Wednesday 11 February 2009


A slice of real life...

Caught in the Headlights

Brenda was bubbling with concern as the words echoed through her soul. Surely her eldest daughter, Lucy, wouldn’t, would she? Was Brenda such a bad mother that it had come to this? And as for detox - no bleedin chance! Her weary mind refocused on the now and the job in hand, which would lead her to her next fix.
The evening was dark and dank and, business-like as ever, Brenda lifted the collar on her three-quarter leather jacket to combat the descending chill, knowing tonight would be a longer night than usual. She hated arguments, but they seemed to love her, following her around in all their guises for as long as she could remember.
She tried again to control her fuzzy thoughts, pushing Lucy from her mind in order to concentrate on the habitual short term problem; a problem that had once never existed in the happy days, but was now as regular as going for a pee. She hesitated when headlights flashed by, but the car wasn’t slowing so she kept pacing to keep warm, the hollow sound of her heels on the pavement, the cool air drifting up her slender bare legs.
Was she really finally losing her grip on reality? Did she hear Lucy right? Brenda’s pitiful life was hard enough without added worries. A pang of emptiness rattled through her body, worse than hunger, more immediate. Guilt wanted some air-time, too. She pictured her five kids and another bout of fragmented depression began to loom over her like a thundercloud ready to offload at any moment. Hearing voices, she pivoted with a tingle of excitement then changed direction and headed for the two youths.
It was time to act, but suss them out first, as always.
‘Hiya, lads. What’s happening?’
One of the hooded youths froze to the spot and the other hesitated before casually strolling towards her. ‘Brenda, I need a favour.’
It was Tommo, wanting yet another favour. ‘What can I do for you this time?’
He was up close now, his breath dancing in the cool air as he spoke. ‘It’s me mate, innit. Wants to pop his cherry, you know.’
Oh, great, another virgin to add to her legacy. Although it beats smelly old pervs, she supposed. She glanced over at his mate skulking under a streetlamp. Her gaze returned to Tommo. ‘Has he got dosh?’
‘Oh, yeah, I’ve got it ‘ere. How much tonight?’
‘Thirty, all in.’
‘Fuck me! Has it gone up?’
‘The credit crunch affects us, too.’ Her smirk revealed tobacco-stained teeth.
She was impatient and knew that would suffice for what she wanted, needed, desperately. ‘Okay. Cash up front though.’
Tommo fiddled in his pocket and pulled out two tenners before beckoning his friend over, who reminded Brenda of someone walking the plank.
‘Come on, I won’t bite!’
Tommo grinned. ‘Give us the money back then! Only kidding.’ He patted his mate on the back in encouragement.
Brenda walked ahead, saying, ‘Behind the flats, Romeo.’
A curtain twitched a few floors up as they passed. Brenda and Romeo were soon standing at the rear of the flats, dark and secluded. Brenda opened the creaking back door of a decrepit looking Mondeo that even a skint scrap yard owner wouldn’t entertain.
‘In you get then,’ she said, partly relieved she’d soon have what she wanted.
Romeo looked round shiftily before climbing in. Brenda followed.
‘It fuckin stinks in ere,’ he said, scrunching his nose up.
‘What do you expect for twenty quid, the bleedin Hilton?’
Impatiently, Brenda got down to business, but Romeo wasn’t responding, and he pushed her away.
‘No. Let’s just sit ‘ere for a few minutes,’ he said, staring into space.
Brenda was surprised. ‘You not up for it then, chuck? Has Tommo been pressurising you?’
Romeo nodded shamefully and Brenda was more than happy to take the easy money knowing her fix was only minutes away. She flicked through her mobile to her dealer’s number and had it ready on the screen, anticipating the relief she would soon be feeling, Lucy a million miles from her mind.
After five minutes they got out of the car.
‘Right,’ said Romeo, ‘Give me the money back then.’
‘Yeah, right!’ she said sarcastically. ‘Not a chance. Time is money.’
Romeo’s tentative demeanour suddenly changed. ‘Look you fuckin whore. Give me the money now, or I’ll knock you out.’ He raised a clenched fist.
Brenda motioned to move away, but he clasped her upper arm. ‘Do it then, you wanker! But I’m keeping the…’
Before the sentence was finished, Brenda felt a whack on her cheekbone and her legs buckled. She collapsed to the floor feeling dizzy and felt him rummaging through her jacket pockets.
When she returned to her senses – loosely speaking – she realised that the money had gone and anxiety began to grip her, choke her. Her stomach tightening by the second and mouth parched, she lit a cigarette and quickly sucked it to death as she headed back to the road. Rubbing her swollen cheek, she pictured herself injecting heroin and hastily scanned the road for the next punter. Come on headlights!
Half an hour later and there was still no sign of her clientele. She was feeling colder by the second and the withdrawals were kicking in causing her shivering to intensify; paradoxically sweat had formed on her brow. An image of her children popped into her head again, but she shook it out and lit yet another cigarette; the steady stream of exhaled smoke visible under the streetlamp and enhanced by the ever-chilling air.
Her heart flickered when she saw headlights in the distance, gaining ground rapidly. The spurt of adrenaline was soon tempered when she recognised the car as it skidded to a halt beside her, trepidation engulfing her.
It was the boss.
The tinted driver’s window wound down with a whirring sound and the voice was gruff as usual. ‘You got my cut?’
‘No punters, Lenny.’
His dark eyes narrowed and he jumped out. Brenda knew the look only too well and cowered.
‘Don’t lie to me, you smack-head piece of shit!’ He gripped Brenda’s hair and pulled her awkwardly towards some nearby bushes.
Brenda had shooting pains all over her scalp, but tried to pacify him. ‘Hon…estly…I’ve…aargh…not….been out…very…’
Lenny yanked harder and Brenda screamed. ‘You know I have eyes everywhere, don’t you?’
Brenda thought of the curtain twitching in the flats. ‘He didn’t…pay me…look.’ She pointed at her swollen cheek.
He studied it for a second and released his grip. ‘How many times do I have to fuckin tell you…cash up front.’ He pushed her to the floor. ‘Go earn me some cash, ho. I’ll be back later.’
Brenda didn’t try to explain and after a wheel-spin, Lenny was gone. She knew he’d be back so a punter was needed urgently.
A few cigs later and another set of headlights appeared. Thank God for that. Hang on. What’s going on?
The car stopped fifty metres away and Brenda could see a short-skirted female leaning into the driver’s window.
Bitch! That’s my next bleedin hit!
A sudden hissing downpour began to drench her. She removed her high heels, both to run faster and to use as weapons, if necessary. Within seconds she was just ten metres from the car, its headlights illuminating her manic expression as she yelled, ‘This is my bleedin patch and Lenny’s due back so you better…’ She skidded to a stop when the girl straightened up to look her way.
‘I warned you, Mum,’ said Lucy firmly, walking round the car to the front passenger door. ‘You’re children need feeding,’ she shouted as she got in and the driver sped off.
‘Noooo!’ Brenda fell to her knees, oblivious to the headlights appearing behind her, which halted twenty metres away. Immersed in emotion, her tears rushed out and her frail condition fuelled their intensity.
Hearing someone chatting in the distance she managed to glance up from her bedraggled stupor to gaze into another set of headlights, blurred by tears and rain.
‘Jesus, no!’ It was her other daughter, Hannah, getting into another car!
‘Please, she’s only fourteen!’
Brenda somehow summoned the strength to frantically pursue the car, but its rear lights soon became two red dots in the distance: the eyes of the devil mocking her.
She collapsed in the middle of the road, totally broken, the need for drugs expunged by the fear for her daughters’ well being. Sobbing uncontrollably, her mind whizzed back to the happy days: holidays at Pontins, North Wales, sandcastles, splashing in the sea…Christmas as a proper family, the excitement of the perfect present, wrapping paper everywhere, snowball fights…school plays, birthday parties, love and laughter…gone forever. She’d fucked it all up…Big Time!
More headlights appeared, flashing, the car’s engine revving angrily.
Oh, no! It was Lenny. She heard the door slam.
‘What are you doing, bitch?’ Lenny towered over her. ‘Why aren’t you fuckin working?’
‘I’ve sorted Tommo and his dickhead mate out…a bit of Lenny justice. They won’t be ripping us off again that’s for sure.’
Brenda tried to climb to her feet, but he thrust a large boot on her back.
‘Look at you. You need teaching a lesson, ho.’
Brenda couldn’t take anymore and knew what was coming, so she stopped resisting and crumpled onto the wet floor.
‘Leave her alone, you coward!’
Brenda felt the pressure instantly release from her back and looked up. Johnny, thank God.
‘Who the fuck are you, man?’ The question was spat out with venom.
‘You’re gonna find out, you low-life.’ The venom was spat back.
Brenda watched her son strike Lenny with a rapid flurry of punches and within seconds the Pimp’s sugar pedestal crumpled beneath him, dissolving in the rain.
Johnny gave Brenda a hug and drove her to the hospital where, to her utter relief, Lucy and Hannah were waiting. Despite her dazed state reality finally shone through those dark clouds that had pursued her for so long, and she whole-heartedly agreed to enter into a stringent detox programme.
Brenda had been caught in the headlights of life, frozen in time, for far too long now. And the biggest argument of her troubled life was now to conclude; that of proving to her children, and herself, she could finally beat heroin.

