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An excerpt from'The Glove Maker’s Numbers'

“No, Christina,” the woman says. “Please don’t read.”

But already Christina has weighed the book between careful palms and, recognising its solid width, flipped open the covers. She is impatient to find the first words. She knows what they will say, of course, but she wants to see them for herself. To make sure. If they feel right, she thinks, she will know that she is well again.

The pages emit their little whisper as she turns them and she wills them, for once, to shout. In the beginning. In the beginning. It seems such an unremarkable way to go about Creation that it is difficult, now, to trust.

“You handed me a Bible,” Christina replies slowly, closing the covers again.

“Oh, she’s a funny one today, is she?” The woman raises her brows. “Just hold it and sit still, please.”

“For how long?”

“Only ten minutes or so.”

Christina begins calculating how many stitches she could sew in ten long minutes, but she can’t fit the figures together properly, in the columns they must be stacked into to make a total, and she gives up. It must be tens of thousands. She glances about, looking for shapes that might make numbers reflected in the scrubbed floorboards and the few weak clouds visible through the closed windows. In one particular cloud she finds an enormous figure of five and she pictures herself perched in its rising tail, then, a moment later, balanced on the flat top ledge of a pure white seven. She pictures herself floating away.

This is what she does now with the words she would once have said – she translates them into numbers and lets them linger silently in her mind. That way, no one can tell her they are wrong.

Though maybe this in itself is the Devil’s work – to try and hide her thoughts from everyone, God included. She cannot ask anyone about it. That was when things had become hysterical, when she had started mentioning the Devil by name and wondering what she had done to deserve a visitation. That was what had led Daniel to agree – one hand across his chest to balance the other, held cowardly over his eyes – with some stuck-up doctor, though she had begged and begged him not to. Christina met that doctor all of once, and certainly hasn’t seen him since he voiced the new and wonderful notion that she was a lunatic.

At least, she can only presume it was a wonderful notion, since everyone seemed so keen to believe it.

Now, the general consensus is that she is better, recovered, no longer a lunatic. And though this opinion hasn’t been so readily accepted, Christina has vowed not to attempt to persuade anyone of it. Let them believe what they will. She doesn’t feel any different.

“What will I do for ten minutes?” Christina asks, though she isn’t expecting an answer beyond ‘be photographed’. It is how things are here. Ten minutes for this. Ten minutes for that. Every task given its title and not one requiring the use of a brain. It had not taken Christina long to learn to see them divided, like portions of a sugary apple tart, into parts which would eventually make up a whole. This is just one more portion of her life she must slot away.

A little bit about Rebecca F John

REBECCA F JOHN

Rebecca F John was born in 1986 in south Wales. She holds a BA Hons in English with Creative Writing and MA in Creative Writing from Swansea University. Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and she is the winner of the PEN International New Voices Award 2015. Her first short story collection, Clown’s Shoes, was published in 2015.


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