One of the facets of my personality of which I am most proud is my predilection to travel, to throw caution to the wind and simply drive. Last weekend, I traveled to Boston with Raina. Originally, I was attending an author event for Stephen King and then Raina and I were going to meet up with Liz. Unfortunately, traffic and random construction prevented me from spending the evening with Stephen King, my literary idol. Fortunately, I was with amazing friends and we had a wonderful time. I was captivated by our conversation, by the scenery and the understated beauty of Boston. Our hotel room overlooked the harbor and I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. If only I felt so certain more often in life.
WEEKLY PROMPT #2: “A young mother is told that her children have been killed in a drive-by shooting.”
“Alright, you lazy piece of shit, have it your way!” Brenda screamed out into the absolutely frigid night air. Her breath hung before her as puffy vapor, and she hoped her words hung there just the same, regardless of their vulgarity or of the volume at which they had been shouted. As a matter of fact, Brenda was damn near ready to pray that her degradations echoed in the still winter air, bouncing back to her nightmare of an ex-boyfriend from any number of surfaces, all coated in snow and ice. She muttered more slurs and curses as she worked to shut her window against the cold, revolving the crank as fast and as hard as she could to see the glass barely inch along. Much like her ex-boyfriend, her car was total piece of shit and she focused on the lack of power windows to black out the frustrated and terrified wailings of the children only barely buckled in the backseat. They were her daughters, ages two and five and both had been fathered by the piece of shit who wanted nothing to do with any of them, and who had just stormed back inside his trailer, evidenced by the screen door in extreme disrepair banging against an already battered frame. “Fucking asshole,” Brenda screamed to release the fury, but with the window finally rolled up, the space seemed cramped and lethal and the words seemed especially cruel as they settled heavily onto the girls like ash from some great disaster, eruption, or explosion. If Brenda really stopped to think about it, she would realize her daughters were constantly covered in such debris, but she didn’t want to do that because guilt was an ugly and messy thing. Thinking was half the problem, anyway; Brenda spent most of her time pondering and contemplating, and what had it gotten her? Where had it brought her? Here, to this absolute train wreck of a life? Well, fuck you very much; Brenda did not want to be here any longer, so she slammed the shifter into reverse and peeled out of the tiny drive, letting the gravel fly. She was going to speed towards relief, towards her apartment and her couch and a large tumbler filled with vodka.
But what about the girls? Easy; she’d drop them off at her mom’s place. She never said no and besides, didn’t Ma owe Brenda a great deal for essentially dismantling her formative years by providing no central male figure, and being a hot mess of a role model? Brenda thought so, or at least she thought she read something like that somewhere important. With a plan in mind, Brenda felt calm and steady. She took a deep breath in and let a deep breath out, not surprised by the accompanying smoke because it was freezing in the vehicle. The heater only rattled to prove it was on but not necessarily that it was working, offering only superficial and minimal relief from the extreme temperatures. Brenda shivered, but gave no thought whatsoever to the two darling girls in the back, clad only in thin, stained nightgowns with matching backpacks – soiled and practically empty – strewn across the floor of the vehicle. The crying had slightly subsided, perhaps because the girls had realized, at even so young an age, that their parents were radically unstable and simply could not care for them. Maybe they were finally becoming accustomed to shuttling between filthy, cheap apartments littered with bottles, syringes, pipes, and burns in the ugly, itchy carpets. It was possible the girls quieted their sobs because the preternaturally knew it would all be over soon, either because one of their two sets of grandparents would finally adopt – rescue – them, or they would die. Having no sort of concept whatsoever about the latter, the girls may have been consoling themselves with thoughts of their grandparents, but it is far more likely and certainly plausible that the girls were too physically exhausted – hungry, malnourished, and in desperate need of a bath – and mentally drained to even cry.
Brenda, on the other hand, was still simply pissed. Not only did that douche bag not keep the kids like he was fucking supposed to – like he had agreed to – but she was out of cigarettes, too. There was sincerely no way in hell she could survive the remainder of the ride to her mother’s home, let alone the lecture she’d certainly receive upon arrival, without some menthols. Brenda also firmly believed that vodka is best served from embarrassingly cheap glassware, that is truly only thick plastic, alongside a nice, long drag of a cigarette. And therein lay her plan for the evening, sitting her tired and frankly unappreciated ass on the couch, and drinking and smoking until both her vision and hearing were drastically impaired. She owned the sofa and ignored its repulsive condition; she had plenty of vodka because she always made damn sure she would never run out. All she needed were the smokes.
