Place: Mary Thompson

Black Magic Woman

When I am 14, we skive school and go for chips, which we drown in vinegar and nosh on the swings overlooking the sea. A squally wind is blowing right in our faces but we keep eating the chips till they’re gone.

‘I got my first period last week,’ says Julie. She chucks a chip at me and jumps off.  I grip the icy chains and watch as she skips across the playground, her ponytail swinging like a metronome. Then I move my bare legs backwards and forwards, faster and faster till I reach the top. Beyond the toilets and the small, meandering footpath, I see wild waves crashing onto the empty beach below. Julie has been seeing Harry for ten days. Once I start my periods, I’ll find a boyfriend too, I think.

When I am 15, I go to Greece with my Classics class. We visit Athens and the Parthenon and drink coke in the searing heat. After we take the ferry to Andros, a picturesque island with few tourists. I throw on my fluorescent orange swimsuit and tie my hair back in a scrunchy, then wander down to the beach with Julie, where we stretch out on petal-shaped towels near the water. We ignore the boys from our class and chat instead to Mr Cadie about the Odyssey and the Iliad. Mr Braidford is lying nearby under a huge purple parasol, his eyes hidden behind massive shades.

‘Enjoying the sunshine, girls?’ he mumbles as we scamper past him on the way up to buy ice-creams.

‘Yes, sir,’ we say, and nudge each other, trying not to laugh.

When I am 16, I get a Saturday job in Lowe’s, and one day they put me on the till. It’s almost clocking off time when I spot Mr Braidford in the queue. He’s wearing a velour tracksuit and doesn’t look like a teacher any more.

‘Not buying anything, sorry,’ he says when it’s his turn and holds up his hands. Then he slips me a tape with black, scrawly writing scribbled all over it.

‘It’s Santana,’ he says. ‘I chose the songs especially.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ My face is burning as I push the cassette into the pocket of my uniform. Then I put my head down and serve the next customer.

After work I smoke a cigarette in the carpark and listen to Black Magic Woman over and over on my Walkman.

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Mary Thompson works as an Academic English tutor in London. She is a recent winner of two BIFFY 50 awards (Best British & Irish Flash Fiction 2018-2019), and her piece, ‘The Circle is Complete,’ featured in ‘The Group of Seven Reimagined,’ has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has been published in various places, including Ellipsis Zine, Retreat West, Ghost Parachute, Literary Orphans, Pidgeonholes and MoonPark Review, and is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel.

Steven John – Fiction & Features Editor