[TW: nsfw, sexual violence, thriller]
It was the kind of summer where the grass in the fields was too long to cut. Mum wouldn’t take her foot off the accelerator. She was still bleeding, but ignored the wet path on her cheek.
‘Fuck, it’s too risky for either of us to go back.’ Her mum sighed. ‘Don’t fight me with this.’
‘But there? You want to bring us back to where all this shit started? It isn’t going to help.’ Arabella punched the dashboard. It split the cuts on her knuckles. Her mum clenched the steering wheel like it was someone’s throat.
‘Well, we’re nearly out of petrol and I’ve already rung Marla. So shut it.’ Mum grabbed their belongings, a backpack of things she had run out with. It was routine. No explanation for Arabella but a shove into the car and a new life.
‘Ta, Marla,’ muttered Mum.
They followed the smoke of Marla’s rollup as she tromped up the stairs. ‘Your old rooms are alright, a bit grubby but what ain’t?’ Marla’s voice had been cremated by smoking. She spoke with a deep rasp. ‘You can squat here but no shit or you’re out.’
She climbed up to her attic room, wondering if it would be the same years later. Arabella was welcomed by a waft of sex and smoke. Syringes were scattered on the floor. Nothing new. She angrily drilled one of them into the floorboards. It snapped in two.
‘I know you’re pissed, but it ain’t for long.’ Mum sat beside Arabella in the cold room. She overlooked her daughter’s tears.
Arabella spoke up: ‘But we were so close. So fucking close. You had a real job. ‘
‘What do you want me to say? That I can’t keep a job? I know I fucked up.’ she paused. ‘Anyway, you’re going to a new school soon, so you can smart your way out of this life one day.’
Arabella’s mum craved for it like tobacco – the job that defined their pick-up and go life. Her mum was desperate for it that night in the attic room next door. Arabella was used to blocking out the thudding and the sounds that followed, but that night, after one month clean, Arabella was disgusted by her mum. The feeling thickened in the morning, when she caught Declan slipping out from her mum’s room.
He had the same pomaded hair, slick smile, and yellow teeth. ‘Arabella. What a pleasure, love.’ He drifted his fingers through the strands of her hair to the flesh of her neck.
She jerked, scowled at him, and ran down the staircase.
10 YEARS BEFORE
‘Mummy!’ little Arabella slapped at the door with tiny hands. Usually Mummy told her to stay in bed, but it wasn’t just ‘laughing’ Arabella could hear. There were lots of crashes and thumps. Was something hurting Mummy? Arabella grizzled at what she couldn’t understand. Cried. Cried for her mummy to open the door. When they were finished, Mummy found her. Arabella struggled to breathe, thrashing her limbs, and smothered in a panic attack. Mummy wrapped her arms tight around Arabella. ‘Calm down, sweet. I’m okay. Mummy was just making the man laugh. He was laughing, pet. I was making him happy.’
‘Nothing’s wrong, sweetheart,’ Declan purred and crouched beside Arabella. He wiped his hand on his jeans and wove his fingers through a slip of her blonde hair. His fingers brushed her neck.
‘Arabella. What a pretty little love.’ Declan smirked. He stood up and wedged a roll of notes into the waist of Mummy’s skirt.
After a tussle with the charity shops, Arabella had her school uniform – tight, worn, and marinated in BO. She adopted the usual plan. Look at no one, speak to no one, like no one — the easier it would be to leave. But Arabella underestimated the school’s gossiping.
After a day of teasing, Arabella noticed someone lurking around her locker. Pristine dark hair with a dirty smirk. His eyes screamed cunt bag. The teachers called him ‘Jai’ like it was an insult. He sauntered up to her. Arabella turned her back towards her locker. His fingers fondled the hem of her skirt.
‘You’re shy for a slut’s daughter. The skirt’s sexy.’
‘Your mouth isn’t.’ She shoved his hands away from hers and fought the impulse to shiver.
‘Well I haven’t proved it to you yet. I will babe. Sooner or later.’ Jai laughed and leant closer. His deodorant lodged in the space between them. Pungent. Unwelcome.
Arabella found a number in her bag that night. On the same scrap of paper she read:
Mother like daughter… Open for business too?
She tore it up and threw it away. Her mum was still “working” next door. That had been the shittiest thing. It was easy to spot her mum’s exhaustion in the mornings, courtesy of the local lads. Declan, no doubt, liked to leave bruising like shackles on her mum’s wrists.
