The balloons still litter the floor, an ostentatious carpet of celebration. The helium struggles to keep the ‘1’ and the ‘8’ bobbing hopefully, a memory of a perfect day. Helen can’t bring herself to clear them. Every day she notes the wrinkling flesh of the pink foil whilst trying to cocoon herself in thoughts of life before February 1st. Everything since a miasmic bubble of shock and administration.

As she passes the mirror she catches a flash of her reflection. She stops, not through vanity, but because she sees a trace of Maddy. Her eyes, no longer as blue as they once were, mirror her daughter’s. Hers deeper set beneath hooded lids. Thick lashes and dark brows a fraudulent betrayal of her Italian roots – that long weekend in Venice her only visit to date. She sweeps a hand through her knotted hair, still as thick as ever, less chestnut these days but nowhere near as grey as her peers. A direct contrast to Maddy’s milky blonde locks, so fine and flyaway.

Her sorry stare continues to hypnotise. She sees herself lost in limbo, bra-less, a toothpaste stained green sweatshirt hanging loosely over baggy trackpants. Her second skin now, so different from the norm. Her lab assistants would barely recognise her were they here. The phone has already stopped ringing. Good, she can’t face their sympathy. She drags herself away, ignoring the post – she’ll steel herself later to face today’s heartbreak. Flicking on the TV, she curls up under a blanket looking for escape.

Balloons

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