Once her Mum was wheeled away by the nurses, Lucy asked Johnny to thank his friends for posing as punters in their cars earlier, in the knowledge that when her Mum was totally clean, she would tell her the truth. And hopefully they’d chat and laugh together again, like they used to do…throughout the happy days.


  1. Good redemptive tale, Col. I enjoyed it very much.

  2. Thanks very much, guys. I wish you two were judging the competition it didn't win. They obviously didn't receive my manuscript!

  3. Hello, Col.
    As I said, your writing is gritty, authentic,and very real. I was carried along with the stark realness of it and my mouth was dry. It was gripping drama - up to this line ...‘Jesus, no!’ It was her other daughter, Hannah, getting into another car!...'
    I hope you dont mind if I say this but it becomes 'melodramatic' after this and doesn't do your talent justice.
    'Caught in the headlights (like a rabbit )' implies a moment of realisation.(for Brenda) Her daughter getting into a car should have been real, not a contrived set up. A wake up call. End.

  4. Interesting angle, Bill. I'm all for learning from my mistakes so thanks for your honesty.
    I'll be honest in return. I did consider having Brenda's daughters being picked up for real, but I opted for the partial twist instead. The reason being: in Writing Mag', where it was submitted, I believe (rightly or wrongly) the judges are older and, without stereotyping all older people, perhaps less liberal in their views, going off the fluffy stuff that's won in that Mag' before.

  5. Having slept on this, Bill...I have to agree!
    I did sort of summarise in the end when the story had sort of reached its natural conclusion. Lesson learned!

  6. Brilliant, from start to finish.



  7. Cheers, Starky.
    As you can see from the comments, this was one of my earlier stories which helped me learn to really zone in on my writing.