Cecelia chewed her lip as she made her way to work, her daughter Galiya on her hip. “Please let Diena be in a good mood,” she thought to herself. Normally, she would’ve left her daughter with Leona or Leona’s oldest daughter, but both of the women were sick with some sort of stomach flu and couldn’t take care of Galiya. She had brought Galiya to work before, but Diena was often snippy and especially judgmental of the work that Cecelia finished for her on days where Galiya was present.
But it couldn’t be helped. Seamus was already hitting the bottle before she left for work and she didn’t trust him to not slap Galiya around if she was cranky. All Cecelia could do was pray that Diena wouldn’t be too upset by the child’s presence.
Cecelia was both relieved and worried when she got to work and the office was empty. She used her key to unlock the door and made her way to her desk. Diena’s absence was both a blessing and a curse. Cecelia would be able to put off any confrontations with Diena, but if Diena wasn’t there because something was going wrong, it would be likely that Cecelia would get the brunt of Diena’s anger if the woman showed up.
“Nothing you can do about it, Cecelia. Get to work and pray for the best,” she told herself.
She put Galiya in the basket that did double duty as a crib, since the girl had been falling asleep on Cecelia’s way to work. She stroked the girl’s hair and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Get some sleep, precious,” she said quietly.
For the first hour, things were quiet. Cecelia typed up letters and worked on the next month’s budget. Galiya slept peacefully, hidden behind the desk.
A shrill voice ruined the peacefulness and Cecelia winced. “Cecelia!”
Cecelia winced. If Diena was using that tone of voice, she was definitely not in a good mood. “I’m in the reception room,” she yelled back, nudging Galiya’s basket a bit so it was better hidden behind a box of paperwork she needed to file.
She heard the click of Diena’s heels before the woman came up behind her. “The clocking caravan from clocking Mugroba is going to be a couple days late. Something about a clocking illness hitting everyone,” she snarled. “I need that clocking fabric!”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Diena,” Cecelia said in her most soothing professional voice. “Is there anything I can do?”
Diena let out a short, angry laugh. “You’re a bloody secretary. What the fuck do you think you can do about everyone in a clocking caravan falling ill?”
Cecelia kept her voice calm. “I could send out some couriers to a few of the other fabric stores to see if they have that sort of fabric on hand. You’d have to pay them, but nothing says you have to pay the caravan if you had to get replacement fabric.”
“You don’t get it, you clocking idiot. That fabric was specially dyed for us!” Diena replied.
“Ah, I see,” Cecelia said.
Galiya chose that moment to wake up and coo quietly.
Diena’s eyes narrowed and she glared at Cecelia. When she spoke, her voice was tight with anger. “Did you bring the child to work again?”
Cecelia swallowed. “Yes, ma'am. Her usual babysitters are sick and I didn’t have time to find her another babysitters.”
“Bullshit!” Diena yelled. “Bullshit! You clocking brought her in to rub her in my face.”
Cecelia frowned, completely confused. “She stays either in the basket or in the playpen, well out of your way.”
“You rub the fact that you can have children in my face, just by bringing her here, you stupid bitch,” Diena screamed, spittle flying from her lips. “You know I can’t have children! And yet you, a horrible parent who can’t even fucking put the little shit in daycare, can. How fucking fair is that?”
“You don’t pay me enough to put her in daycare,” Cecelia thought to herself, though she was smart enough to not bring that up. Instead, she addressed Diena’s infertility issues. “You… never told me you couldn’t have kids, Diena,” she said hesitantly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Bullshit! Get out!” Diena’s voice cracked into a shrill shriek.
Cecelia just blinked, confused. “Excuse me?” Cecelia asked.
“Get. Out. Get your personal belongings and the little clocking brat and GET OUT OF MY OFFICE,” she bellowed. “You’re clocking fired!”
“What? You’re firing me? For bringing Galiya in? I didn’t know you had an issue with her being here!” Cecelia protested.
“If you were a decent fucking parent, you wouldn’t have had to ever bring her in!” Diena snarled. “Get out now, before I call the Seventen!”
“Can I have my wages for this week, at least?” Cecelia asked.
