Author's Note: I knew it. I just knew this would happen. The idea that led to Old Friends wouldn't leave me alone, so here's another one-shot about a personified town. It's set in the same 'verse, obviously, about another Northern Irish town.
Explanatory note for non-British people reading this: just over twenty years ago a group of Irish Republicans planted the Omagh bomb. It killed thirty-one people, including two unborn children. The bombers have never been arrested.
The charity shop is a real place, and I've been in it several times. Susan is fictional, though.
'Animals don't behave like men,' he said. 'If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.' – Richard Adams, Watership Down
There is a charity shop in Omagh that is run by those who lost their loved ones in the bomb. It's a small, cluttered shop, and it doesn't get as many customers as Susan would hope. But she likes working there, and observing the people who walk through the door.
Sometimes there are several customers in the shop at once. Sometimes there's only one or two. Susan knows some of them. Others are strangers. She amuses herself by inventing histories for the ones she doesn't know.
The stout elderly man who bought a clock would be astonished to know Susan imagines he travelled the world when he was younger. The middle-aged woman who occasionally visits with her teenage daughter has no idea that Susan's imagine has cast her and her daughter as foreign royalty on holiday. The retired pastor and his wife who bought a new armchair don't know that they have inherited a vast sum of money and a new house to go with it.
As long as she remembers the difference between fantasy and reality, Susan sees no harm in her imagination.
One of the shop's customers is especially interesting. Susan imagines something new about them every time she sees them.
The customer is a young woman. Well, Susan thinks she's young. She can never remember the woman's appearance once she's left. She buys something every time she visits, and she always leaves a generous tip.
Somehow Susan thinks she's… sad, in some hard-to-explain way. The woman always smiles at her, but there's always a curious look in her eyes. It isn't depression, or what's normally thought of as sadness. There are times when it looks more like anger. But whatever it is, Susan thinks the woman is sad.
She imagines different reasons for this. One day she thinks the woman lost someone in the bomb. The next day she's created a heart-wrenching tale of star-crossed lovers. But she never comes close to the truth.
What do humans mean when they speak of grief? Omagh doesn't know. But she knows what she means by it.
Grief to her is an open wound, eternally throbbing. When those bombers blew up her town, they ripped open her heart. Such wounds never heal.
In over four hundred years Omagh has seen the deaths of more of her people than currently live in her town. Many of them have died unnaturally. But that day is the one that she remembers most. Perhaps because it was so recent. Perhaps because she can still hear the town itself screaming in anguish, and still feels thirty-one souls disappear.
Omagh tries not to think about it much. If she allows herself to think about it, she'll become as cruel and cynical as Belfast. But when she walks past the place where the bomb exploded, fury and despair fill her until roads crack and buildings shudder with the force of her rage.
She avoids the scene of the murders as much as she can. She goes to the charity shop, leaves flowers at the memorial, sends anonymous donations to the people trying to get justice for her murdered children. But sometimes she walks there late at night, when all the shops are closed and all sensible mortals are sleeping.
Tonight is one of those times. She stands on the street corner, her hair falling over her face, as she stares at the glass pillar her people have raised in memory of the dead. Cars drive by quickly. Drunkards on their way from one pub to another stagger past her. No human eyes see her. If they anything, it's only a flicker of light and a long shadow cast over the street. Nothing that hasn't a perfectly mundane explanation.
Omagh stands on that pavement for a long time. It's almost morning when she finally turns and walks along the road leading to Cookstown.
I need a break from this town, she thinks. Even if only for a day.
No humans noticed she was there. No humans notice she has left. But thirty-one flowers lie on the pavement, and they weren't there yesterday.