Runner-up: The Choice

By Wendy Davey

Wendy says: I write every moment I can! I love placing a spark of everyday truth into my storytelling and then giving that a twist. Alongside my own writing I am also a freelance copywriter specialising in small arts and non-profit organisations.   

Sammy is sitting in the back of the car wailing. “I’ve missed my minibus! I’ve missed my trip!”    

Pete’s hands grip the steering wheel. He isn’t speaking. Sally gets out of the car and walks up to the front doors of Action Youth and cups her hands over her eyes and peers pointlessly into the darkness beyond the glass. There is no one there. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I must have got it wrong,” she says as she climbs back into the passenger seat.  

She feels the familiar flicker of fear licking at her insides.

Pete says, “You were the one who told me to drive here.”  

“I’m sorry, Pete. I messed up. Maybe the bus is picking up at Mount View. I’ll call Andrew and find out what’s happening,” she says.    

“Who the fuck’s Andrew?”

Andrew is the leader taking Sammy’s trip. Pete knows that. But he is already working himself up to snare her. Even as she scrabbles to find a way out of his trap she knows there can be no escape.  

Months later she remembers things another way, telling people it was time, and that she knew the ending would be different.  But the truth is, in the moment, she simply carries on turning her bag inside out, looking for her phone. And then it comes to her in a flash. Her mobile isn’t in her bag. It’s sitting on the hall table back home.  

Pete glances sideways at her. He turns off the engine. She thinks he might take a swipe then. But he doesn’t. He pulls his own phone from the recess in the driver’s door. “What’s the number?” he demands.   

“I don’t know. It’s in my contacts,” Sally says, very quietly.

 “That’s it then,” Pete declares over his shoulder. “Trip’s off, Sammy.”

“No!” shouts Sammy from behind their heads.   

Pete tells him to blame Mummy. “It’s her fault,” he says.

Sally looks back at her son. His face is already streaked with tears. She turns again to Pete. “Let’s just try Mount View?”  she pleads, to calm him.  To calm everyone.  

“Oh, great!” he says. “First you mess up and now you start telling everybody else what to do.” 

“But we’re only five minutes away. You could drive and I could call the main office from your phone and see if they know what’s going on.”   

“Drive, Daddy,” begs Sammy, desperately. “Drive. Drive. Drive.”

“Pete?” she implores.   

“Daddy?” Sam gives another nudge from the back of the car. And under their combined force, amazingly, Pete punches in his pin and pulls up his address book and dials the main Action Youth number.  

“The number is on the screen,” he tells Sally, “just keep dialling it.” He throws his phone into her lap, watching her all the time out of the corner of his eye. He turns the ignition, puts the gear into drive, pushes down the accelerator and pulls away.

She knows he does not want her to have his phone. She knows why. There are other women on there. She focuses on her outbreaths.

Sally listens to the ring tone and then the Action Youth answer message and click to voicemail. She touches the smart screen to hang up. Pete flicks his head and snaps, “What are you doing?”

Before she can answer she is thrown forwards. Instinctively she puts out her hands to brace against the dashboard. “Sammy!” she calls out as if that will somehow save her child from the force of the swerve and the stop. It does not.  She hears Sammy’s head hit rap against his side window.

Pete has veered into a bus bay. “Give me back my phone!” he is shouting now.

“Sammy? Sammy?” she is calling out, reaching back with her hand to find his little body and check he still moves. 

“I hurt my head, Mummy,” Sammy is sobbing in the back of the car, shocked like her at the violence of the brakes and rubbing his temple.   

Pete reaches over and presses his left forearm hard across Sally’s breasts, pinning her painfully back into her seat.  With his other hand he grasps her right wrist and twists it until his mobile falls from her grip and into the footwell. He relinquishes her, lunging forwards to grab his phone whilst simultaneously letting go a punch to the side of her head. The blow glances across and lands half-hearted. Because at that very same moment she is pushing open her door and falling away from him, out of the car. She finds her feet and runs. She doesn’t think. She just goes where the tarmac takes her, past the main doors of the leisure centre and around to the rear of the building.   

There is a wire mesh gate hanging off its hinges and she squeezes past it and into a disused plot littered with ragwort and empty oil cans, used condoms and, oddly, two weatherworn upright pianos standing back to back.   In the far corner stands a brick outhouse with smashed glass windows and concrete steps which lead up to a bolted door and an overhanging apron of porch. It has begun drizzling rain. She doesn’t have a coat on. She goes there. She is shaking and has her hand over her mouth.  She is not crying.  She is inert, like a stone.  She smells old urine and mildew and brick. 

As if from a great distance she tells herself, just focus on the next minute, and then the next, and then the next.  Everything else is too hard. She stands like that for who knows how long.  Then very slowly it overtakes her that she has left Sammy in the car. Sammy saw what happened. Sammy saw her run. She has to make a choice.

She bends down and picks up a shard of glass from where it lies tangled with the weeds thrusting through some old wooden boarding. The glass is sharp and wet and shaped like a long thin triangle. About six inches long. She slides her weapon up her sleeve and begins walking back the way she came.     

When she rounds the corner of the leisure centre Pete is still there, standing next to the car. The second she sees him he sees her. He begins to stride towards her, shouting, “What’s wrong with you! Sammy’s in the car! What do you think you’re doing?” 

A woman pushing a buggy increases her pace and then disappears gratefully through the Centre’s sliding doors. A middle-aged man stops, looks up curiously, and then dallies, one eye on the notice board on the wall, the other eye watching them both.   

Sally feels one edge of the glass triangle pressing slightly, reassuringly into her folded wrist.

“Get the fuck in the car,” shouts Pete. Sally thinks he won’t hit her again here, where people are watching, but he has lost it already and he is swearing and so you never know. Her legs are weak and shaking. She walks up and she keeps on going past him. She yanks on Sammy’s door and thankfully the child lock is off so she can lean in to unbuckle his belt. “Get out Sammy,” she says, softly.

“Stay in the car!” yells Pete. Delayed. As if he can’t believe this is happening.

“I hate you Daddy,” Sammy says. “Why don’t you let Mummy ring your phone?” He is out of the car now. 

They stand there, all three of them, exposed to the gaze of strangers.  

Pete takes a step forwards.

Sally lets the flat shard slip down into her fist and, even though the lacerating glass hurts more now and her own blood is trickling, she keeps her face plain and he doesn’t see. 

Pete looks about him to see who is watching, who can hear. “You bitch,” he whispers gently. She feels her bowels loosen and she thinks she might shit herself.  She falters. In that moment, Pete reaches out to grab her hand and pull her forwards.

She lets him.

She relinquishes her grip on the glass just enough so that now it slides down and slices neatly across his fingers, severing their tendons, making him cry out in pain and surprise and he falls to his knees, clutching his hand to his chest, howling.  The man by the window comes running.

Sally looks down at Sammy. She is cut and hurting too but she smiles at her son. “It’s alright,” she says. “Everything is going to be alright.  Mummy and Daddy are just having a little argument.”