YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
Review Coming of Age III (by Carlielee)
Coming Of Age...A Short Story
She was caught in a delicious terror that made her want to scream and laugh and cry out loud. Jack flung the Cavalier around an S-Bend; Kate hung onto the chicken-rail for dear life. She could feel the thump from the stereo shaking her spine, the throbbing beat dictating every gasping breath. The 2-litre engine was howling in rage, 16-inch rims snatching at the warm tarmac, spitting dust and tiny stones into a swirling brown-grey cloud of furious speed.
Jesus God, what was she doing here? It was supposed to have been a game, a stupid game; now she was hurtling across Oxfordshire in a stolen car. Kate half-saw smeared swathes of cow-parsley, the occasional glimpse of green fields through five-bar gates. All the windows were down, the music so loud it became a physical force, pushing them onwards in this mad, senseless race.
It was insane; unbelievable. This morning she’d been pretending to listen to a critique of ‘The Wife of Bath’; she’d gazed at the floppy blonde presenting, feeling something grind in her mind every time the girl flicked her pashmina or her partner said, ‘feminist’. Who the hell cares? Kate had picked at her nail varnish and tried not to scream. She was screaming now.
She’d spent lunch in the library, supposedly researching life in the 14th century, but really gazing out of the window. She planned to skip her last lectures, and slide off to meet Jack and his mates in The Black Boy.
‘Where’re you going?’ Suze was suspicious.
‘Nowhere,’ Kate shrugged. ‘Let me borrow your notes after?’
‘You’re seeing that…’
‘Jack?’ Kate heaved her book bag over her shoulder, ‘So?’
‘He’s a chav, Katie,’ Suze stepped up to her, right up. Kate held her ground, ‘Put him back with the other pond-life.’
‘You don’t understand,’ Kate said. ‘You don’t know him.’
‘No,’ shrugged Suze, ‘but I know you. I’ve known you since we were four, and I know why you’re doing this.’
‘You,’ said Kate, ‘don’t know anything.’
She left then, walking away from the bunch of students jamming the entrance to the Lloyd Lecture Room. When she looked back Suze was lost in the crowd; she was a stranger, just one more child of the chattering classes following a path beaten flat with predictability. Well not Kate, never, never. She had a life to live.
She’d known as soon as she’d walked in the pub that something was up; the air of suppressed excitement and menace was palpable, hanging like smoke and tar in the air. Jack was leant against the bar, watching the game of pool on the scarred table. He didn’t move as she walked up to him; just watched her as she came closer.
‘Jackdaw’s posh totty,’ muttered someone, but Kate didn’t know who. She was fascinated by Jack’s implacable face, amazed that such an alien creature could affect her so much.
‘Good day at work?’ she said, barely an inch from his face.
‘Good day at school?’ He tasted of cigarettes and corrupted morality.
‘We’ve got a car out back,’ Jack said, but Kate hardly listened. She was too intent on him sliding his arm around her; his strong fingers caressing the nape of her neck. He bought her a Hooch and she took a long pull, turned on just by the seedy naughtiness of it all. She could just imagine the faces of her parents, so intent on their daughter’s good conduct. Their son – Kate’s adored elder brother- had died two years ago from meningitis; so much vitality, charm and intelligence wiped out in 48 hours. ‘We’ve still got Kate’ her parents would say, ‘Thank God for giving us Kate.’ When Kate turned up drunk to sit her A-Levels, they said, ‘Just a stage, a difficult phase.’ Kate felt sour at the thought.
If they were here now their mouths would tighten at the roughness of the pub; the velvet banquettes scorched to leopard skin by a thousand cigarettes, the mock-hogany tables sticky witnesses to God knew what. They’d look away from dangerous, underground night-time louts like Jack and his mates. They’d flutter and murmur about ‘poor unfortunates’ and ‘God has his reasons.’
Jack pulled her closer and ran a finger down her spine and beneath the waist band of her Levi’s. Kate squirmed and she felt Jack’s breath hot in her ear.
‘Come here, college girl.’ She tipped her head back to the nicotined ceiling and felt his stubble rough against her jaw. He was about to kiss her when the CB radio propped on the bar burst into life.
