Authors: Vivienne Stirk
By Vivienne Stirk
candal was first published in October 2015 by Vivienne Stirk. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The glass in the windows rattled as the seven forty five evening train to Leeds roared past, leaving a smell of diesel hanging in the air. Normally, living so close to a railway line would have been annoying, a menace even, but to seventeen year old Ashleigh Sloane, it helped drown out the noises coming from the bedroom next to hers; the sound of her mum having sex with a stranger. This is how it all began.
Ashleigh had been dealt a cruel hand in life; a life so far filled with abuse and neglect. She’d become a victim at the hands of her drunken father who wasn’t afraid to use his fists or hurl abuse at her when he saw fit. So when, at the age of fifteen, Ashleigh’s father was sentenced to life in prison for man slaughter after an armed robbery turned ugly, she felt at least she had been set free from her life of misery. How wrong she was.
The man who’d turned up at the flat one evening, a week before the robbery, had been unknown to Ashleigh; a new face in her life. He’d turned up reeking of booze and cigarettes, demanding to see her father, Lee. He’d been in the shower at the time. Gregg had said he’d wait as it was important. After helping himself to beer from the fridge, he’d plonked his fat form on a chair to wait, eyes searching Ashleigh’s young body as she sat doing homework. Luckily for her, he hadn’t had long to wait before Lee returned, hair still wet, eyes bloodshot from his earlier fill of beer.
The men shook hands. When Lee’s eyes had fallen upon Ashleigh as she busied herself with her books, he’d snarled at her like a wolf.
“Get into your room bitch,” he’d shouted.
Ashleigh never argued with her father, or anyone for that matter. She was a very respectful girl, well liked at school by teachers, with a few close friends. She never spoke to them about her unhappy life though, never explained how it was so different from the lives of her friends. No-one even knew where she lived. There’d never been a time when she’d invited people round. If they asked to call for her she’d lie, saying she was either busy or going out. The lies she’d told her friends because she was ashamed of who her parents were and the home she lived in, only filled Ashleigh with self loathing, but it was the only way she knew how to get through life at school unscathed.
She enjoyed school and was a good scholar, taking part in every after school club available, just so she could spend less time at home.
The night Gregg had shown up wearing unclean clothes, unshaven and disrespectful without even having spoken to Ashleigh, it had been to make plans for a ‘big job’. That’s the phrase Lee had used when speaking about it to Ashleigh’s mum Linda later that same evening. Ashleigh had only heard snippets of their conversation as she’d lay awake that night. Her small bedroom was next to the lounge, every word spoken could be heard through the paper thin walls whenever a train wasn’t passing. Linda was a mug of a woman Ashleigh had thought, who hung onto every word Lee ever said. He’d filled her head for years with promises of how he’d make them enough money to take them away from the shithole they lived in, from the rat infested dump he dared to claim as home.
Ashleigh’s relationship with her mother wasn’t great either. They never hugged, laughed or had cosy chats about life or boys. She’d never even discussed that one day, as her body changed from a girl to a woman she’d start her periods. When the day did finally arrive for Ashleigh, it had been the school nurse who’d taken her into a small room to provide her with the necessary sanitary towels. Ashleigh remembered being extremely embarrassed that day. The nurse had been very understanding, reassuring her that the changes her body were going through were normal. As if sensing life at home for her was tough, the nurse had told Ashleigh that her door was always open during the school day. Ashleigh had just smiled and said thanks, knowing nobody could ever help her with her life. She knew the only way to have a fighting chance when she was older was to achieve good grades and find a good job; something that would pay good money, enough to buy her own place away from all the mess and hurt she called her life.
Lee boasted that evening about the gun Gregg had brought round, the one
brandish for the big job.
He’d laughed mockingly as he’d said, “The bitches will shit a brick when they see this little beauty glaring at them.” He’d then kissed the gun, stroking the barrel like it was a prize horse. “And then they’ll fill those bags with jewels faster than shit off a shovel.” His laugh had been throaty, full of evil.
