by: Catherine Assheton-Stones
Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, a second chance comes to light in the darkest of places…
Kellyanne paces. Her heels tap on the pavement, clear and sharp. No one should be outside this early, she thinks. Shivering, she pulls up the collar of her faux fur jacket, its cosy look deceptive. Rain throughout the night has left standing water on the ground, and the sun casts a chilly pink glow over the rooftops on the far side of the road.
She could have slept for a few hours more, but Danny shoved her out of bed. He is fit, and at first he’d been exciting, but she wonders now, as the damp air finds its way to her legs through thin tights, whether he’s worth it.
A car is heading towards her and it slows a few feet away. Hope blooms within Kellyanne. If she can get a client at full price she could risk returning home, and maybe Danny won’t kick her right back onto the streets. A guy in the vehicle’s backseat winds down the window, “Skanky prossy!” he yells.
The wheels of the car pass through the puddles lying by the curb and rainwater showers her legs and boots. Male laughter reaches her from the departing car window.
The word still takes her by surprise, “prossy.” Not yet fully awake and having not eaten, some part of her still identifies with the Kellyanne of three years prior, the receptionist at the bank with a proper salary, who wore a crisp white blouse and black skirt to work every day and who the security guards called “kitten.” When she first heard the pet name, she’d wondered if there was a hidden meaning — a nasty, sexual one — but over time it was clear that they just found her cute. What would they think of her now?
It’s the “skanky” bit that really bothers her though. How is she supposed to make enough money to satisfy Danny if men think she’s skanky? Then again, she’s often surprised by what men will shag when the mood takes them, so maybe she doesn’t need to worry.
Legs soaking, water seeping into her boots, Kellyanne’s teeth start to chatter and she paces up and down the dampened street faster. Being here, it’s like Groundhog Day, waking up to face the same hell every morning. Every night she falls asleep resolving that tomorrow she’ll go to the shelter. She knows a hand is being offered there to pull her out of her current life, and all she has to do is take it. But, in the morning she’ll wake and remember how goody-two-shoes the girls who staff the shelter are. She’ll recall how they insist on praying with her whenever she gets into their van for a hot drink, a chat and some condoms; their heads bowed while holding her hands.
The goody-two-shoes earnest recitations to the man upstairs make her skin crawl. Why do they have to drag god into everything? It’s bad enough being looked at by all those fresh-faced girls as though she’s…well, a skanky prossy, without their imaginary god doing it as well. Those girls shouldn’t judge her. What do they know? They’re probably around her same age, though they look a whole lot younger.
The loose-lipped man in the car might have a point, of course. Since the crack took hold, her once thick blonde hair has thinned and she’s lost a molar. Deep, pronounced lines have appeared prematurely on her face, “crack-cracks” as Danny describes them when he thinks he’s being funny. It’s going to be the crack that kills her before she’s thirty, unless it’s some crazy punter who gets too enthusiastic with the throttling in the back of his car. She had a near miss with that last year. But if she goes to the shelter, it would mean rehab. Would she make it through rehab? Not likely. She’s stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, as her Mum used to say.
Another car slows down and Kellyanne squares up to it, bracing herself for another insult. A man, bald, suited, and middle aged, on his way to a warm office no doubt, winds down the window.
Got the time?” he asks.
He looks rich so she says, “Sixty.”
“Come on,” he says. “Forty. That’s my final offer.”
Kellyanne gets into the car and he drives them round the corner. In the back seat he kneels behind her, squashing her, his hands groping her breasts through her strappy top and thin bra. He hitches up her skirt, pulling her thong aside, and starts jabbing away. Even though he’s not big, it’s painful.
“Say, ‘Fuck my dirty cunt harder, big boy.”’
“Say, ‘I’m your dirty little slut, Daddy.”’
“Say it, slut!”
He grabs Kellyanne’s face and she clamps her teeth into the skin between his thumb and forefinger. He yells out and hits her in the face with his the palm of his other hand and carries on thrusting away. She releases his hand, squeezes her eyes closed, shuts up, and lets him finish.
Minutes later the guy pushes her out of the car and she slides onto the pavement shaking as she pulls down her skirt. He throws a couple of bills at her as he steps over her to climb back into the front seat. “That’s half, because you bit me you stupid whore.”
“I thought you liked that, fucker!” she shouts as he drives away, snatching up the bills and stowing them away in her jacket. “Fuck…” she mutters to herself. When will I ever learn? she wonders.
As Kellyanne sits on the pavement her mobile rings. It’s Danny.
“Well, I’ve already had one!” Even she notices how her voice goes high pitched as she rushes to justify herself to him.
“Get another forty, then you can come home. I’m going out in a bit, but I want to see at least sixty when I come back, or you know what’s going to happen.”
