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Feeling Rachel’s gaze, Fiona glances up and, for a moment, each eyes the other with a complex scrutiny. Fiona is the first to break away, perhaps fearing to disconcert the girl or, rather, that she herself might give away too much. For what are her findings, thus far, about this person-before-her, one of so many who come, or are made, to sit in the same chair, hear the same questions, give the same answers, but keep the same secrets? Much is asked, and some is revealed, but much, much more stays buried, far beneath, and this, after all, is the source, the only source, of Rachel’s power, her small secret power.

Rachel says nothing of the day’s distress, nothing of her fears for her brother, nothing of her growing belief that she is strange, stupid, fated to be one who knows too little, arrives too late, never catches up, one who will never contribute, succeed, enjoy or relax. If there is some part of her that is slowly, shyly producing some resistance to this script, some chance of protest or transformation, it rarely shows itself, and never to Fiona, who might fear, ridicule, or simply not see it, there in front of her. In her life’s broken education Rachel has at least gleaned that some of the others can be trusted – though not often, nor for long – and others cannot.

Along the corridor there now spreads the penetrating smell of food being heated, as if the office were not over-warm already. Evidently lunch time is approaching, and soon Fiona will give little indications – turning away from the screen, putting her papers to one side, shifting her weight in the chair – that Rachel is being edged towards departure. But today, before this occurs, there is one last surprise for Fiona. As she is about to click out of Rachel’s file, prominent on the everlasting blue screen, she sees that a message has arrived, marked ‘High Importance’. It concerns Rachel. The screen is quickly angled so that Rachel cannot see this message, cannot realise that her life is once again in view, discussed, publicised.

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