Linda laughed approvingly, really believing her good for nothing, wife beating husband could pull this off. For once she felt she’d be treated like a princess, just like she felt she deserved to be.
Ashleigh had heard enough information to gather what was going to happen. Here she was, a fifteen year old girl, overhearing a conversation her parents were having about her father carrying out a robbery on a jewellers. What should she do with such knowledge? Should she keep it to herself, hoping it would work out so they as a family could reap the benefits? Knowing innocent people would suffer a terrible ordeal at the hands of her father was too much for her to keep locked away. She had to tell someone, but whom? The anxiety Ashleigh felt was too much for sleep to take over that night. Questions wormed their way into her thoughts. Who’d believe a fifteen year old when she mentioned she thought her father was about to carry out a robbery on a jewellers? Maybe if she told them he had a gun they’d believe her. The thing was, if they asked if she’d seen the gun, she’d have to admit that no, she hadn’t. She’d only heard her father talking about it.
Knowing her story would be laughable, Ashleigh decided to keep it all locked away in her head. He’d probably bottle it anyway, finding a pathetic excuse for not going ahead with it and they’d go on living just as they were, like they had for so many agonising years.
A week after Ashleigh had heard her parents talking about the big job, she awoke at seven o’clock as usual, ready for another day at school. Her father and Gregg were talking in the kitchen. Pretending not to have seen the carrier bag on the table with its bulky form inside, the same bag she’d eyed every morning for the past week hidden inside the cupboard, she hastily prepared herself some cornflakes. Once her bowl touched the table, her father flipped. With one strong swoop of his arm, the bowl and its contents were sent flying across the kitchen.
“Get to school bitch. Can’t you see we’re talking here?”
Ashleigh scurried into her room, retrieved her school bag, fleeing from the flat with her heart pounding so fast it made her feel sick. It was only early, too early for school to be open. She’d have to walk slowly, maybe stop off at the swings on the way.
Her short legs dangled from the swing as it swung back and forth idly. The rusty chains creaked menacingly, disturbing her thoughts. Memories of the life she could remember were filled with so much despair. Feeling alone and so out of touch with the world only added to the sense of loss she felt. How could life be so cruel? Many times she’d prayed silently to God for help and guidance but still no-one came to help her.
Her small frame remained at the swings for some time. She’d actually enjoyed the tranquillity of the early morning. Maybe she’d come here more often. Anything was better than the alternative. She could imagine the scene back home now. Her father would be smoking heavily and drinking cans of beer. Belching like a pig as he gulped the amber coloured liquid. She’d be responsible for clearing up the empties when she returned home later. Gregg would probably be leaning back on a chair, feet strapped in heavy boots, resting them on the table. Her mum would still be in bed, the after effects of a heavy drinking session the night before still swamping her wizened form. She’d probably wake at ten o’clock, light a cigarette before opening another bottle of gin. The television would remain on for the remainder of the day as she’d sit watching whatever rubbish was fed to her. As long as there was a supply of alcohol and cigarettes available, food would not be on the menu. The last time Ashleigh looked for something to eat she’d found a small portion of stale cheese in the fridge and an un-opened jar of pickle. The cornflakes she would have eaten if her father hadn’t have thrown her dish across the other side of the room would no doubt have been soft and stale, the milk would more than likely have been sour, but it would have been a meal none the less, something to line her stomach before a full day at school. Whilst most of her peers moaned about school food, Ashleigh secretly enjoyed it. Her small frame was partly due to being malnourished. If it hadn’t have been for the scraps of food she found in bins around the back of the school kitchen, and the free school dinner she received daily, she’d have been much worse off. Most days it was school which would provide her only source of food. Some of her class mates would tease her in P.E. when they saw her wafe-like frame. She’d laugh it off admitting to it being because of all the sport she did at school. Her closest friend Hannah was mature at the age of fifteen. Having two older sisters had probably added to her maturity. She’d had an inkling that Ashleigh came from a poor background, taking it upon herself to pack a few extras for her lunch, deliberately saying she was full and offering any spare food to Ashleigh. This would happen about three times a week. Not wanting it to become obvious with other friends as to what she was doing, she’d learnt the knack of being able to catch Ashleigh’s eye when the others at their table weren’t looking. At first, she’d whispered, “Do you want this?” to Ashleigh. After a while, she’d moved on to just mouthing the words. Now, three months later, she’d slide the food across to her. The others had never picked up on what was going on. Hannah had even invited Ashleigh to her house for tea on several occasions but she’d declined every time. In the end, Hannah concluded her own theories and eventually stopped asking. She had hoped that one day Ashleigh would open up to her, possibly confide in her, but she seemed unable to. She knew there was something wrong, something which made her small features look sad and troubled when she thought no-one was watching her. Hannah wasn’t one to pry and so let things be.
