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Crime Drama Sad

This story contains sensitive content

TRIGGER WARNING - CHILD ABUSE - ALCOHOLISM


Custody battles are hard, especially when you have no armour.


Each fortnight I’d turn up on time,

But be rewarded with more grief,

These details the courts ignore,

As they eat away my self-belief,


“You should have called this morning.” Graham doesn’t ask me in.


“I called last night and confirmed. You know this is my weekend.” Rain bounces off the driveway and up the backs of my jeans.


“You should have called this morning.” He crosses his arms on the doorstep and fake-shivers.


“You make it impossible by changing the rules all the time. And right before Christmas!”


“You should have called this morning.” He shuts the door and turns the radio up louder than my knocking.


At least I get away from Graham’s drive, our drive, before my face starts to mirror the weather. There are no convenient wiper blades for my cheeks. I motor along the winding lanes before pulling over into a layby where skeletal cow parsley is taking over the hedgerow, even in death. Don’t Americans call it ‘mother-die’? It feels appropriate. I catch a glimpse of my mascara running in the rear-view mirror. Like some kind of twisted clown.


They say that clowns are sad, don’t they?

Beneath the smiles and made-up skin,

I can no longer paint my face, 

Distress projects from deep within, 


There are children’s toys and foil wrapping paper in the boot; yet to be combined into colourful gifts. Will Miles ever get them? Perhaps he’ll think I’m dead. Three months since I held my darling boy, and my guts are wrenched every time I think of him.


All

the

time.


Three months to a five-year-old is an eternity. Will he even know my face? With or without ugly makeup?


I’ve come prepared. I reach over to the passenger seat and liberate a bottle of Magner’s from a Bag-For-Life – that’ll be ironic later. I call Nancy as I wipe the smudgy mess away from my reddening eyes and onto my cardigan sleeves. It probably won’t wash out.


“He’s let me down and blamed me for it. It’s a pattern that’s becoming uncomfortably familiar,” I rant into the phone.


“I know, Rachel, the guy’s a scumbag. Where are you?” asks Nancy.


“Losing the battle is worse when you know you’re losing the war as well. I should have Miles every other weekend, but it’s been months.” I take a long gulp of tepid cider.


“It’s so unfair. Have you called your solicitor?”


“Graham didn’t even arrange for Miles to be there today. God knows where he is.”


“Are you going home now? I could come over?”


“I’m heading back, but I think I’ll just get an early night, thanks.”


Home brings no comfort to my heart,

As I wish away repeating years,

But every now and then I’m glad,

Small comforts dry my bitter tears.


I finish bottle number one and drop the empty amongst the plentiful chocolate wrappers in the passenger footwell. Their red and silver papers feel festive even glinting off the filthy floor. I should clean the car. I switch the radio on. Some country singer is banging on about divorce. She sounds almost happy with her break up. I am anything but. Bottle number two goes down just as easily as the first.


I pop open a third before I pull away. The cap makes a metallic clink as it bounces off the glass already stationed on the floor. The sky has turned a dusky purple. Rain clouds darken the landscape. Headlights. Remember the headlights.


I stretch my mind into myself,

To seek new, better, ways to feel,

I gaze above to stormy nights,

But now my sky is beams of steel,


I’m probably over the speed limit. I’m definitely over the drink limit. It’s not just the cider. I had a little Dutch courage before I came out. It’s fine, I only live seven minutes away.


I deliberately spray a few icy puddles into hedgerows with my tyres. There’s a little satisfaction in a little destruction. But on approach to the ford, I lose my confidence.


Usually, I just take the risk and drive straight through. Maybe the water is slightly too deep, or slightly too fast. Maybe the possibility of black ice is a bit too real. Maybe the engine of my old Honda Civic isn’t sounding quite up to the job. Maybe there is just the wrong chill in the air. Whatever it is, I turn back and take the long way home.


My headlights catch the hedgerows, the sleepy lanes shadowed either side by hawthorn and bramble. Nothing friendly in their spikes, but somehow adding an extra thirty minutes on to my journey is more inviting than crossing the stream here.


I miss the way the apple cider,

Flowed across my thirsty tongue,

I miss the sadness I felt then,

The night the jarring impact stung,


The radio cuts out in fits and starts as trees block the signal. In a moment of quiet as the evening Indie Disco starts, then cuts to nothing, I sense the whir of a helicopter. You don’t get many of those around here. I switch the radio off.


Must be the cops, someone on the run I suppose. I’ll keep an eye on the sky and see where they’re heading. Curiosity, but you know what they say about cats. I’m not even trying to hide it, there are two empty bottles of Magner’s in the passenger footwell and one half full in the driver’s door. Half full. That’s optimistic.


Lights out is not what it once was,

The sweet kiss of my growing son,

The years have passed since I lost him,

I lie awake til dawn will come,


I swing around a blind corner, but I know these roads so well. Grew up here, learned to drive here. If there’d been anything coming, I’d have seen the lights in the mirror on the roadside. Wait, what if they switched their lights off? Some maniac is running from the cops, remember. They probably won’t illuminate themselves. I brake, reminding myself the roads are wet. There’s nothing coming the other way. My shoulders drop with relief, but my hands are shaky on the wheel.


A metal mirror sees my face,

Reflects my patchwork history,

It shows this grey and stony place,

The colourless security,


The helicopter is getting closer. Its beam of light, like a fictional UFO, shines down into the lanes somewhere ahead of me. It’s not on the immediate road, it’s off in the distance, but heading this way. The blades make their rhythmic chops across the night. I try to think if there is somewhere I can turn off before I reach it, or it reaches me. But this lane winds for miles. Was that snow? Flakes are hitting the windscreen, the road ahead becomes distorted by the falling greyness.


