Brinnington, 1972

Brinnington, 1972

A Story by Sam-Stafford

Brinnington, 1972

By Sam Stafford


Pulling up at the end of a street littered with paper bags and f*g-ends, the driver of the black cab killed the engine and jumped out. He pulled the side door until it clunked and held still. A pale hand reached out from within. Offering his hand, the driver helped the passenger out. Her skin was soft, but brittle and thin. “Are ya alright getting’ home from ‘ere then, my luv?” he asked. Dorothy smiled at the cabbie and nodded. It was a little way, but she’d be alright. 

            A rough breeze bit through her cotton dressing gown, caught it and made it billow. The hospital had swiped a British racing green utility coat from lost-and-found. She was thankful for it and clamped it at her chest. Memories of alleys and streets scattered across her mind and when she closed her eyes to think, they all looked the same, and the same as the one she was standing on. Damp grey streets; redbrick houses. Square gardens, driveways, and Morris Marinas. Usually, John picked her up from Prestwich in his Vauxhall Viva, but he was working late at the garage. By taking a taxi, she could surprise the children arriving home from school. Without time to prepare, their little eyes and shoulders would slump in a moment of honesty - telling her that the surprise was unwanted. Who could blame them? Children can’t understand all the reasons why parents cry. Why they get angry even when you ‘aven’t done nowt wrong.

If she could find the main road, she’d know her way. For now, she’d follow whatever direction her gown whipped, keeping the wind behind her. Drizzle speckled her forehead like fresh dew on grass, nothing like the drain-dripped rain on the inpatient room window, where she raced rivulets to the caulked seam. Days seemed greyer behind that window.

She enjoyed walking; always had. But the rabbit run, her name for the corridors of the unit, was not a place for walking. Brinnington offered more pleasant walks, even with its petrol fumes, syringes, and stench of cheap ciggies. Better than sanitized corridors. Dr. Thomas said that if she were out walking, there were techniques she could use to cope, keep herself and everyone else safe. And she wouldn’t have to put Alan completely out of mind. She could say it in the beat of her steps. You (step), can’t (step), see (step), Alan (step-step). Don’t repress; don’t obsess. That was the advice. And so, she came onto Brinnington road, chunnering away to herself in time with her steps. Closed-off, green gated estates ran away from the road like veins on a leaf. There was a bingo hall at the top end of the road, and from there it was only a left, a right and a left and she’d be home.

            Across the road, she spotted a young man. The finer details of his face were unclear, obscured by rain, but his ginger locks, flat cap, sharp nose, and burgundy bomber jacket were familiar. She could almost smell his wet, puppy-dog hair. Once he’d continued about fifty feet, Dorothy turned on her heels, and followed him. Of course, it couldn’t be Alan. Alan was dead and she knew that. But if it were… she’d never forgive herself for not making sure. That’s all she’d be doing, making sure.  

 “You,” (step-step). “Can’t,” (step-step). “See,” (step-step). “Alan,” (step-step-step-step). Keeping her distance at first, she sped up, knowing she could identify him only if she got close. Twenty feet behind and there was that smell, patchouli oil - made a man smell like he was fresh out of the soil. Breathing him in, she quickened her pace. What would he look like? Once, she might have thought it impossible that a mother could forget her son’s face. But between the pictures being taken down from the walls, and her enduring image of him on a metal gurney, swollen like white bread on a glassy lake, the details had blurred. But she’d remember his smile. If she could just place a hand on his shoulder; touch him. She’d know.

            Feeling neither the coarse wind nor the soggy chafe of her slippers, she pressed on, and panicked when Alan took a left down a lane separating two terraces. Half jogging, she was able to reach the mouth in time to see him take a right at the end. Her chest tightened in panic. Losing him. Unsure of when they’d started streaming, Dorothy dabbed her eyes with the stiff sleeve of her jacket. Hair frazzled in every direction, red eyes, cotton gown, slippers - no doubt she looked crazy. If there’d been any doubt it was Alan, she’d have stopped. But as he rounded the corner, she’d caught the outline of his nose and lips. The light had caught his eyes. And there was the way his curly hair bounced below the seam of his hat, as if on a springboard. It was him alright.

She emerged onto a street lined with sycamore trees. Looking back and forth, she tried to locate him, blood thumping between her ears. Somewhere, a commotion broke out. It was close, not far down the road. She followed the sound. “Alan,” she said. “What will I say to ya? I won’t shout. I know I shout when am upset but I won’t shout. I’ll just tell you to come home. Come home. You’ll see we ‘aven’t forgotten ya.”

            Suddenly, a large woman in a pink pinny burst through a side gate. Dorothy jumped; air pounded from her lungs like kneaded dough. A sharp pain as the woman prodded her with a pink-painted fingernail. “What are you doing scaring my boy?” Dorothy stood shivering and stuttered something incoherent. The woman’s face reddened as she puffed out her massive chest. “What’re you doing and why’re you dressed like that? My lad’s terrified in there. Said you followed him all the way from Brinny road.”

            Dorothy’s head pounded as she stumbled backwards. Confusion blinded her, and such was the spinning in her head, she almost toppled over. Would’ve too if not for the splintered garden fence where she planted her hand. She swept the hair from her forehead, stuck by rain and perspiration, and closed her eyes. The large woman said something, but her voice was muted, as though she were talking underwater or someplace far away. In a moment of clarity, Dorothy opened her eyes and saw a teenage boy watching from the doorway. He resembled Alan at that age, the curls, the brown eyes - not a total match; his jacket wasn’t leather, and the smell of patchouli was gone. And Alan had been in his mid-20s when he’d died. She couldn’t remember deciding to follow the boy. Couldn’t offer an explanation. For a moment it had been real, she could smell him, see him; then, she could not.

            “Are you listening? Said am gonna call police. There’s been dodgy people lurking ‘round ever since we moved ‘ere. I said to ‘r kid, you get a lot of strange people ‘round ‘ere. Didn’t think you’d sink to messing with a young lad. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

            Standing in the woman’s shadow, Dorothy said, “I was looking for my Alan. I thought…” But stopped and went to hurry past the woman, head down, a deep shame burning in her chest. The woman moved into her path, so Dorothy turned and walked in the opposite direction. The woman shouted something. It was hard to pick out individual words with the sick phwump, phwump, phwump sinking to her chest. Confusion returning to grief. What a fool. The cold wind returned, and she pulled the coat around herself. She sniffled. As she walked, she began to say, “You can’t see Alan,” got as far as ‘can’t’, and continued walking in silence.


© 2021 Sam-Stafford

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A powerful story masterfully written. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Posted 3 Months Ago

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Added on January 13, 2021
Last Updated on January 13, 2021
Tags: Short, Story, Short Story, Adult, Literary



Ormskirk, West Lancashire, United Kingdom

Been writing since I was a child. Still finding my feet in terms of my style so enjoy writing a broad range. Mainly doing short stories for this reason, but I have finished a novel which simply isn't .. more..