A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

The first year in Janie Cobweb's life comes to an end with the promise of something nasty in the near future


People can be really strange when it comes to babies. The infant can be so small and cute you’d think it was a gift from the gods and go coochy-coochy-coo to it, and yet, if it did something unusual, like glare at you and tell you to “sod off, you big fart” you’d become deliriously overheated like a pigeon on heat and call it “so cute, so beautifully cute you wouldn’t believe it”, and go off telling everyone how clever it is whilst making sure you never returned to be told to sod off again.

And that’s precisely what happened in the village with Janie Cobweb.

She was only days old when the first of the neighbours popped in bearing a gift of a bunch of wild spring flowers wrapped in a flawless dock leaf. She was a dear old soul if ever there was a dear old soul, but she had a heart attack when Janie looked at the posy and shrugged her week-old shoulders as if she was in the direst depths of her teens and said in a clear bur almost babyish voice “what do you think that is, you old trout?”

And the elderly neighbour screamed and ran away as fast as her geriatric legs would carry her, shouting “well I never did!” as she ran full pelt straight into the loving arms of a fatal heart attack.

Serve her right,” glowered Janie Cobweb when she heard.

But she only came to say how lovely you are, darling,” cooed Griselda, her mother, “you really might be a bit nicer to folks, especially if they’re getting on in years and have a dicky ticker.”

You can shut up too, mummy,” grated Janie through clenched teeth. Did I tell you she’d been born with teeth? A full set, at that, and gleaming white. “I know what I’m doing, and if you don’t like it you might remember the night the angel called?”

I thought ...” stammered Griselda, the ever-loving mummy.

You thought what?” demanded the baby.

I thought it had been a dream, a horrible, horrible dream and that I was absolutely right to refuse an abortion,” sighed Griselda. “When she offered me all that strong gin and ran me a piping hot bath, and then told me it would be for my own good in the long run I thought she was an angel from Hell.”

No, that’s me, mummy dear,” grinned the baby Janie, “I’m the angel from Hell!”

That first few months of the baby’s life was one of continuous learning for her mother Griselda. It didn’t take long for the message to get round the village, that there was something dreadfully wrong with the new Cobweb baby and it was best for one and all if contact with it was avoided. So Griselda Cobweb found herself more friendless than ever, and that was in a time in history when friendship always had to play second fiddle to toil on the land anyway. Yet with a baby like the one she had, one who could run before it could walk (quite literally, and in the first few weeks of its life at that) she found that all the villagers avoided any contact with her.

There’s something wrong with that woman,” nodded some.

Or the baby. The baby ain’t natural,” agreed others.

I mean, born cursing,” said yet others, shaking their heads.

And with teeth,” murmured one toothless old crone enviously, “it ain’t natural being born with teeth.”

And a whisper started. A whisper in dark corners that included the word witch.

And all the time Griselda was alone and unaided. Her life, rather than being that of a young mother in Paradise, was a nightmare. And she was all alone.

Griselda’s husband was an absentee husband for most of the time. They never actually married in an official sense, but that didn’t really matter back then when all a lad had to do was tell his girl that they were married, even if they were giggling in a field somewhere, and that was that. Everyone understood, and that was all that counted Nobody really cared about official certificates and the like. What really mattered was the future and enough lads (and lasses) to man it.

But Jed was a poet with a fan-base that demanded that he entertained them, so go on tour he did, a long and breathless tour where he found adulation constantly being poured onto his name.

His absence was further guaranteed when he had a new number one hit which was both enticing and a bit saucy, which was something that ladies of all classes found made their stomachs wiggle when they heard it. It went something like this:

When my girl comes back

From the fields for bread

With a nonny nonny sack

Jammed over her head

Then I get a stirring in my over-pants

And nonny nonny nonny

It sure ain’t ants…

The promise in his lyrics stirred many a medieval heart and lead to Jed being an absentee father at the time when Griselda most needed a father to be present. It got worse when the child started singing the song, and Griselda couldn’t help wondering how she knew all the words when she hadn’t really heard it. It was just another puzzle in a long line of puzzles where Janie Cobweb was concerned.

But Jed was seemingly enjoying his fame. Flowers were thrown onto the ground before him wherever he walked and sweetmeats were almost forced down his throat by adoring teenybopper fans as well as ladies of a more mature status, many of whom inexplicably became pregnant as a consequence of carousing to his tuneful arias.

He returned to his wife for his daughter’s first birthday, though, and brought with him great riches in the shape of wooden dolls for the child to play with. He was shocked, though, by the way Griselda had deteriorated from being a charming thirty-something to a harassed and wrinkled thirty-something-plus-one.

What has become of you?” he asked, his voice not exactly oozing sympathy as he struck her across the face until her cheeks were cherry red and her nose was bleeding.

Life has become so lonely and hard,” wept Griselda.

Janie says you are a witch,” he commented, wiping her nose on the back of his hand.

She’s picked it up from the neighbours,” sobbed Griselda, “they’re all saying it on account of her being so advanced. They say it ain’t natural for a child to be born with teeth and the power to curse… they say it must be down to me and that I’m a witch. Oh, I do wish I’d had an abortion...”

What an evil thing to say!” snapped Jed. “Here was I, out on my second tour with my greatest hits and suffering the agonies of being lauded in gig after gig whilst you, at home, were contemplating aborting our one and only delight!”

Griselda thought of suggesting that the baby had nothing to do with him, that she was the offspring of a gent with horns and a tail who had quite obviously got magical powers (people believed in magic as a very real thing back then), but thought better of it because, well, Jed Cobweb had an evil temper and he had already hurt her.

I’m off to see the Witchfinder,” he said peremptorily. “If people are saying you’re a witch they must have got it from somewhere and he might know where.”

The Witchfinder was a local office which, centuries hence, would be reborn when it became expedient to burn elderly ladies for witchcraft in order to preserve the all-knowing strength of the church and its teachings. But meanwhile, in the twelfth century, there was a pompous and rather fat man who had been awarded that office as a consequence of his stabbing his mother-in-law for using magic against him at a party at which he’d got drunk and had sexual congress with her when his wife wasn’t looking.

He might...” stammered Griselda, not liking to finish the sentence.

He might what?” demanded the medieval pop star.

He might find me… you know what...”

You mean guilty? Of being an actual witch?”

She nodded, her eyes filled with fear and dread and other things that mean helpless and emotionally soiled.

Yes, he might,” whispered Jed.

She’s a witch! She’s a witch! She’s a witch!” chanted the year-old Janie Cobweb, pointing a very straight finger at her weeping mother.

See,” wept Griselda.

© Peter Rogerson 10.11.17

© 2017 Peter Rogerson

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: child, advanced, teeth, speaking, running, walking, father, pop singer, poet


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 75 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..