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21st October 1966: Slag by MJ Harbottle

21st October 1966: Slag by MJ Harbottle, LISP 2nd Half 2021 Flash Fiction Finalist

21st October 1966: Slag

She sucked on the paper straw in her milk bottle, eyeing the teachers huddled in one corner of the playground. They were whispering and shaking their heads. Miss Jones had her hand over her mouth. Mrs Davies had red eyes. It looked as if she’d been crying.

‘What’s going on?’ Gwen had broken away from the hopscotch group.

Still sucking, she shrugged, ‘I think some people might be dead.’

‘Who?’ asked Gwen.

‘Dunno.’ She turned to face her best friend, ‘What’s a slag?’

‘Slag?’ Gwen looked puzzled, ‘Why?’

She nodded towards the knot of teachers, ‘Them. They keep saying it was the slag.’

A whistle blew, loud and shrill, signalling the end of playtime. The top of her straw was sucked flat. Pulling it out, she tipped the bottle and gulped down the last drops of milk. Wiping her mouth on her cardigan sleeve, she dropped the empty into the metal crate at the door and ran inside.

That evening she sat at the kitchen table, listening to her mam and dad talking. There was that slag word again.

‘Bloody slag,’ said her mam, clattering saucepans whilst she made their tea. Steam billowed above the cooker, ‘You always said it would slip.’

Dad stood at the kitchen sink, scrubbing his huge hands, ‘Poor little buggers,’ he said quietly. Stopping for a moment, he stared at the misted-up window, ‘I keep wondering if I oughtn’t go back up there to help.’

‘You haven’t been near those pits since the end of the war.’ Mam’s voice wobbled, ‘Leave them to it.’

She desperately wanted to ask them about the slag, ‘Mam …’ she began, but was cut off when her mother knelt on the floor next to her chair, face dewy with perspiration. Mam gripped her in a tight hug and wept.



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