I swig from my door-bottle. It’s sweet and sparkling, appley and light. I know I’m not helping my situation with the drink, I never do. It’s only been since Graham left me for her that this habit started. Now he uses it against me – the affliction he caused. Such a cliché. My life is full of them.


I notice that I’m watching the helicopter more than the road and make a concerted effort to correct that. I’m glad I do. A fox runs out from the verge and darts across my path. I brake and swerve a little, but the lane is tight and I’m not near a passing place. There isn’t really anywhere to go. The fox pauses at the opposite hedge and its eyes glow in my headlights for a second before it dashes between the hawthorn boughs and is gone.


At least I’m sober, free of drink,

No cider, lager, spirits, wine,

I miss the taste, I miss the buzz,

The things that filled my lonely time,


I open my car window and let the chug of the chopper fill my ears. The air is brisk, the snowflakes drift into my face, perhaps they will sober me up. My eyelids droop closed for a second and I jerk myself away from sleep. The beam from above is approaching, they’re going to go right over me. There’s wind from the blades, they’re low in the sky and that light is dazzling. I stare upwards as the helicopter grows bigger in my vision.


The lights are bright where I live now,

The metal doorways are alarmed, 

The bulbs and fittings tamper proof,

The sturdy mesh prevents self-harm.


I’m so taken with the beam of the chopper, transfixed on the wall of light coming towards me through the swirling snow, that the collision is a shock. The man bounces off my car bonnet and flies through the air, hitting the verge and bouncing again. I’d assumed the cops were chasing a car, not a man on foot. His dark clothing means I lose sight of him in the hedgerow.


Perhaps it’s fair, this solemn swap,

A life term for a darker life,

But am I equal, in God’s eyes,

To the man who hit my car that night?


I slam on the brakes and skid to a halt, leaving rubber tracks behind me on the tarmac. The full beam of the helicopter is now in my eyes, and sirens oscillate into my ears. Two squad cars roar onto the scene, cutting the dark with flashing blue. They skid to a halt just feet from my car. Officers leap out, two run to the man on the ground and two run to me.


The papers called him Brown Eyed Beast,

A well-known local paedophile,

On the run, he’d breached parole,

His ninth victim, my blameless child,


“Step out of the car Madam, hands on your head.” An officer approaches, cuffs already drawn.


I knew not of the man I hit,

Until I saw the headline news,

He couldn’t face more time inside,

No protection from judgmental screws.


After my arrest I learn a lot. The weekends my kid was supposed to spend with me, my ex had been sending him off to an activity camp so he could shag his girlfriend in my bed. The Brown Eyed Beast had struck a deal with the man in charge and bought his access to innocent children while he was on parole. It’s not that I’d wish anyone dead, well, perhaps there are exceptions.


The cells and bars and uniforms,

Suck freedom from my aging bones,

But every now and then I’m glad,

I took the very long way home.

November 05, 2022 21:47

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8 comments

Alex Sultan
11:09 Nov 10, 2022

Very unique style with this story, friend. I like the pacing to it. Answers to your questions: 1. Yes. It struck me around the end. I had an idea from the start, as I guess you intended, but the location didn't come through until the cells and bars line. 2. Yeah. I can't see where else you'd have them. 3. I could take it or leave it. It's good, I like it, but I'd also be interested in seeing how else you'd do it. Note I may be the minority on this. 4. Seems good to me! The small detail of 'The cap makes a metallic clink as it bounces ...

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20:10 Jan 09, 2023

Hi Alex, how are you? I haven't been on Reedsy since November and came back expecting to see something added to your collection, but alas - I guess you are still busy with the novel? If you are still offering crit I would really appreciate your thoughts on my latest piece: Dead Cert. I'm hoping to get it good enough to stick it in the contest this week. I do hope all is well with you. K

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Korinne H.
21:22 Nov 17, 2022

Oh wow! You've created such a unique atmosphere here! Really enjoyed the mixed elements and themes! Great job :)

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Ian Barrett
16:30 Nov 17, 2022

Great story. Very powerful imagery. Answers to questions. 1. Yes, it was clear the narrator was telling the poem but I didn't realize it was being told from the cell. 2.I thought they were perfect. They followed the scene and gave you a little pause between what was happening which built as they went on. . 3. It works. Def. keep. 4. Yes. very good images 5. Both parents seemed screwed up in different ways.

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22:31 Nov 16, 2022

beautifully written, and heartbreaking, and to suck you in as a reader in such a small body of text, and get one to relate to the character is very impressive.

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15:52 Nov 14, 2022

Fantastic story concept - - executed flawlessly. The interspersing of prose and poetry is done so smoothly as to create and sustain rhythm rather than interrupting it, and both forms are excellent.

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17:54 Nov 06, 2022

AUTHORS NOTE: If you are reading this I would really appreciate it if you could answer some / all of these questions please? 1. Is it clear who wrote the poem and when? 2. Do the poem stanzas fit in the places I have them in the story? 3. Does the poem even work in this or should I just work on getting the prose up to scratch and cut the poem out? 4. Is the prose descriptive enough? 5. Did you have any particular feelings towards either parent of the kid? Many thanks, K

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Jon Casper
10:42 Nov 07, 2022

First of all: this story is a work of art. The use of the present tense narrative interpolated with the reflective poetry is ingenious. 1. Is it clear who wrote the poem and when? It becomes clear about halfway through that the narrator is also the poet, having written the verses in prison. 2. Do the poem stanzas fit in the places I have them in the story? Absolutely. They are perfectly placed. 3. Does the poem even work in this or should I just work on getting the prose up to scratch and cut the poem out? I think the poem is a poignan...

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