MOIRA • by Debbie Bennett

“Are you an angel?”

“Excuse me?” I glance around the shop. An elderly couple stand by the prescriptions counter and a pregnant girl in a tartan mini-skirt — barely more than a child herself — is checking out the cold remedies. We’re not exactly busy, considering it’s early January and the sales shoppers are out and about on the High Street, looking for bargains.

“Are you an angel?” the voice asks again, this time accompanied by a gentle tug on my sleeve. Looking down, I see a small girl staring up at me with an expression of utter joy.

“Hello, sweetheart.” I put down the box of special-offer shampoos. “What makes you think that, honey?”

“You look like a pretty angel. But my mummy says angels are only in heaven.”

My own mother has certainly never compared me to an angel. In fact she frequently tells me that long blonde hair is unbecoming on somebody of my age and situation. She just can’t bring herself to say the word divorced, as if it might somehow be catching. She still calls Ian her son-in-law – in fact, she still calls Ian more often than she calls me.

I crouch down so that I am at eye-level. She’s a pretty little thing, dressed in cheap denim leggings and supermarket trainers, her hair in two bunches. She has pierced ears adorned with plastic ladybird studs.

“Where’s your mummy, sweetheart?”

“Buying something to make her better.” She points to the pregnant girl — teenager — across the shop. That figures. She must have been all of fifteen when she had this one and is already well on the way to the next.

“And what’s your name?”

“Moira Martin. I’m three,” she says proudly, then claps a hand over her mouth. There are sudden tears at the corners of her eyes. “Mummy says I mustn’t tell my name to strangers.”

Moira.  The name catches in my mouth, dry and sharp. For a moment I am transported back four years and I am holding my own Moira in my arms. She’s wearing a sleepsuit with tiny pink rabbits on it and she’s five weeks premature and so light: only three pounds and ten ounces. Three pounds, ten ounces and stillborn.

“But I’m not a stranger,” I say carefully. “I work right here in this shop.” Her mother isn’t paying any attention to us and if I wasn’t here, little Moira would probably be out in the street by now, underneath a bus. Mummy wouldn’t be shopping then, would she?

“What’s your name?” Moira asks directly.

“It says my name right here,” I say, pointing to my name badge. “Angela. Your mummy should –”

“So you are an angel!” She jumps up and down. “I knew you were!”

Her mother looks up at the outburst, smiles slightly and takes the box she is holding to the till. I wonder what kind of parent lets her child out of sight — one with a nose-stud perhaps? She has a lip-ring too.

My Moira would be older than this girl. She’d have bunches too, tied high with pink ribbons. Ian and I would take her to the park, to the swings on a Sunday afternoon, before feeding the ducks and then home for a roast dinner. Ian and I would still be together and we’d be a real family. But I couldn’t forgive myself for whatever my body had done or not done, and I don’t think Ian could either. Irreconcilable differences, the divorce papers said, but really they could just as easily have said one word. Moira.

And I wonder whether this might be my Moira. Am I being given another chance to be the mother I was meant to be? I have money; my share of the house has been earning interest these past years, waiting for an opportunity for me to start my life again. I have a passport and I have my Moira’s birth certificate. My purse and keys are in my pocket.

“Can you keep a secret?” I whisper. We are still alone and the door is so close.

She nods, eyes wide. “My mummy says you should never tell a secret.”

“This one is special, because you must be very special to have seen that I’m an angel. Nobody else knows.”

Her mouth opens to speak, but she just reaches out and touches my hair. Her hands and coat are grubby and stained with chocolate, but I don’t mind. I will buy her new clothes, new toys and a new life. We will be happy, Moira and me.

“Would you like to see the other angels?” I stand up slowly, taking her hand and edging towards the shop door.

“Will my daddy be there?”

“We’ll talk to daddy later,” I promise. But as we get to the door, there’s movement behind us and the pregnant teenager is with us, a plastic bag in one hand. Up close, she looks softer, more fragile, although her hair is showing dark roots and her make-up is harsh and unforgiving. She has a cold.

