Single Mother - Samantha Hayes


Drizzle mists the air as she walks briskly through the deserted streets, the bag heavy in her hand. Her hood is up, her head down, watching her feet tread the wet pavement. It’s early – barely past dawn and too early even for commuters. The station is only just opening as she arrives. She thinks she’ll probably be the only person buying a ticket today and not actually going anywhere.

She’d been awake all night, and the decision was made. No looking back. A night filled with screams and blood-soaked sheets. Her man nowhere to be found – not that he’d be any use anyway. As ever, she’d coped with it all herself. Life was filled with one problem after another. Things to be dealt with. To be cleaned up and taken care of. Miserable, but it’s how things were now, what she was used to – the weight bearing down, wearing her down, crushing her to death. She couldn’t see a way out. Maybe she didn’t want to.

She buys her ticket – one-way, of course – and heads towards the platform. Time to wait, time to think, grateful there’s no one else around to hear should there be any noise.

The air smells of diesel as she sits on the wooden bench, waiting. But at least she’s out of the rain. The bag is on her lap, both her hands resting gently on top. Some kind of comfort. She looks at her watch, noticing several other passengers gathering on the platform. She’s far enough away from them not to be noticed.

Things used to be good once, she thinks with an inner smile. Fun and carefree, her big dreams unshattered, every day a breeze. She remembers the parties in London, the alcohol and cigarettes, the boys hungry for her, the wild outfits she wore – tiny suede skirts and long white boots, low-cut chiffon dresses with ruffles. She adored those boots. Wore them until they greyed with age.

Several blue and yellow trains pull up to various platforms and, eventually, one grinds up to platform six. She heads down to the furthest end of the train, opens a door on the last carriage and gets on, walking down the aisle past all the empty seats, trailing her hand along their velvety backs.

At the end of the carriage, she places the bag she’s carrying in the overhead luggage rack, above seats forty-seven and forty-eight. She looks left and right. No one there. She wonders who, if anyone, will be sitting in these seats.

Not her, she thinks, making sure the bag is secure before she turns and heads for the nearest exit door. Once she’s off the train, she walks briskly back to her car, the rain having stopped and the autumn morning sun now a slash of red hanging over the town.

She will drive home and get on with her day, get on with her life. And if she has to do it again, she will.


Mel stares at the recycling box. It’s overflowing. She’d asked Kate several times last night to take it down to the bins at the back of their building but, as ever these days, her daughter had remained in her room. With everything that’s happened recently, she hadn’t wanted to get heavy with her.

‘Kate, breakfast’s ready. Hurry, or you’ll be late for school,’ Mel calls out, waiting for some kind of acknowledgment. No reply. ‘It’s eggs,’ she adds, not needing to shout. Their flat is only small. The single bedroom belongs to Kate, while Mel sleeps on the sofa bed, hiding away the duvet and pillows every morning before Kate emerges. She keeps her clothes in a cupboard on the small landing. Space is tight, but they get by.

Egg, actually, Mel thinks, spooning the small amount of scramble onto a piece of toast. She hears Kate’s bedroom door open and, a moment later, she comes into the kitchen wearing her school shirt, no tie, and her pyjama bottoms underneath. Her hair is unbrushed, the strawberry-blonde strands a frizzy halo around her pale, slim face.

‘Where are your school trousers, love?’ Mel says, pouring half a glass of orange juice for her. It’s all that’s left.

‘In my room,’ she replies without looking at Mel. Kate slides onto the chair, picking up her knife and fork. Mel notices the blush blooming on her cheeks, knows her daughter too well. ‘Thanks for this, Mum.’

Mel sits down beside her, coffee mug between her palms. ‘Kate—’

‘Don’t, Mum,’ she replies, shovelling in her breakfast, still not looking up.