‘Mathematics’ by Wendy Erskine

Erskine’s protagonist is used to clearing up after other people. One day in the course of her work as a cleaner she finds a young girl alone in a house after a party. Deciding she has no choice, she takes the child home, hoping to locate her mother. But as the story progresses we come to suspect the mess she’s attempting to fix was made long ago, somewhere else entirely. I wondered if Dance Move, the soon-to-be-published collection which this story opens, could possibly surpass Erskine’s debut Sweet Home. It does: by the end of ‘Mathematics’ my eyes were wet. Like all twelve of my choices it made me feel, as Shirley Hazzard writes in one of her several perfect stories, “a momentary sensation that the world had come right; that some instant of perfect harmony had been achieved by two minds meeting.”

First published in Dance Move, Picador, 2022

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