How to Wear a Neon Sign by Jeanette Sheppard

Mini nodded in agreement with her mother. Everyone else at school had their name on a necklace or a tee-shirt or a tattoo, her mother said. A neon sign attached to Mini’s head would be something different. Eye-catching, her mother said.

Days later her mother pushed through the double doors, scanned the hospital ward, located Mini, whipped the blue curtain around the bed, sat in the high backed vinyl chair, mock cleared her throat, leaned her elbows on the side of the bed and reached out an arm. For a brief moment Mini thought her mother was about to hold her hand and say she understood why she had gone without her, but instead she appeared to snatch something from the air.

‘Flies in November!’ her mother said dropping nothing from her fist. She sniffed. ‘This ward reeks of cod.’ She looked at Mini for the first time. Despite the weight of the sign on her head and the pull of muscles in her neck Mini turned to the window and soaked up the grey day. Cars barely moved around the car park. ‘People can still hear, Mum, even if you pull the curtain around us,’ she said.

‘Fine, you don’t have to look at me to be able to hear me.’ Her mother’s reflection moved back to the chair. ‘Look at it. It doesn’t light up. No neon in sight. They didn’t wire it properly. Why did you go there without me? The nurse said on the phone you’d come here to have it removed.’ She tutted. In the window her arms waved at the blank screen: a cold flick of air moved across Mini’s face. Her mother stood up and passed her eyes around the unlit black oblong, looking behind for answers to the lack of illumination. ‘Well, okay, it will take weeks to recover once it’s removed and you made a mistake going there without me, but we can have a new one fitted. I’ll be there next time to keep my eye on things.’

Splashes of sleet began to blur the window. ‘I don’t want a next time.’ Mini turned towards her mother.

‘We’ve spent months talking about this. You want to stand out from the crowd don’t you?’

Mini turned her head from side to side in response. Her mother sank back into the vinyl chair, folded her arms and stared at the blank screen. Mini carefully leaned her head back onto the metal bed frame. She was grateful for the clatter of the food trolleys bursting onto the ward. Over cooked cod drifted towards them. Her mother raised her nose; released herself from the suction of the chair and snapped back the blue curtain.

As Mini watched her mother dash towards the double doors she heard a buzz and felt a flicker of light on her face, but it was nothing to do with the neon sign. She closed her eyes and lit up the moment when her mother almost took her hand.

Jeanette Sheppard’s flash fiction has been published in Reflex Fiction; Bare Fiction Magazine; the Bath Flash Fiction Festival Anthology; National Flash Fiction Day anthologies; Litro Magazine and The Lonely Crowd. Her work has also been shortlisted and longlisted in a number of competitions. She can be found on Twitter @InkLinked.

Image: Karolina Szczur