“Has she been bothering you?” The girl sniffs and wipes her nose on her coat sleeve. “She never stops talking.”

“Mummy!” Moira jumps up and down again. “The angel lady is taking me to see daddy.”

I point at my name badge apologetically, unable to speak.

“I’m sorry.” She shakes her head, but seems upset. “She’s too young to understand.”

Again I say nothing. What is there to say? For a moment, my life had possibilities, but minutes pass and time moves on.

“Her daddy died last month,” the girl continues. “Car bomb in Basra. I tell Moira that daddy’s in heaven with the angels now, but she still thinks he’ll be home next week.”

And I wonder if I have this all wrong. Maybe I was never meant to be a mother after all. Maybe what Moira really needs is a grandma.

Debbie Bennett is a middle-aged boring civil servant with a secret life as a writer. She’s worked in law enforcement for over 25 years, in a variety of different roles, which may be why the darker side of life tends to emerge in her writing. If she makes enough money selling books, perhaps she’ll be able to afford counselling instead.

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Melissa Reynolds

  • Victoria Silverwolf

    This balances on the edge of sentimentality, but manages not to fall over. What keeps it from toppling into the abyss, I think, is the initial plan of the narrator. Without that bit of darkness, the conclusion would be less effective.

  • A well-written, enjoyable story with a dark edge to it. The introduction of the narrator’s bigotry against women with nosestuds and liprings was well placed and turned the story round nicely.

    One inconsistancy I felt was that if a baby is stillborn, there is no certificate of live birth issued and therefore no birth certificate in the name of ‘Moira’ could be obtained.

  • Loved the story. perhaps your secret life as a writer should come out into the open more often. 🙂

  • Sheila Cornelius

    I was initially uneasy about the sentimental protrayal of the child and golden-haired Angela, as well as the narrator’s condemnation of the young mother. There was an immense sense of relief at the end which seemed to redeem all that had gone before.

  • Andrew Waters

    I really like the line: “Irreconcilable differences, the divorce papers said, but really they could just as easily have said one word. Moira.” A concise and poignant way to sum up a painful relationship. Good job.

  • Rose Gardener

    5 teary stars. I need another tissue…

  • Really good, kept my attention throughout. Well written, wouldn’t have changed a word.

    Five stars.

  • Rob

    Well done.

  • Being an overly practical person, I did wonder about the birth certificate question that Paul F has raised, but, so far as the story and writing goes, I’m 100% with Johann Thorsson. Beautifully, delicately, done.

    8) scar

  • A lovely story, Debbie. Angels–and perhaps demons, too–are good devices if they aren’t carried too far.

  • Brian Dolton

    Excellent work in capturing a moment and giving us the context to make that moment so powerful. The sudden realisation that our narrator is contemplating abduction, and the equally sudden come-down from that adrenalin rush, are deftly handled.

  • nice twist at the end
    For this to work you are invited to accept the premise that a three -year old child can of their own volition believe that someone looks like an angel, that they can say their age, and that they can follow phonetically a person’s name badge when it is pointed out to them, and can speak in quite complex sentences. This might be stretching it as bit, but because the writing is so tight and polished I was swept along with it.

    well done.

  • vondrakker

    I M O………this story has it all.
    Well written….good hooks….good message
    Five teary eyed stars.
    EDF—love the new format !!

  • ‘She still calls Ian her son-in-law – in fact, she still calls Ian more often than she calls me.’

    What a snappy little line that was. I thought the story was going to be a touch goo-ey but that line brought it right back on line for me. Well done.

  • The ending really turned this one around– very well done.

  • Good eye opening moral twist at the end. Brought the story way up! At first I thought it was going to be mere kid’s sentimentality but sympathy for the mother brought it round. I like the way the moral twist was suggested and not completely spelled out.

  • JenM

    What a beautifully layered story. I loved little Moiraright away and while I also sympathizied with Angela, I did wonder about her criticisms of the young mum. The twist of what Angela was going to do answered that of course. I like that everything ended happily.. I hope Angela takes seriously her idea of staying in Moira’s life.

  • Simone

    I’m with Rose … sniff, sniff.