The War on Memory by Sue Dawes

She pops the chocolate into her mouth and holds it in her cheek, not quite sure what to do next. A memory surfaces: Dad arriving home, dusty and worn in his khaki uniform, a bar of Fry’s Orange Cream in his hand.  Her mum smiling: another rare treat.

‘You need to bite down, Vera,’ the girl next to her says. ‘Don’t swallow it whole.’

It’s melting in her mouth now, the soft centre coating her teeth.  She thinks about fruit hanging low, branches saturated with it, and the scent: heady and sweet in the hot sun. The juice had leaked onto her hands even before the skins were peeled, the orange staining.  She feels the heat of those days now, wrapping around her shoulders in a hug.

She looks out of the window at the bird feeder beyond, before turning back, picking up the colourful box and offering it to the girl, who’s still sitting next to her on a hard stool.

‘Seventy percent cocoa,’ she reads from the packaging, wondering what happened to the other thirty percent.

‘I’m good, thanks,’ the girl says, patting her stomach.

There’s nothing of the girl, skinny in the pale blue uniform: like a baby bird. When did a bit of weight hurt anyone?  People should eat while they still can, before the rationing starts. Her mum says a cup of sugar doesn’t stretch far.

‘You enjoy them, Vera,’ the girl continues, whoever she is. ‘I’ll make us a cup of tea.’

 Vera picks up the slip of card from the trolley-tray next to her, which arrived with the gift this morning. She doesn’t know who it is that sends her these presents, the name on the card is just out of her reach, like the dandelion clocks that float past her window on the summer breeze, and it does no good repeating it.

She’ll thank them when she leaves this place, which won’t be too much longer, since she’s not heard any sirens, and she’d remember that.

She pops another chocolate into her mouth.  Like Mum says: it’s best to live for today.

Sue Dawes lives in rural Essex with her family and is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing. She’s currently in the process of writing a utopia.

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