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Dirty Shirley

They say she’ll do anything for a tenner.

She’s fourteen. She lives in the trailer park across from the river. Sometimes in late spring when the ice goes out, the bridge closes to traffic and the school bus has to stop at the dirt lot of the Fish & Game so she can hop on and hop off. Walk across the bridge alone. Dwayne, the driver, greets her every morning with a smokers-rasp hello when she climbs the three thick steps onto the bus. Always watches to make sure she gets home safely.

Dwayne and the girl’s mother, Shirley, were in the same class in high school. Sophomore year, a few months before Shirley took up with Ned Wilkins and dropped out, Dwayne took her to prom. He wore a powder blue tux. She wore a white dress that shined like fish scales under the green-and-purple party lights in the gym. Blonde hair piled on her head. Bright pink lipstick on her teeth. They danced, drank flat punch. Snuck out behind the one-story clapboard school and drank a quart of Boone’s she’d nicked from her old man. They watched the stars, the skinny moon. Muffled music from the gym—Tears for Fears, Duran-Duran. Spring peepers singing in the brook behind the Thibodeau farm down the road. It was warm for spring in Northern Maine, but he insisted she wore his jacket anyway, and for days afterward, it smelled like her—wine and vanilla and grass. Dwayne kept returning to his closet. Pressing his face to the scratchy fabric. Inhaling.

Nine, ten years ago, Shirley died in a car wreck out on Route 11. Word around town is she was drunk. Hell, who knows, maybe she did it on purpose. The girl belongs to Ned, or so Shirley always said. The girl and Ned live alone in the trailer. Never, in all the years Dwayne’s been driving her to and from school, has Ned come outside to say goodbye or greet her.

One day, Dwayne tells himself, one day he’ll park the bus and leave those mouthy little fuckers in their cracked leather seats with their dirty jokes, their cruel laughter. He’ll leave them behind and take Shirley’s daughter’s hand and march her to the screen door of the trailer. Pound on the rust-splotched metal until Ned stumbles out and opens it. Tell that selfish asshole what a gift the girl is, warn him about what happens to girls whose fathers don’t pay close enough attention.

Anything for a tenner.

They said the same thing about her mother, all those years ago.

She looks so much like Shirley used to. Curly blonde hair, bony wrists, crooked front teeth. Sometimes, something about the way the girl pulls herself up the steps and into the diesel-scented bus reminds Dwayne of his own mother. Of himself. That slow, forward slog. Feet heavy. Eyes down.

Shannon Bowring’s work has appeared in numerous journals, has been nominated for a Pushcart and a Best of the Net, and was selected for Best Small Fictions 2021. She was a Finalist for the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance 2021 Maine Literary Awards. Shannon earned her MFA at Stonecoast, where she served as Editor-in-Chief for the Stonecoast Review. She is a Contributing Editor for Aspiring Author, a website devoted to offering business advice to writers in all stages of their careers. Shannon can be found on Instagram @shannonlbowring.writer and through her website,

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