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The Faliure

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Joe sat in the cafe and waited for the huge ice cream she’d ordered to arrive. It was one of those cafes where menus are written on chalk board and everything comes with a side salad and a drizzle of olive oil. Joe had never actually been in here before, and had never had any reason to, but it was quiet and cool, and today that was what she needed. Today she’d flunked her exam, the only one that mattered. In fact she’d flunked them all months ago, this had been her last chance, if she could have scraped a C in this paper all wouldn’t have been lost, but there was no way she’d passed. Joe picked at the hole in her tights. She looped her finger round the loose thread and tightened until her finger turned hard and red. It wasn’t that she was stupid, she never struggled in class, it was just exams. They stifled her; the silence, especially in this heat was intoxicating. It was the hottest summer in years and the heat stalked the house when she was trying to revise, like an unwanted guest that lolls in chairs and loiters in the corridors and behind curtains. In the exam hall it was even worse, pressing into her skull and pushing out the facts and figures. She’d have been lucky to have written twenty words. It had been an English exam, she hated English. She could spell, read and write, why did she have to be able to write a 2000 word essay on some ballad written by a dead, insignificant poet? She hadn’t wanted to take English but, according to her Dad it was a ‘strong’ subject, whatever that meant. So she’d taken it.

Her ice cream arrived in a dish of frosted glass with a wafer shaped like a fan. Joe stared at it and sighed before picking up the spoon. She remembered when she and her mum would go to cafes and they’d eat ice cream. Joe was able to finish hers in a matter of seconds, and then would lick every last drop of the melted puddle in the bottom of the bowl. Her mother always caught the little beads of condensation that ran down the sides of the bowl with her finger. Watching them collect into little rivulets that would eventually spill over the lip of her nail and dribble down the sides of his hand. Cooling in the engulfing heat. She never did stuff like that with her Dad, but it wasn’t his fault, he just didn’t understand that sort of thing. Her Mum understood, but she didn’t understand other things. At least her Dad hadn’t slid out the door one night, taking nothing but a hastily packed bag and a photo album. But it was better now, she saw her every other weekend and they still eat ice cream.

Joe watched the prim woman who was dithering by the shelves, wondering which pasta to buy. She probably had the perfect little life, a rich husband, or ex husband, maybe a few kids almost certainly a land rover. Perhaps she’d splashed out on an obnoxious sports car with her generous retirement plan from some sensible job, like a solicitor or accountant. Now all she had to worry about was which pasta to buy in a place like this. Joe leant back, still watching the woman, and then sat up again startled. The woman had just shot a hurried glance to the counter, and slipped the packet of pasta she’s been studying so carefully into her leather handbag, before hurrying out of the cafe. Joe blinked, then grinned, paid and left too. Maybe she could take up acting or something. Actors always seem to enjoy life. Grades weren't everything.

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