Her First Name Was Janet by Jo Withers

She was the one closest to retirement, the one who sat tapping her biro on her thigh at staff meetings, the one who never bought biscuits for the staff room but ate them all the same, the one the trainee teachers avoided, who stank of stale smoke after every toilet break, the one the secretary nicknamed Hag for her billowing dresses, who never came to Sports Day and wouldn’t pander to the parents, the one they never asked to Friday nights team-building at the local, the one who should have finished years ago, who wished she’d been kinder and softer before her husband left, the one who would move closer to her daughter before the baby was born, who would make up for years of distance and awkwardness by loving the child completely, the one who stood up that day as the metallic grunts grew closer, who quieted the children sniffling in the dark beneath their desks, the one that ran out and took the bullet, the one that bought them time, the one the secretary called Angel after and wondered if it was enough to send flowers and where should she send them and to whom, the one whose first name the principal had to check before addressing the media, the one they talked about erecting a statue to but never did, the one whose grand-daughter grows up with a photograph on her wall that she cannot feel or smell or love, the one they talk about in strange low tones, the one they say liked black coffee and water colours and autumn shades of sepia, the one whose last thought that day was how it would have felt to hold her newborn hand.

Jo Withers writes poetry, flash and shorts from her home in South Australia. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Reflex Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, 24 Unread Messages and Spelk.

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