‘Shh.’ The pool players had frozen mid-shot, listening to the words snatched from the static.
‘Fuck,’ said one of them and the next minute they were moving, shoving Rizlas into tobacco pouches; draining pints and hustling through the bar and out into a dank little courtyard. For a sliding moment Kate’s eyes were level with the barman’s; he looked eager and complicit; dirty brown eyes wide in a pasty face. Kate’s wrist hurt beneath Jack’s fingers and someone trod on her heel and jostled past, swearing as he tripped over a chinking crate of empties.
‘But-‘ said Kate, and Jack glanced back; she saw the urgency on his face and felt excitement prickle her skin. The back of the pub opened onto a row of garages and Kate found herself scrambling into a red car. Jack was driving it away before she’d even done up her seatbelt.
‘Where we going?’ she asked, eyes widening as he floored the accelerator.
‘Coppers,’ said Jack. He checked his mirror to make sure the others were following, ‘How the fuck they clocked it…’
‘How do you know?’
‘The radio. They were sending a look-see.’
‘The police?’ Kate was frightened now. She looked at Jack, intent on the road, driving way over the thirty speed limit. ‘Why do the police want you?’
Jack shrugged, but then his answer was cut off by the whirly burp of a siren.
‘Oh God,’ Kate grabbed the dash as Jack swerved into a main road, crashing down the gears, spilling round a bus and just missing a white van. The man in the van had had his mouth open in surprise, his phone to his ear. Kate could see little snapshots of Headington as they sped past; girls pushing buggies, school kids eating chips, office workers loosening their ties as they left for the day; the usual Friday crowd of students gathered round the cash machines, collecting their allowances to blow on cocktails at Maxwell’s.
She was mute now with fear; the siren sounded as if it was in their boot. She twisted round in her seat to look at them and was appalled by the reality of the uniforms inside. Up ahead another bus was pulling out, the gap left between it and the wall of the Co-op shrinking to a sliver. Jack didn’t hesitate, just mashed down his foot. Kate braced herself for the pain of the crash, but it didn’t happen and the next moment they were through and racing down towards the by-pass, Jack whooping and shouting; they’d done it, the police were far behind, wedged between the 6:45 to Blackbird Leys and the Co-op wall.
The roundabout was jammed with traffic but Jack undertook them all, invincible now, and pushed the car over and beyond. They slowed down through the Estate and Jack put the stereo on.
‘Want to come for a ride?’ he said, and Kate nodded, trying to be cool and not show she was shaking. They were quickly in open country and Jack was on his phone, eyes flicking to the rear view mirror. Kate wound down her window, feeling the warm evening air lift her hair from her sweating neck.
‘Finally,’ he said and Kate turned to look behind. It was the rest of Jack’s mates, crammed into a rusting old Metro, wallowing round the country corners behind them. Whoever was in the passenger seat was punching the air in a power salute; Kate was reminded of a small boy playing at train-drivers.
‘Beecher’s Farm’ said Jack, tossing the mobile into her lap and dropping a gear. ‘Hold that, birdie. We’re in pole.’
Kate clutched the phone like a lifeline, eyes riveted on the road ahead. She’d never knew a car could shift so fast; adrenalin flooded her body and she felt like she was riding a crest; any minute she could tumble down and be lost beneath thundering waves of terror. But right now the high was amazing, the speed all consuming.
Kate saw Jack mouth something; he was laughing, eyes alive as he forced the car to the limiter again and again. The Metro was long out of sight and the Cavalier was like a toy in Jack’s hands. Kate could smell the violated clutch, a sinus-hollowing base note to the hot dust and rusting hawthorn blossom.
The little green-tree air freshener swung wildly from the rear-view mirror and at some point Jack ripped it down. Kate screeched at the simplicity of his movement, she could feel her pulse in every part of her body; her very blood tingling at the surge of pure, sweet, violent joy. She felt as though she’d been in this place forever, the last few years rewritten; it was unending, incomprehensible to anyone not in this car, not with this man.
