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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories

Excerpt from

Susanna Quietly
Stephen McQuiggan

‘I love death,’ said Susanna quietly, as the ambulance sped away.

‘Excuse me?’ asked the elderly woman standing next to Susanna and her mother. ‘Did you say something sweetheart?’

Susanna’s mother, Janice, feeling that familiar panic tighten her face, tried to catch the old woman’s attention. ‘Did you see what happened?’

It was an idle question, designed to steer the conversation away from the words her morbid daughter so frequently uttered. The man they had just carried out of the store, clutching at his chest, blowing spit bubbles, could be dead by now, Janice had no way of knowing. She only had a glimpse of him. She turned, blocked her daughter’s view.

Susanna pulled insistently on Janice’s sleeve, tears swelling in her eyes. ‘Did the man die, mummy? Did he die?’

It was all she could do not to slap Susanna, right there in the queue, right in front of everybody. The old woman was leaning over Susanna, clucking, breathing stale mint and cigarette smoke over her. Her heavy tweed coat was wet, steaming in the heat of the shop; it smelt like something inside her was rotten.

‘Ah, don’t worry pet, the man was just a wee bit sick, so they took him to the hospital to make him all better.’ The old woman flipped a wink at Susanna’s mother, who was chewing her lip, lost in the memories of a recent death, and a clinical, knife stroke funeral.

‘I said, what age is she?’ asked the old woman.

‘Oh, she’s ….seven.’ The question always caused Susanna’s mother to pause. Susanna was small for her age; she looked no more than four, especially when she had her hair in ringlets like she did today. Janice paused because she could hardly believe it herself, believe that something so small and innocent looking could be so-

‘Really? But she looks so young.’ The old woman placed a hand on a large green broach on her chest, as if to contain the revelation.

‘Is he dead?’ Susanna’s voice had taken on that strident tone now, and her mother felt her stomach sink.

‘Don’t worry angel, the man-’

‘I’m not worried.’

‘There’s a brave little girl.’ The old woman smiled. ‘Don’t you fret your pretty little head about the nasty ambulance coming for you. You’re far too young.’

‘You’re never too young to die,’ said Susanna. ‘And I’m certainly not afraid of an ambulance. I’d love to ride in one all day and see all the people in the back, and the blood, and watch them all die.’

‘Oh, that’s a terrible thing to say!’ The old woman looked at Janice, as if she were operating her daughter with her foot.

‘No it isn’t,’ said Susanna smiling, showing her sharp little teeth. ‘You’ll die too, very soon. I’d love to see that. I love death.’

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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories