs.

‘They used to be called rock doves.’

Barrett had sat down next to her without the merest hint of her presence.

‘What, children?’ Slater said.

Barrett gave a polite laugh. They both looked ahead.

‘Glad to see you still have your sense of humour.’

Slater gave a bitter grin.

‘Sometimes it’s all I have.’

Barrett had been in the field for long enough to know how it was.

‘You’re doing good work out here.’

Slater chuckled and rubbed her hands together.

‘It feels pointless a lot of the time.’

Barrett reached into her coat and withdrew a thick envelope. She laid it on the space between them without looking away at the playground.

‘Which is why I’m here.’

Slater picked it up. She ran her fingertips at the edges of the envelope.

‘Time to move on?’

Barrett swept a lock of blonde hair away from her eyes and smiled.

‘Nature of the job, you know how it is.’

Slater started to open the envelope but Barrett put a gloved hand on her forearm and shook her head.

‘Not here. You finish one assignment before starting another.’

Slater fought the sudden, aching sadness. Such draughts of feeling, turning on a dime were part of the assignments but they never grew any easier to endure. She tucked the envelope away, ignoring the pigeons and looking at the playground again.

She was a good kid. Loved to make blanket forts and colour.’

Barrett smiled as her eyes unfocused. She had been at the top of her game and perhaps this was her way of remembering the work. She had left the field, but the field had never left her.

‘She’ll carry on being great. Just do the work and we’ll watch her do great things.’

Slater stood up, took in a deep breath. The air shimmered around her. Fragile, crystalline wings grew like crystals from her shoulder blades. Her jacket, jeans and boots reconstituted into the glimmering unitard that was her uniform. The wand appeared in her right hand, the diamond star fixed to its end humming with purpose.

Much like the rest of her.

She looked over her shoulder, illuminated from within by a beauty of purpose that would only be bearable to children and others of her kind.

‘See you soon.’ she said.

Barrett watched her flutter across the park to Emmy as she climbed to the top of the slide, whilst her nanny stared into her phone. Emmy’s smile widened, with such joy that Barrett had to slip her sunglasses back on to hide her tears. Slater flew to her, ready to continue inoculating her with wonder. Enough to ensure that imagination would always be in abundance.

She stood up, pulled her coat closed and walked away. She still had to tell Popsy he wouldn’t have to be an eight feet tall caterpillar.

She faded from view, glancing over her shoulder to see Slater hugging Emmy, her wings shimmering in the afternoon light.

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