White flecks landed on her dark fur jacket, crept into her hair, melted on her silk scarf.  She sat on the playground swing, catching snowflakes with her feet, gripping the chains with gloved fingers.  She pushed off the ground and swung herself high into the air, wincing as the cold air whistled past her uncovered ears.  She was flying now, her hair fluttering behind her and her scarf untangling from her shoulders to catch the wind.  She felt beautiful, free.

And the others looked on, their dark eyes despising.  She was too old for such beauty.  It was time for her to become an adult.  Why would she not let her childhood go, as they had?

Inside the classroom, she tried to watch outside through the foggy window.  She took the sleeve of her jumper and gently wiped a portion clean, gazing out at the bare, pencil shapes of the trees, the white flakes raining down.  She watched cars slowly being covered and an empty chip packet crumple under the weight of the snow.  Her teacher bade her pay attention and she snapped her head to the front.  The words on the blackboard blurred before her eyes, unintelligible.  She longed to turn back to the white of the snow.

At lunchtime, they hid her schoolbag in an empty locker.  They sniggered and scoffed as the wandered aimlessly without it.  Then she walked outside, her hands rubbing together to keep warm.  She didn’t let them heard the growling of her stomach.  She knew they would tease her if she went on the swings again, so she sat on one side of the see-saw, watching the other children sit in groups under the shelter, gossiping and laughing and talking about her.

When it was time to go home, her schoolbag was still hidden and nowhere to be found.  She looked for a little while, crawling under desks, opening secret drawers and carefully rifling through cupboards.  The teacher saw her and shooed her out before she could explain.  She walked home without it, pulling her jacket around her, her face hidden by the fur-lined hood.  She caught the white flecks in her open palm then rushed home to show her mother what she had found.  When she arrived on the doorstep, the white flecks had gone away.  She stepped inside and took off her shoes, unwrapping her scarf and hung her jacket on its hook.

Her mother had made her a cup of sweet tea.  She popped each of her special tablets in her mouth then took a steaming gulp of the sweet mixture.  It filled her with a good feeling.  She watched sleepily as her mother opened her letters.  She didn’t ask her why her hands started to shake or why her eyes welled up with tears.  Instead, she walked over and wrapped her small arms around her mother, wishing she could squeeze all the sadness out of her.  Her mother’s arms stayed limply at her sides and her eyes turned away from her daughter’s small form.  She hugged her mother tightly until her arms ached and then she started walking slowly to her bedroom.

This was where she lived.  It was a very small room; her mother’s was much bigger.  The window never opened and she couldn’t reach the curtains to pull them apart.  She lay on her hard little bed and listened to the snow brushing the window.  She wanted to go out and play but she knew her mother wouldn’t let her.  Her eyes searched the ceiling instead, following the maze of cracks and making shapes.

For a short while she fell asleep, and when she awoke it was dark.  She could see nothing around her at first, but then, slowly, she was able to make out her dresser, the small table and her box of stuffed animals.  There was a little light coming through the window so she thought it might be morning soon.  If she listened, she could hear the rats scuttling along the floorboards or the sound of her own breathing, or the snowflakes gently falling on the roof.

Silently, moving very slowly, she made her way out into the kitchen.  She packed a little bag with a few pieces of chocolate, a bread roll and a little packet of her favourite breakfast cereal.  Then slowly, she put her jacket on, wrapped her scarf around her neck and slipped her feet into her snow boots.  Carefully, very carefully, she opened the door, making sure it wouldn’t squeak and wake her mother.  Then she stepped outside.  The cold engulfed her, freezing her legs through her thin trousers.  She threw her hood over her head and stuffed her hands into her pockets.  Then, walking a few steps out into the open, she opened her mouth and allowed a few white flakes to settle on her tongue.  She was filled with a wondrous euphoria.  A wide smile spread across her face and she turned circles, throwing her arms out wide.  She felt completely, irrevocably free.  In the dark of night, nobody saw her, nobody laughed at her and nobody stole her belongings.  They didn’t look at her fearfully or treat her like a tiny baby.  They didn’t push her over on the playground or shout when she did speeches in front of the class.  They never saw her as she stole away from the house.  Nobody noticed as she disappeared into the dark.  But she liked it that way.