“I’ll clocking send them to you by courier,” Diena growled. “Get the fuck out of here. I swear to the clocking Circle, I’ll call the Seventen if you’re not out of here in 10 minutes.”
Cecelia closed her eyes for a moment, in shock. Then she got up and started gathering the few things that were hers, stuffing them in her carrying bag. She knew that arguing with Diena would be a waste of time. Clearly Diena thought that Cecelia had some ulterior motive when she brought Galiya to work and Cecelia doubted she could convince Diena otherwise.
“What the clocking fuck am I going to do?” Cecelia thought as she left the office for the last time, Galiya on her hip and her bag over her opposite shoulder.
She walked to the park by where she and Galiya lived with her boyfriend Seamus, setting Galiya down on the ground and sitting down heavily on a park bench. She watched the little girl explore the world around her while she tried to process what had just happened.
How the clock was Cecelia supposed to know that the woman couldn’t have kids? How the clock was she supposed to know that bringing Galiya into work hurt Diena? She wasn’t a clocking telepath and the woman had never mentioned she had issue with Galiya being in the office until today. That’s not something that Cecelia would forget and, if Diena had mentioned that seeing Galiya upset her, she would have tried harder to find a backup babysitter.
“Seamus is going to clocking kill me,” she muttered to herself. The man took Cecelia’s wages to keep himself in booze and drugs and he would be livid when he found out that his little luxuries would have to be limited until she found a new regular job. She had a side job with Leona, doing some basic sewing and mending, but that job was hardly regular. Her wages from that job were being socked away to try to save up for her own place, too, so having to rely on them to survive was only going to delay her getting herself and Galiya out of the unsafe living situation Cecelia had managed to find herself in. Seamus didn't hesitate to hit her and Cecelia knew that he'd eventually escalate to hitting Galiya.
Luckily, she had a few hours to waste until Seamus would be home from the bar. She spent another half hour watching Galiya explore, occasionally stopping her from putting something like rocks or fallen leaves into her mouth. Galiya eventually looked up and went “cookie?” and Cecelia’s lips curved up in a tiny smile. “Yeah, let’s go home and get you a cookie,” she said, standing up and picking up the girl.
She stopped at a newsstand and picked up a copy of help wanted ads and then made her way home, dread increasing with every step. She unlocked the house door and made her way to the kitchen, her shoulders relaxing some when she realized Seamus wasn’t home yet. She gave Galiya her cookie and sat at the kitchen table as Galiya sat in the corner of the room, playing with the doll Cecelia had made from an old shirt and munching on her cookie.
Cecelia started a simple stew for dinner and then sat down at the tiny dining table to both watch Galiya and scan through the wanted ads. Her heart dropped when she realized how few jobs were in town. Most of the jobs advertised were jobs involving the harvest and Cecelia could hardly afford to travel to a farm.
She got up and looked at the clock, sighing as she realized it was 18 o’clock already. Seamus would be home soon, and she was quite literally terrified what his reaction would be to the news that Cecelia was unemployed. She stirred dinner and picked the now-sleeping Galiya up, moving the girl to her crib. She’d have to wake the girl up in an hour to feed her, but she would let her sleep for now.
She considered hiding the help wanted ads but decided it would make Seamus angrier if he found them. Knowing him, he would assume she was trying to lie to him if she tried to hide the fact that she was jobless. She couldn’t win either way, but she didn’t need to make things worse.
Cecelia closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she heard the door slam open. Seamus’s heavy footsteps practically shook the little shack they lived in as he stomped into the kitchen. The man was huge, standing 6’0” and built like a man who had spent a long life doing hard labor. Of course, he hadn’t worked a day in his life, instead choosing to date women who would support him as soon as he left his mother’s house. “Why’re ya home, ya lit’le bint?” he snarled as he saw Cecelia at the stove.
“Diena fired me,” Cecelia whispered, looking down at the ground.
“Wha’ ya say?” Seamus shouted, his voice a harsh, grating tone that said he was red hot angry.
Cecelia cringed back at his tone. “Oh, Alioe, this is going to be bad,” she thought to herself before replying. “Diena fired me.”
