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The house was an oppressive pit of hostility, drenched in sweat and stale food.  Gem was staring at her reflection in the kitchen mirror, picking her skin whilst her mother mocked the perpetual struggle of adolescence. 

The unfounded hatred began one particularly hot summer's day when Gem was four years old, happily playing with her toys in the back garden.  Her mother had been inside on the telephone and when she returned, was full of spit and bluster, like a mistrustful dog.  With a cold, fixated stare, she wielded her fist and punched Gem square in the face, leaving her confused and shaken with lips swollen and bleeding.  The woman showed no remorse, just hateful gloating and a half-cocked smile to exude a twisted satisfaction.  Gem slowly gathered herself and hobbled towards the garden shed to take shelter, unable to comprehend what had just happened and why. 

At first light, an unbearable hunger drove Gem back to the house.  Surprisingly, the door had been left slightly ajar, but the place was in no way welcoming and felt eerily cold.  Signs of her existence had been stripped away, including 'Dollie' who had always sat between the cushions on the sofa.  The fridge was an empty cavern, apart from half a bottle of milk and so Gem grabbed the only box of cereal from the cupboard and tipped what was left into a bowl.  Her mother's bulky footsteps thundered into the lounge, paying no mind to the girl at the table, like some heartless bitch who bore her no resemblance. 

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