© Maureen Smith, March 2021

Once we were inseparable. We had been together for years and we got on pretty well considering our small living space. We listened, shared, got in each other's way and jostled for space, sometimes there was sharp edges, hard knocks and breakages but mostly there was tenderness. We were like chicks in our nest of soft chamois walls, through which the smell of old leather still permeated mingled with the fragrance of French perfume. We belonged to Fleur, a sweet young flower of a woman, but we called her Our Girl, as she was ours and we were hers. Each night she tenderly cleaned and bid us an affectionate goodnight. She cared for us like children

Lirra a shining example of her gender, pink and dotted with Swarovski crystals. She often reflected on how things were, saw all and told no lies. Wally was brown, shiny and useful, but too full of his own importance. Frankie, delicate and transparent as rice paper, but wasn't much use really, only for a dab here and a dab there. Libby, red and glamorous, was useful and busy several times a day. There were the usual drop-ins. Various mints rattling like coins in a Salvos tin, old tissues crumpled as a Dear John letter, punctured bus tickets, bobby pins floating around with nothing to hang onto. All transient. But we despised the collection of little blue tablets that she used all too frequently.

We were her constant companions. When she fastidiously preened and fluffed, when she dusted and aligned her precious things. At cafes we were proudly shown off when she paid for her latte and touched up her lips, at the Mall when she shopped, at the bank, when she pleaded. She took us with her whenever she moved, and that was often. A small flat, to a bedsit, to a large room, to a smaller room and each shabbier than the last. Her belongings were few, and became fewer, but she always took us, as we were the most precious of all. The last room in which she lived was in a boarding house. A single bed, an island in a sea of dirty brown, its head anchored to the wall, an old-fashioned dressing table with a small, crazed mirror above it reflected the poverty, the wardrobe's squeaky door never closed completely, and a musty smell wafted out. In the corner stood a rickety chair on which she placed her clothes at night, and rats lurked in the corner.

We were there when she met him, a rough man who drank whiskey. He lived down the hall, in another pokey room; he smiled at her every morning when she left to go out. We were there when she went out with him and whiskey began to replace lattes. We were there when the pub replaced the Mall, when he called late at night, when they were intimate. He touched Lirra once, fingered her then carelessly dropped her onto the floor. He said he was sorry when he saw Our Girl frown and snatch Lirra up, check she was not broken and carefully place her back into her nest. Lirra didn't like him, we didn't like him. We were there when things between the rough man and Our Girl became scratchy. We were there when he came calling too late at night. When he thumped at her door, shouted to let him in. We were closer to her than siblings but as inept at protecting her as children when he started to nit-pick and kick. We were there when she told him to go and never return. We were relieved but his threats made us edgy.

We were an essential part of Our Girls life, so we also felt her fear and confusion. Lirra reflected on how things were not the same as before and said how our Girl's hands shook when she held her. Libby felt neglected and not used very often. Wally was thin, empty and depressed. Frankie no longer pristine, became mostly wet and soggy. We didn't go to the Mall for lattes, or even the Pub for whiskey, we no longer went out.

Then the volcano grumbled, and we feared the eruption. We had just been wiped over and tucked into our nest when we heard him shriek and hammer on the door. The door shook with earthquake force and splinters flew. The acrid smell of alcohol filled the air, vile abuse mixed with spittle sprayed the room, glass smashed and crunched under heavy footfall. Then darkness, but for one small, scented candle. Heavy breathing, profanities, fabric ripped, muffled sobs, the bed shook the wall, cries rising to a crescendo of screams. The sound of trickling water then the pungent smell of urine. Groaning. Pounding. Whimpering. A sickening thud and then silence. We huddled together, waiting our turn. The fox was now in the henhouse. Carelessly flung out of our nest we tumbled onto the bed where Our Girl lay face down, naked, bleeding. Wally was torn open and shaken, Libby's top ripped off, Frankie snatched away, Lirra silent and watching until she too was seized. Our nest, our haven, our home was on the floor, flat and empty without us. We lay stunned and silent in the flickering candlelight. The fox slinked away. Muffled voices in the hall, sirens screamed. A crash, heavy footsteps, strange voices, and a white light revealed the mayhem.

'Bloody hell,' a strange gruff voice croaked, 'look at that.'

'Holy hell, what a mess.'

'What's all that crap on the bed?'

'Aw just stuff from her handbag,' he indicated with a nod of his head, 'over there on the floor. Get to work Sarge, but don't touch her.'

Warm fat fingers threw us into a cold plastic bag. Solemn voices murmured.

'Shit what's written on the wall, is that blood?'

'Nah, lipstick, I think. Don't touch it either.'

After some more florid expletives the conversation turned to us.

'Get them all off to the lab.'

'Okay Sir.'

We were taken on a journey in a caustic smelling box. We were moving in a car, going very fast. Strange voices spoke to other staccato voices. We were carried to a dark place and left. Then nothing.

Lirra broke the silence and said we were done for. She must have seen more than any of us. She kept saying it was hideous. She called out to Libby, asked if she was still there.

Libby's voice sounded cracked when she told us she was forced against the wall. Scraped, hard, up and down. In lines and circles. Until she snapped. She then asked Frankie what happened when she was taken. But Frankie kept weeping, said it was all too horrible. Just leave her alone.

We sat in anxious silence. How badly was Our Girl injured, or worse? No longer were we little chicks safe in our nest. We were battery hens, exposed, trampled and dirty.

Again, we were on the move. We heard soft regular breathing, smelt perfume. Was it her, Our Girl? We longed for her to come and take us home.

We were carefully lifted from the box and placed on a hard shiny surface. Looking down at us was a young female face, her eyes outlined in black, a long dark curl escaped from the soft white hat she wore, her mouth covered with a soft white mask through which she whispered,

'Now, what do have we here.'

She picked us up one by one, tickled each one with a stick, it was a relief to be handled with care again. She left us there while she looked through a microscope then reached for the phone.

'Hi Jeff, I've found something you'll be interested in. I bet it's a match,' she nodded and smiled, 'yes on the handkerchief, semen and saliva.'

Frankie shuddered. We pitied her. 'My guess is the semen is from the offender and the saliva from the deceased, you said she was found with the handkerchief stuffed in her mouth, wasn't she? Another thing, the mirror has a broken corner and there is human tissue on it, I bet it's a match for the dead girl.'

A crack and Lirra fell apart.