“Diena fired ya?!” Seamus yelled. He was across the room in a second and his hand struck her across the face. Cecelia’s head turned with the force of the hit. “Wha’ did ya clockin’ do, ya stupid bitch?!”
“I had to bring Galiya in,” Cecelia explained as she rubbed her cheek. “Diena got upset and fired me.”
“Why di’nt you leave the brat with the babysitters?”
“Leona and her daughter were sick,” Cecelia said.
“Shou’dve left the brat with them anyways! Maybe she wou’dve gotten sick and died. Circle knows we’d be better off wit’out her,” Seamus snarled.
“Don’t you say that about my daughter!” Cecelia yelled. She cringed, her eyes wide as she moved away from Seamus. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. Please. I’m sorry!”
“Wha’ ‘ave I told ya about raising ya voice ta me?” Seamus said, his voice a quiet, tense snarl. In a heartbeat, he was in Cecelia's face, picking the petite woman by her throat and throwing her across the room. “Ya ne’er raise ya voice ta me!” he screamed.
Cecelia started crying, hating herself for being weak and breaking down. “I’m sorry, Seamus. I’m sorry. Please. I’ll find another job quickly and you won’t have to worry about anything.”
“Oh, ya righ’. I won’t have to worry about anyt’ing,” the man said as he stomped into the bedroom.
Cecelia’s stomach fell as she heard a floorboard being pulled up. “Oh, shit. He clocking knows about the savings,” she thought.
Seamus stalked back into the room and started pulling Cecelia’s moving out fund from the old bag she had been stuffing it in, throwing each coin at her. “Ya t’ink I did’t know about ya lit’le savings?” he yelled, each word punctuated by another coin thrown at her.
Cecelia didn’t answer. She couldn’t. She knew anything she said would make it worse.
“I’ll be takin’ this. Ya and the brat will be leavin’,” Seamus snarled.
“Where are we supposed to go?!” Cecelia asked loudly.
Seamus was on her in a second, punching her in the face and then kicking her in the ribs. “Wha’ did I tell ya about raising ya voice ta me?” he said, punctuating each word with a hard kick. Cecelia curled up in the fetal position, protecting her soft core with her arms and legs.
“I don’ care where ya two go! Go sleep on tha streets. ‘ore yaself out. I don’ give a clockin’ shit. Ge’ out o’ my ‘ouse!”
“It’s not yours!” Cecelia yelled, uncurling herself and attempting to stand up. “I’ve been paying the rent on this place since we moved in and I AM NOT LEAVING.”
Seamus’s laugh was nasty. “It’s ya place?” he snarled. Cecelia was suddenly nauseous when she saw the look on his face. He picked her up again and threw her to the floor, then started beating her like he had never beat her before. "Ya can't pay rent now, so I'll be takin' tha 'ouse now," he snarled between hits.
The last thing Cecelia remembered was hearing was Galiya’s cries and desperately praying that Seamus wouldn’t take his anger out on the child as the world turned black.
When Cecelia woke up some time later, she got up slowly, crying out in pain as she did. It felt like every inch of her arms and legs were covered in bruises. Her left eye ached and she expected that, if she looked in a mirror, she’d have a good shiner. Her stomach and ribs throbbed with each breath, and she prayed that Seamus hadn't broken anything.
Cecelia winced as she saw Seamus sitting at the table, calmly drinking a beer. “Ah, ya’re awake,” he said pleasantly.
“Galiya,” Cecelia started, her words slurred by the bruises on her face.
“The lit’le brat’s asleep. Get ya t’ings and get out,” Seamus said.
Cecelia started walking painfully to the bedroom, each step agony. Circle, did he break a leg? she wondered.
“I don’t think so,” Seamus said in that same chillingly pleasant tone. “Ya get th’ clothes on ya back and wha’s in ya bag.”
“I paid for those clothes, Seamus,” Cecelia protested weakly.
“An’ I’m gonna sell t’em to keep meself in this beau’iful lit’le house,” Seamus smiled. “Get. Out.”
