HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

The Ride Home

Since winning the Andrea Badenoch Award in 2015 (Northern Writers' Awards), Sally has been shortlisted or placed in various competitions including InkTears, Ilkley, Bath Flash Fiction, Sunderland/Waterstones Award. This year her work has appeared in Brittle Star, and The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology.


THE RIDE HOME


The mauve anorak skims his knees; knees that are scabbed, his worn leather shoes, too big.
‘His mother’s ill,’ the headmistress says. ‘Take the fork right, by the bridge. He’ll show you.’
And she touches Faye’s bare elbow again, says they’re pleased with the way she is going on; how the village has needed new life, especially from someone such as herself, who’d lived in the city and knew more than most around these parts. As she opens the back door, he climbs into the front. She notices, despite his long fingers, that he’s small for his age.
She pulls the car away from the school, turns to look back at the chalky swirls on the playground walls, the clock at half past three, the headmistress, still watching by the gate.
The afternoon had been heavy, with muddy clouds dragging across the sky; now that light was beginning to fade, the trees over the fields hang in drab shapes. As she drives through the narrow lane she feels a sureness in herself she’d rarely known: that she’d made the right choice. The way the headmistress had touched her was almost a caress; and the children, with their busyness and little gestures, shuffling, cross-legged, silent mouths small o’s, as she read them story after story. She’d noticed the boy then, listening intently.
She slows towards the bridge, but he lifts his arm and points ahead.
She drives on.
After another minute he points again, to a snake of narrow track across a low field.

The track is uneven, white dust obscuring the road behind them as they go. She wonders about the house. What sort the mother will be. There’d been no mention of a father. She’d tell the mother she hoped they weren’t late; that she hoped she’d be well again very soon. Sensing an ache in the boy, she places her hand on him, on his knee, ever so lightly, the brush of her finger-tips over his rough skin. But he draws his legs away and directs his finger to the woods below.
The track narrows again and she puts the car into second gear for the descent, feeling foolish, her foot dabbing all the way at the brakes. The boy still doesn’t speak when the track ends at a bunker, no more than a huge concrete slab, set in weeds.
She gets out of the car and walks about. She calls out a cheery hello; notices the weakness in her voice as it echoes back at her, nettles scraping at her shin. She looks over to the car, where the boy is sitting.
A rope hangs from a branch, and behind her, a thin moon shows itself between the trees.