They told me I was damned when I started practicing the craft, but of course they’d said the same thing when I took to whoring. Girt Will coughed the same thing to me in a spray of black blood when the poppet slid out of my pocket. Its features were worn the next thing to blank smoothness, but it was still recognisable by the twist of his greying beard wrapped around its neck. It might have had more impact if I had not been emptying his slop bucket slowly with splinted fingers. 
I can still feel that spatter on my dirty bare feet, can taste the ghost reek of the brothel in my nostrils despite the strong smell of disinfectant as I sit by my son’s bedside. I hold his frail hand in mine – thin leather over thinner bones – as the monitors bleep, and listen to the breath wheezing in his lungs, each breath a greater effort than the last. 
I push a lock of curly black hair out of my eyes. There is not a strand of grey in it. My son’s hair is so fine and thin I can see his pink scalp through it; fine as it was when he was born, though it was as black as mine then. I remember kissing that little soft pink scalp as I fed him, looking out of the window at the London trams passing by. I can still smell that lingering baby scent of talcum powder and rubber pants… 
I shouldn’t have come back, of course… I never did before. Let them grow up and leave me before vanishing; there’s not been many of them despite all my husbands and lovers over the centuries, and they’ve all tended to inherit the wild spirit that made my own mam birch me scarlet often enough when I was a lass. Champing at the bit to see the still-wide world; not tied to my apron strings. But I saw the picture on his great-granddaughter’s Facebook page and I couldn’t leave him to breathe his last all alone…
Turns out the apron strings might be tied the other way round after all… And they stretch, stretch…so much further than I ever thought. 
I pull the old, old frail hand up gently to my cheek as my little boy drags in another breath to his ancient failing lungs, and I feel the knife Girt Will would so gladly have stuck through my heart all those long years ago twist so hard that my young clear lungs don’t seem able to fill any better than his…

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