No fit state

3,246 words – approx. 11 minutes

He knows he shouldn’t have shouted. He shouldn’t have shouted, but it had been a long day. He’d started at 8:30 in the back room, with the pile of clothes on their hangers. Sometimes, if he was in early, it was his job to look through the rack for clothes that needed taking off, pushing them along the rail one by one, checking the little tags for today’s date. He’d slide the hangers up his arm then take them into the back, and say “Not many today,” or sometimes “Cor, there’s a lot of them!” so that everyone knew.

But today Alison had been in before him, so the pile was there already. He slid each item from its hanger, paying particular attention to the dresses, with their thin little straps that might snag. These were the clothes that no-one had bought in the two weeks they’d been on display. Their fabric might have been rubbed between fingers, they might have been held up against bodies, or even tried on in the little changing room with the red plastic curtain, but no-one had taken them to the counter to buy. Now they’d be moved on. Martin didn’t know where – maybe to another charity shop, or maybe they would be recycled. All he had to do was take them off the hangers and put them in the big black bag that gaped below the table. He should ask, really.

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4,465 words – approx. 15 minutes

“Hannah, if you’d like to come in?” The woman jerked from her thoughts at the sound and rose from the purple, rectangular sofa, tugging down her lead-grey skirt as she stood. Before she took a step she crouched to pick up the plastic cup of water at her feet, careful not to crush it. This was no time for clumsiness.

She didn’t recognise the man who held the door open for her. He was smiling, but without showing his teeth, and there was something goblin-like in the way his head bowed towards his outstretched arm. Hannah flashed him a quick grimace then watched her feet cover the check pattern of the carpet. As she passed him he flattened himself against the door, as though scared to come into contact with her. Be assertive, she reminded herself, and forced her head upwards. But she couldn’t stifle the shiver that ran through her when the door clicked to.

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