She stopped watching the road for a minute, mesmerized by Jack’s body and the way it moved in the car, long muscles in his thighs flexing beneath the denim of his jeans. Kate had wanted him the minute they’d met.
‘God,’ Suze had shuddered, ‘there’s a dangerous man,’ but Kate had shaken her head, watching him from across the pub. He had a lean, hungry look, his very posture was different from the college boys she was used to. This man stood lightly on his toes, his shoulders back, unashamed of who and what he was. She’d followed him to the bar and asked him for a light, then held his hand steady as he obliged. She’d looked up, straight into his eyes and there was a buzzing in her head.
‘What you like?’ hissed Suze when Kate came back with the drinks. ‘Aren’t you in enough trouble?’
‘Fine.’ Suze picked up her cider, ‘See if I care. But if you start seeing…people… like him, your parents are going to really freak.’
Kate crushed out her cigarette, ‘I know.’
‘You know you’re being unfair. Look, Kate, please. Your Mum-‘
‘Don’t. Don’t give me that crap.’ Kate’s eyes felt bright and hot; if Suze would have said his name Kate would have flattened her.
‘Kate-‘ Suze reached out to her and she flinched. ‘Don’t cry,’ said Suze, her voice low, ‘please don’t cry.’
‘I’m not,’ said Kate. She reached for a cigarette, evading Suze’s hand, ‘Big girls don’t cry.’
But what would they say now? Her Dad would probably take of his specs and polish them. Her Mum would smile bravely, perhaps touch the cross at her throat and say she understood, she’d forgive. After all, their Kate was all they had left.
‘Okay?’ shouted Jack, and Kate turned to grimace, feeling her hair whip her face as he increased speed down the straight.
There was a crossroad up ahead, the country lane neatly bisected by the A40. An artic lorry was glinting in the last of the evening sun as they approached from the west. A sluice of iced fear slammed through Kate’s body; she braced herself for impact, feet up on the dash, eyes burning shut. There was no way they were going to stop. She pictured her parents’ faces, the appalled realisation they were on their own. Would they still thank God? She felt the chassis shudder as Jack braked and simultaneously threw the car down a gear to recoup power. She saw the driver of the lorry, dark with hairy knuckles clutching the wheel at ten-to-two; saw the way his mouth was opened wide, showing his ruined teeth and gold fillings. There was an incredible noise searing the air, a primeval shriek of labouring metal and exploding air locks. Kate felt a dull thud nudge the car and watched as the lorry’s trailer slewed towards them.
In a beat it was over, the clip from the truck barely altering the direction of the Cavalier. It crashed down back onto the lane, the back end landing with a thump mighty enough to clash Kate’s teeth together. The car slewed desperately to the left and Jack swore, hauling on the hand-brake and wrenching the wheel to control the spin to a stop. He killed the stereo with the engine and for a moment Jack and Kate just sat, stunned. The silence was immense, a stalled second that almost crushed Kate flat. But then Jack was whooping, laughing, jumping out of the car to shout triumphantly at the lilac sky.
Kate staggered from the car and lurched to the verge. A five-bar gate blocked the entrance to the cornfield next to them and Kate clung on to it to stay upright. The lorry was further up the A40, jack-knifed across both empty carriageways.
‘Fuck!’ shouted Jack, ‘fuck, did you see that? Did you see what I did?’
Kate didn’t reply. She was shaking violently now and thought she was going to wet herself, or puke, or scream. She could taste blood in her mouth and as she put her hand to her teeth she heard it.
The whirly burps had become a shrieking banshee, underpinned by the beating womp of a helicopter. They were both immobile; frozen, the tink and ping of the cooling engine counting the seconds. Kate gazed at Jack across the abyss of consequence and the God had gone. He looked vulnerable and frightened and so young. ‘Jesus’ thought Kate, ‘how could I?’
‘Come on.’ Suddenly he’d snapped the pause and was moving, jumping the bonnet to reach the driver’s side, ‘Katie, come on.’
But Kate shook her head,
‘Chicken.’ Jack was furious as he ducked in the car.
‘No,’ said Kate as he coaxed the engine to life, ‘not chicken. Not anymore.’