Kellyanne knows all too well. She hangs up. There’s a wave of nausea and she retches. Last time she came back without enough money he ran the bath with icy water and held her head under it over and over again.
She wastes a dollar fifty by going to Greggs and buying a coffee. She needs something to help alleviate the confrontation with “Big boy,” and from Danny’s call. The little shop with its blue awning and storefront has only just opened and the teenaged boy behind the counter is sleepily civil. Kellyanne eyes him. In a couple of years will he be holding some girl’s head underwater she wonders.
With her hot coffee in tow, full of sugar, she feels better able to lie in wait for another go-round. Pacing makes the soreness worse, so she leans against the fence.
There’s an alley directly opposite from her, a long narrow cut through to one of the main streets. As Kellyanne sips her coffee, trying to make it last and warming her hands on it, a beaten up door in the alley opens.
A pair of boots appears on the top of the two stone steps, the rest of the person hidden by the door. Kellyanne knows those boots. It’s Jamie. There’s no way he’s up this early, he must still be up from the night before, she thinks. She remembers how he stamped on her rib cage with one of those boots when she told him it was over between them.
Jamie seemed great when Kellyanne first met him. His main priority was to protect his girls, at least that’s what he said. He stuck up for Kellyanne when some girl had tried to pick a fight with her. She’d been so touched she’d let him take her to his room at the back of the pub and do whatever he wanted with her. Being with him physically felt nice to her surprise, and from there she’d ended up living with him. But over time, he’d got weird, angry and demanding. When she left him he showed his true colors. Then again, Danny isn’t proving to be a much better choice now the novelty’s worn off there as well.
Kellyanne soon realizes that Jamie is standing in the doorway smoking. She’s edgy and ready to bolt if he takes a step forward and sees her. Not that she’s scared of him anymore, but the last thing she wants is to end up in a conversation with him.
A clip-clopping sound echoes in the distance growing louder. Who the hell is that? One thing the crack has yet to spoil is Kellyanne’s eyesight, and she spies a girl heading down the alley towards her, her heels ringing on the cobblestones and echoing around the walls of the shabby buildings.
“Don’t see many of your sort around here,” Kellyanne mutters into her paper cup as the girl nears. This girl must have got lost. As she comes closer, Kellyanne sees she’s really young, maybe around twenty, though it’s so hard to tell these days.
The shine on her brown hair glows flagrantly, and she’s in a skirt suit of dark mauve. Pale skin and large pretty eyes, mauve high heels are what’s making all the racket.
“My god, it’s a little princess!” Kellyanne quips.
Realising the girl is about to draw level with the open door, and those boots, Kellyanne senses what’s going to happen before it does.
Jamie says something to the girl though Kellyanne can’t make out what it is and Princess pauses, glances up, replies and carries on walking.
Kellyanne half smiles. This girl must’ve never had a moment’s trouble in her life, until now that is. She is somebody’s little darling, a pampered little bitch, and it shows in every glossy inch of her. Kellyanne grows excited over what is about to take place. What do they call that thing…“schadenfreude?”
As Kellyanne expected, Jamie isn’t about to let whatever it was that happened between them go. He shoots from the open doorway, a blur of mucky jeans and a torn T-shirt, and grabs Princess’s handbag. Kellyanne snorts with giggles. This is better than that watching television, she thinks, but as Kellyanne registers the look of fear on Princess’s face she assumes the show’s pretty much over. Jamie will go off with his spoils and Princess will wander off to find a “Daddy” to make everything better again.
But Princess grabs the bag strap in both hands and tugs, trying to wrench it out of Jamie’s grasp. She almost manages to reel it in, the strap slithering through Jamie’s hand, until he tightens his grasp.
Princess shouts, “Help, help, someone! He’s trying to mug me!” casting her eyes around, failing to see Kellyanne on the opposite side of the road.
She begins pulling the bag, with Jamie attached to the strap, backing towards the road. Kellyanne has to admit, that’s quite clever. Princess must be hoping a car will pass and either offer help or scare him off.
But Jamie isn’t anyone’s fool. He realises what she’s trying to do and, using both hands, he inches his way up the strap towards her, finally getting near enough to reach out and place his lit cigarette butt against the inside of her wrist.
Princess screams, but rather than letting go of the bag, convulses so hard she tears it from his grasp. In a flash she’s running down the alley with Jamie immediately after her. He might not have caught her if she hadn’t slipped on the wet cobblestones.
Fully absorbed, without being aware of it Kellyanne has crossed the empty road and advanced up the street, following them, to see what happens.
Jamie is on Princess and once he has hold of her, he pushes her against the stonewall of the warehouse they’re beside. The bag falls by her feet. Kellyanne hears her gasping for breath while Jamie says something to her in a low steadfast voice.