Arabella kept her ear up to her door at dusk, cracking it open when Declan crept from the bedroom.
‘Leave her alone. We don’t need the money so you can back off.’ She pushed him towards the stairs but he was inert. Stubborn.
‘She seems to think differently, sweetie,’ he snorted and pinched her cheek. ‘Got an alternative?’
The fun continued. Arabella couldn’t walk down the hallway without looks. That’s what happened when schoolboys caught a wisp of the word EASY. They lost control of their eyes and hands. It felt like ‘whore’ had become her middle name.
Jai, the one who started the Arabella rumours, persisted with freaking her out. He would grab her ass in lunch lines and places where she couldn’t say anything. He was just as fixated on pursuing Arabella as she was escaping him.
Arabella lost her nerve; she avoided any boy she could. She’d drag her lunchtimes into the library, searching job ads to help her mum.
I don’t want you to be fucked around anymore, Mum. Arabella vowed that day in the girls’ changing rooms. She rummaged each bag for small change, took a few fivers here and there from posh girls, nothing anyone would miss, but enough for petrol.
‘What the hell has he done to you?!’ Arabella touched her mum’s neck. Dark bruising plumed all over the flesh. Her mum slapped Arabella’s hands away.
‘Declan pays good. We can eat. That’s all that matters,’ Her mum said monotonously. Her mum’s eyes bore into hers. Lifeless. Soulless? Arabella shook her shoulders, wanting to shake any emotion back into that frail body.
‘You’re wrong, Mum. He’ll go too far one day, I know it!’
Her mum’s hands shook.
‘I’ve been looking for jobs for you mum. I’ve found one a few of cities away. We don’t need to live like this.’
Her cheek throbbed hard after the slap.
Mum’s voice lowered. ‘You don’t fucking decide what I do.’
Arabella lay on the floor of her room. Her eyes pinned to the crumbling roof. She expected it to collapse on her, like everything else wanted to. She knew what had to be done.
Arabella reeled back from her locker. She could feel bile rising in her stomach.
She found the word carved into the back of her locker. Used condoms were all over her books and job forms. Some of them fell on her shoes. The people around her backed away and laughed. She slammed the locker shut and growled in anger.
Arabella spent the rest of the school day in a toilet cubical. It stunk of shit. She refused to show the school her sobs. She waited in there, head between her knees until the last bell rung.
Arabella returned to her locker to deal with the horror. She looked both ways along the empty corridor. Her mood was too frayed to deal with people. She ripped the locker open.
Less condoms were there, but her things had been touched. Her books were somewhat salvageable. She reached for one in the shadow of her locker and her fingers caught something soft. They never give up. she thought grudgingly.
She ran the silk lingerie between her fingertips. Stuck to it was another note. She readied herself with a breath.
Outdo your mum, sexy. £30 advance.
Cum get more tonight at 11,
Sunny’s old warehouse
Hands were on her, stroking, pinching, and groping. ‘I’m glad you turned up, babe. I’ve waited so long for you,’ a voice snarled in Arabella’s ear from behind. ‘So damn long.’ The words echoed in the empty warehouse.
Hands were rippling over her body. She wrestled under their grip.
‘Everything needs to stop. I don’t want -‘ a roll of notes were thrust between her lips. He spun her around and threw her down onto the concrete. Bank notes fell out of her mouth with the impact.
‘It was you? You sick fuck!’ Arabella riled and roared. She thrashed under his hold. He had her pinned like a frog for dissection.
‘My patience could only hold for so long,’ Declan giggled. ‘Now I’ll know what you finally feel like.’ With sweaty hands he fought the button on his jeans. His thighs trapped her legs. Arabella tried to rise to punch him. Declan clamped down on her hands in an instant and tutted.
‘Mummy can’t save you now. Do you like when I pin you down?’
Arabella began to cry deep, chesty sobs. The tears deformed her vision. She would share the pains of her mum, the ritual opening to a hideous life. Arabella forced her eyes shut, felt prickly cold air on bare skin, felt dead weight on top of her. Shrieked.
She pried open her eyelids.
Literal dead weight.
Jai spun the bat in his hands. ‘My pleasure, babe.’
I wrote this piece last year, fuelled by inspiration given to me from the Arctic Monkey’s song Arabella. There’s something so dark yet inviting about the sound of the album AM, I wanted to mimic this feeling in this short piece.
© 2016 Elizabeth Brown All Rights Reserved