Clean. Flash fiction by Gail Sheridan

The buzzer goes, I check the camera then unlock the door and welcome her inside, she is use d to this. She looks dishevelled, her skin is like wax, I momentarily think of a school trip to Madame Tussauds in ’97. She doesn’t make eye contact, a sure sign. ‘How are you’? I ask. ‘Grand’ she says, ‘can I get my key’? She still eyes the floor. I gesture towards the hand gel as I can tell it’s the furthest thing from her mind, she uses it humbly . I ask if I can look in her bag first, she reluctantly opens it with an edge of distaste and rummages, sheepishly displaying she has nothing untoward . ‘Thank you’ I reply, before handing over the single key with green plastic casing that reads room 5. She grabs it, turns and walks away. She stumble s as she steps and her head bobs like one of those novelty dogs you see in the backs of cars. I call her name and she looks at me for the first time, when I ask if she is ok she becomes guarded and insists she is ‘grand’, ‘just tired’ and tells me she hasn’t been sleeping. I ask her if she has used today, she insists she hasn’t and keeps going.

I will keep an eye, ask for her lighter and request that her do or remains open, she won’t argue with that as we both understand how this goes. We will discuss it tomorrow, for now I will try to keep her safe and dignified within the constraints we both find ourselves in. It’s a pity, she was clean twelve days this time.

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