I retreat down the nearest aisle, heartbeat thick with adrenaline. Pink and blue baby grows blur into one. I stalk you, the girl who should be managing the tills. You have your father’s nose, but the rest belongs to me. Customers gape at the waif with the patchy complexion, methadone-finished eyes. You are oblivious, examining the small-print labels. Queues lengthen past each side of you. A manager decides to intervene. I dab cotton-rich bodies to my brow. Last year I would have swooped, like a robin, dive-bombing a predator. Now I take cover from you: the stranger, with blue-thread, thief’s hands and abortive heart. Empty baby grows crowd, like aimless children. I clutch at a pink one, new-born girl. I claw its popper-studded front. It pings off the hanger, and I bunch it beneath my jacket, heart kangarooing in my chest. I hunker into my coat, and force my legs to the exit.
I’ve imagined how it feels to spend nights sheltered beneath the pier, wrapped in a duvet salvaged from the tip. And I’ve asked myself over and again, how did we end up here? Rob and I played at camping when you were little. Family in a van, parked on the Devon coast. Carefree summer maxed out on credit cards. We spent long nights knocking back boxed-wine. Smoking ’till we didn’t notice the summer damp any more, ’till we felt warm inside and towards each other, ’till we no longer cared about the bills that lurked elsewhere. And we never fought until we were sure you were tucked up, safe in bed.