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Posted by Clayton Littlewood
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A Classic Story: Revisited


In 1846 Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Little Match Seller (also known as The Little Match Girl). His short story was only 1000 words long but it has endured, like good stories do. Although it still has relevance, I felt it was in need of a revisit, using the same rhythm, but placing it in a modern day setting.


* * * * * *


She’d been working the Old Compton Street corner since late afternoon and still hadn’t made a thing. The weather hadn’t helped. What were mild winter evenings just days before were rapidly turning cold. Then of course there were her looks. Was it really just last year she’d been the pick of the crop? Dean Street, Peter Street, Berwick Street, every brothel in Soho had wanted her. Not anymore. Six hundred pound a week to the madam for the use of a room. Well, she was lucky to make twenty pounds a day now.


Shivering, she stopped outside the Italian deli and gazed at her reflection in the window. Her luxurious golden tresses, once her best feature, hung limply either side of her bony shoulders. Her now sunken face, ravaged by meth, showed little sign of its former beauty. She wiped the rain from her face leaving a smudge on a cheek. She frowned, licked her forefinger and rubbed at it. Only now it wasn’t the rain that ran down her face, it was tears. She shut her eyes tightly and when she opened them again, just for second, her once beautiful features returned. She smiled, then ran her fingers through her matted hair and squeezed out the rainwater.


If I could just make enough money for the bus, I’d be back at the house in an hour, she thought as she continued on her journey. Then she remembered her pimp. If she returned without a few notes he’d beat her up again. She’d moved to London to escape that, only to walk right back into it. No, it wasn’t safe to go back there. Not tonight. She dug a hand inside her fleece jacket until her fingers found a plastic sachet.


It was now nearing midnight and slashes of rain cut across the street. This was not a night to be sleeping rough. Maybe I can find a quiet corner she thought as she dodged a group of men drinking under the canopy outside a Rupert Street bar. A few gave her sympathetic looks, but turned their heads when she held out her hand. She heard one make a comment about her clothes. But she was so far removed from insults now. Her emotions long since deadened.


By the time she reached Archer Street the crowds had disappeared and a bitter wind raced along the pavement. She tried to shelter in a doorway opposite a bustling bar, but was forced to move on when three drunken businessmen walked past and spat at her. They chased her to the end of the street and from there she ran down a side street, taking shelter behind a row of dustbins.


The wind was icy now and her fingertips began to tingle. She cupped her hands, blew into them, then hugged herself tightly. But it was useless. Her jacket was sodden and it just made her colder. Then she had an idea. She fished inside her pocket for the sachet. This’ll do it she thought as she held the sachet up to the light, tapping it gently so that the white powder inside trickled into a corner. She turned to face the wall and then carefully tipped the contents into a nostril. It hit her instantly, the impurities burning like a thousand little daggers plunging into her membranes.


That’s strange. I’m shivering but I don’t feel cold anymore. And it was true. She was bathed in a warm, bright light that seemed to be coming from every direction. And when she focused into the light she could make out faces smiling back at her. ‘Oh my God!’ she cried. ‘It’s you!’ For it was her old school friends, laughing, shouting, telling her to come and join them. She called out to them and they waved back which made her cry again, but this time with joy. Then the light faded and gradually her friends faded too. She looked around frantically, but all that was left were dustbins, graffiti-laded walls and puddles of rain, like miniature black lakes, spreading across the tarmac.


She took another hit of the powder. Suddenly the sky lit up with shooting stars. She sat there shivering, uncontrollably, watching them fall in wonderment. Maybe someone is dying, she thought, for her girlfriend had once told her that when a star falls it means that a soul was about to go to Heaven. And it was true, a soul was about to go to Heaven. She emptied the remaining powder into her nose, unaware that the violent shaking was not due to the cold at all. Then foam started to appear around her mouth, she soiled her pants and her eyes began to roll. And even though she was now blind, bathed again in the wonderful warm light, she imagined she could see someone beckoning her. Someone else from her past. She caught her breath. It was her girlfriend. Except her clothes were now clean, her skin unblemished, her arms no longer mottled with yellow bruises. She’d never looked more radiant.


‘I know you’re gonna leave soon. But please take me with you,’ the dying girl said. Her girlfriend smiled back with affection. Then she stepped out of the light, took her in her arms, and they both flew upwards into the night sky.


It wasn’t until 4 o’clock the next afternoon that the girl was found by a street cleaner, lying in a pool of shit and vomit, still clutching the plastic sachet. ‘It’s just a crack whore,’ someone said. But no one could hurt her now. For she was far above the earth, where there was neither cold, nor hunger, nor pain.


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