Inside the coffee shop, I lay woollen hat and gloves on the table, shrug out of my heavy coat. The heat of bodies and conversation has steamed up the windows. I watch as a little blonde girl trails her finger in the condensation, drawing a crooked heart. Her mother chats to a friend. I catch the girl’s eye; she sticks out her tongue. I stick mine out back and she laughs, delighted, returning to her drawing.
On another table, a mother fusses over a curly-haired toddler, squashing a chocolate bun into his mouth with chubby, crumb-caked fingers.
Allison with two ‘L’s brings my coffee, banging it down on the table, slopping hot milk over the sides. She swoops off, throwing rubbish onto her tray.
A pregnant woman at the counter leans back, stroking her belly territorially. Her striped top clings to her distended stomach like tent canvas. Her little boy stands neatly by her side. Her hair is dyed red, from a bottle; as she steps out of the café, clutching take-out coffee, the wind picks it up, floating it out around her head, the boy grabbing her free hand for protection. She presses his small fingers to her lips gently.
I check the time on my phone: half an hour left.
I finger the card in my pocket, scratching my knuckles on it. I know what it says by heart. I can pick the words out easily: Appointment. Termination. Aftercare.
I go back to watching the little girl, who is now sucking the salt from a packet of crisps off her small fingers. She winks, making me laugh, and I hold out my complimentary biscuit to her. She glances sidelong at her mother, who is still talking to her friend. Shyly, flicking eyes back in her mother’s direction, she edges across the short distance between us, taking the biscuit, meeting my eyes, and I see they are aqua blue like mine. She whispers a ‘Thank you’ and I glance down at her tiny hands clasping the packet.
I remember a fact from biology class back in high school – of how a foetus has them at ten weeks. Fingernails, I think. At ten weeks. I see the illustration on the page of the old textbook, alongside the drawings of penises. A curled up alien in a sack, tiny round nails like blemishes on the ends of its fingers.
I stand up to leave, anxious to be away. I grab my coat and hat, leaving the gloves behind and my overpriced cappuccino untouched. But as I rush from the shop, and step onto the wet pavement, I become enveloped by a brood of young women with giant pushchairs, clucking around me like geese.
I glance back and try to see the little girl behind the glass, but she’s gone. All I can see is the crooked heart fading from the window pane, drips bleeding away from it, sliding down the window like tears.
KATE JONES is a freelance writer based in the UK. A regular features writer for online women's magazine Skirt Collective, and Essayist for The Short Story, she is also fanatical about flash fiction, which she has published widely in online literary magazines such as Spelk, Cafe Aphra, SickLit and Firefly. She is currently an editorial intern for the short story website and app, Great Jones Street. She can be found lurking on Twitter @katejonespp