For the first time on the drive, Brenda seriously considered her surroundings (it was nothing short of a miracle that there hadn’t been an accident). They were in an awfully shady and decidedly dangerous part of town. She had only been this far east once, and that had been because the douche bag extraordinaire had needed a fix. Brenda figured she now needed a fix herself, but her craving was not illegal nor did it incite theft or murder. She certainly had her misgivings, but pulled into the essentially deserted parking lot of the Cumberland Farms on the corner. It was well lit and practically empty, so Brenda assumed the chances of danger were lowered. Or had her need for self-medication risen to an alarming new level? Fuck it – she was tired of thinking. She put the car in park and made to kill the engine and remove the key from the ignition, but she stopped. She whipped her head back to the girls, who simply sat and stared stupidly back at their wrecked, crumbling mother. Their eyes were red and swollen, as were their thin, tiny lips and the whole of their faces glistened from tears and spit and sweat. They had finally gone quiet. Brenda cleared her throat. “Mama’s just got to run inside the store, okay? Mama will leave the car running so you don’t freeze, alright?”
There was no response, not that Brenda thought there would be, and so she hurried from the car. Her slipper-covered soles fell softly onto the sidewalk and scurried closer to the light and warmth of the interior of the convenience store. Just to the left of the entrance were two formidable-looking men, hooded and avoiding any unnecessary and undue attention. They were certainly suspicious and inexplicably made Brenda slow her pace, feeling the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. Shrugging it off, Brenda slipped inside and strolled to the counter, doing her best to display a winning smile. The clerk behind the counter was a male and attractive, so Brenda made a concerted effort to bat her eyelashes and laugh breathlessly for no apparent reason. “Hey there,” she crooned. “Do you have Pall Malls?”
There was the sound of screeching tires, but no one seemed to notice; not the two men dressed and ready for danger outside, or the two inside the store.
“Uh,” the clerk turned to face the massive wall of nicotine behind him. His eyes roamed over the rows and rows of packs, all different colors. He turned around after a moment. “Yes, yes we do.”
“Do you have 100s in the orange pack?” Brenda asked, leaning over the counter so that her small breasts squished together to look bigger. They were nearly falling out of her tank top, but her shame had departed with her pride and her figure some time ago.
Shots rang out; many, many shots, too many shots to count, just one pop after another. The glass windows shattered and instinctively, Brenda dropped to her knees. She couldn’t see anything, clapped her palms across her eyes and screamed. She tried to curl up as small as she could to try and stay safe and alive. The clerk had done much the same on the other side of the counter, and both stayed hidden until they heard tires peel away and could smell rubber burning against pavement. They rose to face one another. An odd, eerie silence followed immediately after the shots, where Brenda and the clerk were both frozen – rooted to the spot – and it had nothing to do with the weather. Brenda locked eyes with the clerk, as if doing so made everything else go dark and become nonexistent. She had a feeling, a horrible and inexplicable feeling that something terrible had happened, that the shots had been pointed pebbles carelessly launched at her fragile life and now it was shattering and splintering and cracking. The clerk was the first to break the eye contact, turning away and leaning low and to the right to use the telephone. He was calling 911. Brenda didn’t know how she knew that, only that she did, because her ears were fuzzy, like they had been plugged with cotton. She felt nauseous and overwhelmed and alone, so very alone. She turned and thought she might stumble to the door, but to her surprise, she was running. She burst through the door and found the two men dead at her feet, blood splashed and spattered this way and that. Her eyes darted between them to her car. The vehicle could only have been a few feet away, but Brenda believed the distance to be the greatest she had ever crossed in all her life. She was screaming, trying to scream their names but she knew it was unintelligible and more guttural than anything else. She collapsed against the rear passenger door and worked for a moment before she wrenched it open.
Both the girls were slumped over, bleeding steadily.