She sells sanctuary, twenty-five pounds a turn in the comfort of your own car. We used to sit together in fifth-year English, drawing graffiti on the desks and throwing paper-bombs behind the teacher’s back. Now she plies her trade along the broken pavements where the foundries were left to ruin, their chimney stacks ready to fall.
It was a week ago that she walked into the McD’s on the junction where the working men’s club used to be. I never go there, but that night had been a stinker cleaning up the mess the junior accountant had made on the books of our biggest client. I’ve been back every night since. She comes in for coffee at ten, almost to the dot, as if it’s her designated break–a notion I find absurd and sad in equal measure. A re-application of make-up, perhaps a pair of new knickers.
She’s worn the same white miniskirt every night, paired with an array of ill-fitting vest tops that leave nothing to the imgination. But she’s in her forties now. Her skin is like a canvass a score of drunken artists have doodled on, pale and blotchy in-between the tattoos. I wonder what happened in her life, the choices she made. I wonder what she listens to in her earbuds, remembering how I pretended to like The Cult as much as she did, while secretly working out the chords to Frankie’s The Power of Love on that old Casio I used to have.
She leaves again without seeing me, without seeing anything but that next fix. I follow her out and go to my car. The stars never seem to shine on this town. It’s like the smog settled after the factories closed, never to be lifted again. I pull up by the kerb where’s she standing. She flicks a cigarette away and leans in through my open window.
“After a good time, honey?”
The sparkle has gone from her eyes. She doesn’t know me, only the game–there’s no seduction to this rite. She bends in a way that puts her wares on offer, like meat in the butcher’s window.
‘Sorry,’ I say.
She steps back onto the kerb, Sophie Ermscough from fifth-year English, disappointed at a missed sale. I want to tell her who I am, see that flicker of recognition in her dulled eyes, but there’s no point anymore. I roll-up my window and roll away, scrolling through the MP3 player to find the song I want.
“I’ll protect you from the hooded claw, keep the vampires from your door.”
As I watch her shrink away in the rear-view mirror I know she listens to a different song…
She sells sanctuary, twenty-five pounds a time.
(c) Darren Hawbrook 2016
This piece was prompted by The Cult’s eighties classic, She Sells Sanctuary. I guess it’s about the perfect image of love we all have as kids, free from corruption, and how people’s lives may fall by the wayside for no apparent reason. I hope I wouldn’t just drive away if this happened for real.
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