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In a Lonelier Place

The hands around her neck

By Rachel RobbinsPublished about a month ago 5 min read
Runner-up in 3:00 AM Challenge
Photo by Anastasia Vityukova on Unsplash

The screech and jolt of hard brakes forced Laurel out of sleep. The car careering around a bend, a rock raised in temper. She had both been in the car and watching the car side swerve into the headlights of another driver. A strangled scream. Dizzy. Disorientated.

The air in the apartment was chilled, but Laurel’s upper lip was moist from sweat. It took a few shaky seconds to leave the dreamscape behind. Max was beside her. His body rising and falling with gentle snores.

Laurel reached to the bedside table and found her cigarettes. She pushed aside the sheets, careful not to disturb him. She walked into the lounge, turned on a reading lamp and lit herself a smoke. She took a deep breath and let the nicotine fill her lungs, and waited for her heart to slow down.

When she had first dreamt of Dix, she had felt disloyal to Max. Those early dreams of Dix had been easy attraction, his hand on her cheeks, flirty, dancing conversations. They were dreams about desire. They were about the gap of missing someone. He was funny and she was sassy.

Now they are full of Dix’s hands on the wheel, the dark hairs of his competent forearms in close-up as they force the car to drive at uncanny angles. The searing anger. The temper that threw his hands around her neck.

Laurel took another deep drag to remind herself she was still here, still breathing. She had found a new safety. She no longer needed to make excuses for Dix.

The newspapers were on the table next to the armchair. She knew Max wasn’t on the front pages. He was buried inside, in the gossip column.


Max found her in the morning. She was asleep under a blanket in the armchair. A pile of cigarettes extinguished in the ashtray beside her. He kissed her forehead and left.


There was nothing for Laurel to do. She hadn’t worked in months. Not even an audition. Max kept telling her not to worry, this was the way it worked in New York. That he could look after them both. He said it as though working was about making money, rather than losing herself in a character.

Yesterday, Laurel had spent the day walking through Manhattan. She bought some peppermints from a pharmacy and then wound her way back home. The day before, she had met with Silvia for coffee. She felt she had no conversation to offer. She didn’t want to speak about her dreams. About how urgent they had become. They had the persistence of a child’s tug at a mother’s apron.

It had been months of filling time. If she sat too long, the anxiety would cling to her stomach.

The newspapers were still on the table. Max had told her not to worry about the stories, because like everything in this world, they would disappear, eventually. But those stories were tilting her reality. She read the column. She remembered the women’s names.


The shadows of her dreams cast Dix as a villain, his face contorted in rage. Laurel knew Dix’s temper and that he had held his hands around her neck. But that other girl, the police found no case against him. Another man had murdered that girl. Her name was Mildred.


Sunlight slanted through the blinds. She opened the window to let in the crisp air of the city below and went to make coffee. Her days were New York: chilled pavements, terse sentences, psychoanalysis and anonymity. Her nights were LA: warm air, champagne, swerving headlights and fractured egos.


Max arrived home late from a press review. He smelt of booze, cigars and schmoozing. Laurel breathed it in as he came through the door and embraced her.

“You should be in bed,” he said.

“Too restless,” she said.

They had the discussion about work. “You don’t need to work, dear.”

The right job, they were waiting for the right job. The plays he was involved in now, they weren’t the right jobs. Max held her shoulders as he explained that the wrong play would be bad for her nerves. There was her Tony Award next to his on the mantel. She wanted to talk more.

“You flare up,” said Laurel. She had kept her voice low and mellow. The mellifluous tones that had earned her acting awards.

“That’s what men do,” said Max. Max’s mood weighted all the space in the room.

He looked at her with exhaustion and she couldn’t help feeling that it was the wrong way round.


Max was laid on his back, snoring gruffly. Laurel drifted into a sleep where his snores echoed a car’s motor. She felt herself being pulled under, a subconcious ocean, a panicked drowning. Darkness closed around her like a fist.

Usually the dreams screeched to a halt as Dix raised his fist against the man lying on the ground. She would produce a strangled scream and be forced back into reality.

This night, it ended with Laurel running away, running through the dark, rain hitting her as she sped down the unlit road. She woke drenched with sweat.

“It’s just the change,” Max said when he found her mopping her brow. “Just the change.”

Laurel nodded, but she knew the dream was an answer.

He left her alone, again.


Laurel gathered her thoughts and then gathered her clothes. There had been more reports in the paper. More girls had come forward. The ‘casting couch’ and the ‘big-shot’ producer. There were two voices in her head.

“Women, always trying to find an easy way to make a buck.”

And the other quieter, tentative voice. The voice trying to find a seat at the table.

“I believe her.”

A girl had jumped. Her name was Jean. Jean had been found next to an El pillar on Eighty-sixth Street, that part of town made of scraps and ends. The rumours, the gossip swirled, as dizzying as a swerving car.

Laurel wanted, no needed, the dreams to stop. She wanted to stop thinking about Dix’s raised fists, his hands on her neck, Mildred.

Laurel was grateful for the small savings. She phoned the airline.

She weighed her choices.

She could stand by Max. Powerful men are vulnerable to these kind of lies.

She could stand by the women. “I believe you,” she could say. And she flinched at the thought, as at a raised fist.

There was an audition in Chicago, a new town, where she would have to find someone else to care for her. How would she know she was alive without that?

She packed the Tony Award. She packed the emerald necklace.

She nodded at the doorman, as he took her luggage to the waiting cab.

The taxi pulled away in the rain. The driver took it slowly, smoothly.

And with a soft sigh, indistinguishable from the city’s exhale, Laurel was gone.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart as Laurel and Dix in In a Lonely Place (1950)

Fan FictionShort StoryPsychological

About the Creator

Rachel Robbins

Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.

Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.

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Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (16)

  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶19 days ago

    Congratulations! Vividly written!

  • D.K. Shepard19 days ago

    Congrats!! This is a riveting read! Compelling character voice from start to finish!

  • JBaz20 days ago

    You managed to capture a period in time and thrust us back there so seamlessly. Like I was watching an old black and white noir film. Excellent Congratulations

  • Babs Iverson20 days ago

    Congratulations on the runner up win!!!♥♥♥

  • The Dani Writer20 days ago

    Back to say congratulations on your story being shortlisted for the challenge! Well done!

  • Wooohooooo congratulations on your win! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • YAY! Back to say heartfelt congratulations on your win. Thoroughly deserved and well done.

  • Christy Munson20 days ago

    You've cast magic here. Felt myself moving back in time to an era before I was born. Felt transfixed and mesmerized. Love how you create characters. Simply brilliant. Congratulations on earning Runner's Up! 🥳 🤩 😎

  • Tiffany Gordon 25 days ago

    I truly truly enjoy your feature work but your Fiction is so vivid, compelling, beautifully-written and full of pizazz! I'd love 2 see this become a novel one day! I believe that it would be a bestseller!!

  • The Dani Writerabout a month ago

    Solid story with some well-crafted touches. I wish you all the best for the challenge. I didn't write anything for this one. I'm all 'fictioned out' and tryna catch a second wind.

  • Raymond G. Taylorabout a month ago

    Fantastic story telling and the dream gave me the shivers. Well done and good luck with the challenge. Chicago’s a good place to be in.

  • Excellent story!

  • Sweileh 888about a month ago

    Interesting and delicious content, keep posting more now

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    Dashiell Hammett, call your office!

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a month ago


Rachel RobbinsWritten by Rachel Robbins

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