There was a gentle breeze whispering through the trees as Ashleigh made her way to school. The blonde shades of her short cropped hair shimmered under the sunlight as the sun peeped its way from behind soft clouds. Summer was upon them, a time for holidays and barbeques for the average family. Ashleigh could only dare to dream of such luxuries. With only a few short weeks before the start of the holidays, the thought of losing contact with school for so many weeks was always at the back of her mind. She enjoyed school, managed to avoid being one of the ones picked on regularly and had
friends. She’d fantasise about what it would be like if her life was anything like the lives of her mates. Even though it was only a small group she mixed with, it was somewhere she felt safe; somewhere there weren’t any demands.
The bell sounded for the start of registration. Ashleigh had a good day of lessons, double drama being first. Loving drama to the point of wanting to become an actress meant Ashleigh excelled in this subject, having already been told she was a natural. Going to drama school was an option and it was a subject she’d eventually take at G.C.S.E, perhaps even ‘A’ level. Drama helped her to escape from reality, maybe contributing to why she cared so much for it.
Ashleigh had chosen to stay behind after school that Monday afternoon, to help with some props for the forth coming end of school play. She didn’t have a major role in the play but she’d learnt her lines well and with passion. The lead part had gone to a girl called Samantha Lewis, a favourite among staff and boys especially. She was good at drama, Ashleigh would always admit to that, but she knew if given the chance, she herself could have made that role her own. The drama teacher, Mrs Kilpatrick, had spoken to Ashleigh one evening after school, admitting she was in fact right for Samantha’s role. She’d said she hadn’t realised just how good Ashleigh was, having been a little too quiet at the beginning of the year.
“I will consider you for the lead next year Ashleigh if you stay on and take it as an ‘A’ level, I promise,” she’d told her. And Ashleigh knew Mrs Kilpatrick would keep her promise.
The scenery was going well and to plan but by five o’clock Mrs Kilpatrick decided to call time. “Okay people. It’s time for home. Thanks everyone.” Disappointment smothered Ashleigh at the thought of having to go home. Drama held such a burning passion, maybe because it dissolved the pain she carried around with her when not there.
The clouds were gathering, looking like rain could fall later, but unperturbed by this she refused to pick up pace whilst walking home. Who cared if she got wet? Knowing full well her mum and dad would be drunk, only added to the dread of going home. The only response she’d get from them would be abuse. There’d be no warm welcome or, “How’s your day been love?” Neither would there be the smell of home cooked food wafting from the kitchen. Cigarette smoke would pollute her lungs; cross words would invade her ears.
Ashleigh noticed there were quite a few groups of people hanging around as she neared home. Some even glanced her way then huddled back into their groups to whisper. A police car, parked outside the back of the flats, caused little alarm. Thinking it was probably Billy from flat twelve in bother again, she climbed the four flights of stairs, holding her breath until she reached her door. She could never understand why people urinated in flats. The smell was vile.