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The Christmas Fairy

A seasoned store security guard, he locked on to her as soon as she walked in. Well you don't want her sort in a respectable store, do you. Lowers the tone and up to no good, he was sure. He'd seen any number of 'em, sly thieving lot. He let her get half way down the first aisle, then padded surprisingly lightly after her.

The store was busy and the child small and skinny; he'd have to watch she didn't give him the slip. There she went, down the next aisle. Sure enough, out of her pocket came a crumpled carrier bag. I wonder what's going in there this time, he thought. He watched from several yards away, took a good look at her. No, he hadn't seen this one before. Thirteen or fourteen he supposed, would be a pretty little thing with a bath and a proper haircut, and some properly fitting clothes. The faded dress was worn and straining at the seams with a ragged hem that sat indecently too far up her legs. The cardigan sagged and dipped around her shoulders and lacked buttons. The pocket hung from one corner. Rag and bone man wouldn't look at them rags he thought. His gaze went to her bare legs and feet. God bless us, what's she doing in pumps in January? Holes in the toes too.

The child bent to inspect something on a bakery shelf. It was slipped into the bag. She looked round and melted into the crowd of shoppers thronging the aisle. By the time he could see her again, the bag looked heavier and fuller. He nodded to himself 'No purse, bet she's nothing to pay with.' He returned to the store entrance, ready to catch her at the exit. He could wait.

After ten minutes, she appeared at the exit, with the bag full. He stepped forward, ready to intercept, to ask to see the receipt. She paused in surprise and looked up at him, her mouth a round 'O' in a pale, grubby face. The translucence of her skin and big hollow eyes floored him. The cheeks were sunken in like those of someone much, much older, and the lips blue tinged. The teeth were discoloured and there were two gaps in her mouth. Lifeless, mousy hair tangled around a thin neck. They stared at each other in mutual recognition - she of his uniform, he of the deprivation he saw before him. Wide eyed, she started to speak 'Mister, I .....' .

He looked beyond her and saw afresh the store Christmas tree with its lights and the fairy at the top. He knew what he must do. He walked briskly away towards the canteen. "Rob, take over at the front when you're ready please. I'm going for my tea break."

By Jan Stirling of Formby Writers Group

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