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'On The Eve of the Matchgirls’ Strike, 1888' by Emma Phillips

Emma Phillips, LISP 2022 Flash Fiction Finalist by 'On the Eve of the Matchgirls' Strike, 1888'

'On The Eve of the Matchgirls’ Strike, 1888'

Hattie never stopped moving. Her ma said it was as if she thought the Lord would give her wings if she stayed still long enough to draw breath, but being quick on her feet had served Hattie well. She avoided the overseer’s gaze when he did his rounds, kept her bench spick and span, held her tongue to avoid any trouble. She was never late. Since Ma got sick, they needed every shilling. Pa had a taste for the drink and was fast with his fists. Her whole childhood was lived in the shadow of the workhouse.

Annie said it needn’t be this way, workers ought to have rights, but words came easy to Annie the way they did if you had money. They called her the voice of the match girls, but it was just lines and circles on a broadsheet to Hattie. What Annie said was hearsay. Still, she spoke sense, and Hattie was a great believer in words followed by action. Annie was her hero.

The last time Hattie found her voice to protest a fine for dropping a match, the foreman had boxed her ears. That was before Phossy's jaw started picking them off, taking their teeth and causing pain to the gums harder than a slap. Hattie kept her secrets in the blackened stumps. They’d fire you if they found out it had got you. She’d never forget the taste of injustice.

That’s why she decided to go. They stuck together, the girls showed the East End sparks can fly further than a match if you let them. On a Saturday night, Hattie watched grown men look to the ground for safety when they passed. In those moments, she walked the Bow Road with nothing weighing her down but the lightness of their feathers.



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