Cecelia knew she couldn’t take another beating, even if it wasn’t as bad as the one she was just given. She silently gathered her cloak and carrying bag, then lifted Galiya out of her crib. She stopped at the front door and turned back to Seamus one last time. “I hope you end up a hungry ghost, you clocking piece of shit,” she said, just loud enough for him to hear.
He laughed heartily, a laugh that shook his own body. “Oh, girl. I’m pret’y sure ya and the brat will be ‘ungrier than I’ll ever be,” he replied.
Cecelia managed to get a block away before the tears came, walking in the dark as slowly as an elderly grandmother. She made her way to the park she had been in earlier and sat down on the ground by a park bench. The dam broke and she started sobbing hysterically as everything hit her, Galiya held close to her.
Once she had cried herself out, she stroked the girl’s hair and sighed. Galiya cooed and reached up to pat Cecelia’s face a couple times, murmuring “Mummy?”
“Shhh,” she said as she hugged the girl tight and kissed her forehead. “Oh, baby girl. What are we going to clocking do?” she said as she started nursing the girl, giving her a long-delayed dinner.
Cecelia needed some sleep. But there was no way she would be able to walk out of the park right now. Every inch of her body hurt. It clocking hurt to breathe. She checked each of her legs, relieved that she didn’t feel any breaks. Of course, that didn’t mean she didn’t have breaks, but if she didn’t feel them, that probably meant she didn’t have any major breaks.
She pulled her cloak out of her bag once Galiya had fallen asleep, using it to make a little padded nest for Galiya on the ground. She didn't want to have to worry about Galiya rolling off the bench while they slept. She thanked the Circle that it was Roalis – they wouldn’t have to worry about freezing to death, at least. She wrapped her aching body around the little nest best she could, stroking Galiya’s hair and whispering sweet words to the sleeping child. Eventually, Cecelia managed to fall into a restless sleep.
When Cecelia woke up at dawn, she immediately checked on Galiya. She thanked Alioe that the girl was still asleep and hadn’t crawled off while Cecelia slept. She sat up slowly, grabbing her bag to take inventory of what she had.
“I can keep using my cloak for a bed. There’s my extra scarf and 5…” Cecelia paused for a moment to feel the diaper Galiya was wearing. “Make that 4 diapers. I don’t know where I can go to wash this one off,” she thought. “My toiletries and tinderbox. Galiya’s nightgown. The spare hat that I keep in my bag. That’s it.
“I have to go to someone. This isn’t going to last us long, baby girl,” she sighed. “Fuck. Who can we go to?” she murmured, trying to think of any associates she knew or her husband had known. “Leona’s not got the space for us. Her house is packed ass to head. Fuck.”
Then Cecelia remembered that her husband had mentioned one of his Resistance contacts lived here, a woman by the name of Sednai. She was well-known among Resistance circles as a kind woman who went out of her way to help anyone that she could. Maybe she could get Cecelia and Galiya a place to stay, even if Cecelia had disassociated herself from the Resistance when her husband died.
“Fuck. It’s all I have,” she muttered to herself. Galiya murmured in her sleep and she moved the sleeping girl up to the bench and changed the girl's diaper, tossing the dirty one in a nearby trash bin. She then got up painfully as she tried to recall the woman’s address. As she picked up her daughter with one hand and stuffed the cloak in her bag with the other, it came to her and she thanked Alioe she had a good memory. “Here’s hoping that she’s still there,” she muttered to herself as she threw her bag over her free shoulder.
It took a full house for Cecelia to make it to the address her husband had given her over 2 years ago. She stopped at a bakery on the way and used her hat to buy a small bun. Galiya whined for breakfast and she sighed. “When we get there, dear heart. If I sit down now, I don’t know if I’ll get up again.” Luckily, they were close to the address Aldwin had given her and, when they got there, she knocked on the door.
Nobody answered, so she sat down heavily on the rickety porch. She started nursing Galiya, humming a lullaby as she gently rocked the hungry girl. She didn’t know when Sednai would get home, but she didn’t have anywhere to go, so she could wait. Once Galiya had her fill, the girl fell asleep and Cecelia leaned against the wall of the house, holding Galiya close. She ended up dozing off, her broken body desperately needing sleep.