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The Story You’ll Never Tell

That story you’ll never tell is the house on the street in every Seventies horror movie you devoured in the blue fug of your best friend’s mother’s cigarette smoke. The story you cannot tell has shutters and a deck and a swinging For Sale sign.

Do you carry a lot of anger? An acupuncturist will ask, years later. He’ll suggest an ‘aggressive energy drain’ with needles pinned the length of your spine. The anger will come out as bright red blotches, he’ll warn.

I hope you’ve got sunglasses, you’ll say.

The story you’ll never tell starts with a call about a witness statement you made six months earlier. You recall the slow clack clack clack of an officer typing with two fingers; a full hour it took him to get down two paragraphs. It’s a work night and you’ve got bedtime stories to read, kids in pyjamas waiting to hear about gruffalos and wild things. But the caller is summoning you to the station. Can you identify the person they have in custody? And by the way. The suspect is known to them. Do you have family you might need to protect? An online presence? Anything out there that might help someone identify where you live, where you work, where your kids go to school?

This is when you discover agency, like health, or say, freedom of movement, is something you never consider till it’s gone.

The story will snake into your dreams at night and pull you into a room you never knew existed, again and again, and your husband will say, Baby, I need to sleep. He’ll take his pillow to the sofa downstairs, and you’ll shout after him, See? This is how they destroy us!

During the daytime, the story will push up against your ribs while you’re standing in line at a check-out, and a woman ahead fumbles in her pocket for change, saying ‘I just can’t—.’ Because you know how it feels not to be able to add, to put things together, to put your hand in your pocket and do something as fundamental as pull out some coins in something resembling a normal transaction.

You can do no more than describe the frayed blue chair next to an overheated radiator. How your finger found a hole and picked through the foam as some officer spoke of witness protection, lack of resources, lessons to be learned, and all you had was the foam and your finger searching for something solid that was holding you up.

This is a story that is boxed and buried. It will come out in fragments now and again. You’ll be sitting in a circle, and part of your story will pop open like the lid on the tin of biscuits at the centre of the chairs. A stranger will approach you in the break, holding the tin, say people shouldn’t get away with stuff. The stranger will say they are part of a global network of hackers who can help you take down websites, publications, people. Help you take down whole institutions. If you like. You smile at this stranger offering you out-of-date biscuits. You’ve always found chocolate digestives hard to resist, and thanks all the same, but you’re done.

Kathryn Aldridge-Morris is a writer from Bristol, UK. Her flash fiction has been widely anthologised and featured in journals such as Pithead Chapel, New Flash Fiction Review, Bending Genres and Flash Frog, and one of her stories was recently selected for the Wigleaf Top 50. She is the winner of The Forge prize for Flash Nonfiction 2023 and Manchester Writing School’s QuietManDave 2022 prize. Website: www.kamwords.com.

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