Kellyanne doesn’t want to see what she knows will happen next. She turns away, starting to make her way up the main road and out of earshot. Princess had it coming to her, after all. As she takes another step forward, she becomes aware of a coldness in her boot, then suddenly she remembers the fruit knife she’s taken to tucking in there.
Princess puts up a good fight for her bag. Maybe she needs the money, or whatever’s in there, her keys or phone. The girl has guts too. Kellyanne remembers the feeling of Jamie’s boot crashing down on her ribs, and what he’d done to her after she stopped fighting.
Hardly able to believe what she is doing, Kellyanne turns around and walks up the alley the few metres distance between them, and creeps up behind Jamie.
Jamie is slobbering all over the princess’s face, while fumbling with her skirt. He obviously wants to take his time with this one. Princess is whimpering and struggling, but he has her solidly pinned down, both her wrists clamped against the wall in one hand.
Kellyanne inches up behind Jaime and places the blade of the knife flat against the side of his neck.
He stops salivating on Princess and freezes entirely. Kellyanne sees all the muscles in his neck go rigid.
“Hi Jamie. Long-time no see darling.”
Kellyanne’s trying to sound blasé, but her voice comes out high.
“What the? What do you want?” he asks through clenched teeth, his teeth clenched.
“I remembered I haven’t paid you back for that ass kicking you gave me. Now, if you don’t want me to stick this into your neck, maybe you’d better be running along now.”
Jaime doesn’t move and Kellyanne feels her hand round the knife handle begin to perspire. Jamie is unpredictable, particularly when he’s high or coming down, as he likely is now, fashinoing this standoff into a mind game. A mind game she has to win, for herself and for Princess.
“Don’t try anything crazy, cause Danny’s on his way to get me. And you wouldn’t want him to get you too, would you? You know what he can be like.”
After a few seconds hesitation Jamie bolts, stepping sideways away from the knife.
“You’re a fucking nutcase,!” he yells and plunges back into his doorway, slamming the door behind him like a scared spider retreating into its hole.
“You have a good day too, darling,” Kellyanne calls after him. She chuckles, muttering, “Pathetic.”
Princess straightens up from against the wall, panting for air, and looks at Kellyanne while wiping her mouth repeatedly with the back of her hand. Wearing a disgusted expression, she examines her burnt wrist, stroking the red round mark left by the cigarette.
Close up, Princess’s skin is white and pure. Her cheeks and lips are flush from Jamie’s handling and her dark hair is rumpled. She remind Kellyanne of Snow White, a fairy tale she favored as a child.
In front of Princess, Kellyanne’s bravado that she displayed with Jamie vanishes. She looks away, waiting for an insult. Kellyanne watches as Princess bends over and pick up the handbag, hooking the strap over her shoulder. Then she just carries on standing there. Kellyanne wonders why. She looks up and finds dark eyes fixed on her in deep admiration.
“Thank you so much. You saved my life.” Princess’s voice is tender.
“Well, I don’t know about that…”
Kellyanne shifts her boots on the cobblestones and bends to stuff the small knife back into her boot before looking at the girl again. She maybe isn’t that far off the truth though. There’s no telling how nasty Jamie could have got.
“You did. You’re a good person.”
“That’s sweet of you to say.”
Kellyanne looks away, as though she’s just heard something unpleasant. “Hadn’t you better be getting off now? A lot of not nice people round here.”
“Ok, yeah, I should go. I’m supposed to be going to a job interview, would you believe it?” Princess gives a desperate sounding laugh. “I am not sure I’m in the best form for it after that, but thank you. Thank you so much.”
“You take care now.”
Kellyanne turns away, waving a hand as though dismissing the girl. Wandering back across the empty road to her former station, she finds the remains of her coffee still sitting she’d put the cup down near the fence. She picks it up and watches the girl, hawk eyed, all the way down the main road and out of sight.
A text pings into her phone. It’s Danny.
“I’m out now, but I hope you’re working hard for me bitch.”
Danny’s called Kellyanne that so many times it’s practically his pet name for her, but this time, it strikes her as wrong. She stares at the word. “Bitch.” Female dog. Who is he to call her a bitch? Who the fuck does he think he is?
If she goes right now, she can get her things before he comes back and be at the shelter in another hour for when they first open their doors.
Other people have survived rehab, no reason why she can’t Kellyanne reasons And those godly girls probably aren’t so bad once you get to know them. Let them pray for her if they want. Let them pray and judge. They can’t really hurt her. Anyway, the shelter will just be a stepping stone, a stepping stone to a different life.
Dropping her empty coffee cup in a nearby bin, Kellyanne hurries off through the grey morning, an untold future before her.