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For as long as she could remember Penny had her bag packed ready, just in case. It just made good sense.
Her primary school, Richard Whittington School had Dick Whittington as their emblem, a little shadow man ironed on to the front of their reading folders, carrying a stick over his shoulder in which he carried his worldly possessions. Little P, just old enough to play outside on her own could be seen walking purposefully up and down the street, teddy bears and biscuits all wrapped up in a blanket on the end of her grandfather’s walking stick, spilling out one by one leaving a trail of abandoned soft toys and crumbs in her wake.
Such a serious child. This game was only a game because that’s what her mother called it.
Are you having fun out there sweet P?
Sometimes she would nod back at her blankly. Sometimes she would meet her mother’s eye and stare with such severity, so solemnly that it gave her mother chills. Every night she would check on her, check the windows in her bedroom were locked, that she couldn’t reach the front door key. It wasn’t exactly that she thought she would escape, it was that P felt so fleeting, so transient that she half expected to wake up and find that all traces of her were gone and perhaps she had never really been there at all.
On the morning she left, the sky was still dark, the clouds never quite having given way to the pale yellow light of the moon. P had progressed over the years from blanket to toy handbag to backpack, which now strained full on her back. Cupboards raided, wallet empty, Penny slipped out through her mother’s beloved garden and onto the silent street. Soaking up every last piece of familiarity, finally on the road, she made her way towards somewhere new; nowhere in particular.
Her mother lay completely still in the dark, paralysed by fear and grief and pure relief. She’d finally gone.