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The Mannequin

August 2023, no. 456

The Mannequin

August 2023, no. 456

The servo had been upgraded since Paul last stopped in town – new apple-green paint job, new exterior lights – but inside, things were mostly the same. Paul recognised the stubby woman at the register, and she rewarded his memory with a crooked smile.

‘Welcome back, Paul.’

Once she’d taken his order, she said, ‘If you get a chance, check the south corner of the carpark, right up to the fence. It’s become a dumping ground. No idea who started it, but it’s catching. We finally hung up your wheel, too.’ Paul followed her finger past the tables and above the new windows where, next to the clock and a poster encouraging cleanliness and prohibiting violence, a large, aged wagon wheel hung neatly on the wall. ‘If you find more like it,’ she continued, ‘I wanna put up another on the opposite side.’

‘I’ll keep an eye out,’ Paul said, and took his coffee and sandwich to a table where he could look up at the wheel between bites.

When he left the servo, the eastern sky was a deep, dull purple. Over the years, he’d become familiar with mornings like these – copses of trees swollen with dark, the lonely, the unlit streets of country towns rolled open. They weren’t as frightening as they used to be.

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