'How Souls Sound' by Karen Jones

I bought a woman's soul today. She had white hair tinged with nicotine stains and wrinkles like fault lines creasing her face. She’d lost her bus pass, so I offered to cover her fare, but she insisted I take something in return. £4.50 for such an old soul.

She kept it in her handbag, in a purple satin box just big enough for an engagement ring. I tried to refuse, told her I’d be happy to do her this small favour, but she pressed it into my hand, said it was all she had to offer. She gave a sharp nod and a half smile as the bus doors hush-hushed their way closed and I watched her go off on her journey while I waited for mine to begin. I put the box in my pocket. When my bus arrived I tried to settle, listen to music, but my fingers kept stroking the box’s plush material, worrying at its contents.

I planned to leave it in my jacket when I got to work, think about it when I got home, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, wondering what a soul looked like, felt like.

I put the box on my desk, my fingers still touching it as though they couldn’t bear to let it go. It started to make a keening noise, like a wounded animal. Maybe that's normal for souls. I wouldn't know. I took a deep breath and felt an emptiness expand and push my ribs apart. I reached for the silver letter opener – another thing I thought I’d never have any use for – and tested its sharp edge. The box burned my fingers, but still I couldn’t let go. The keening got louder, made me scrunch up my eyes and grind my teeth. I prised open the lid, gripped the knife and prepared to make space for something I never knew I’d been missing.

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