1. The Dung Heap

1. The Dung Heap

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



It was miserable in the s**t-heap of steaming dung but Claudette knew better than to try and find somewhere nicer.

Claudette also knew what her problem was: she’d been born a girl and it was boys, then men, who have all the fun. To start with, and she’d experienced this for herself, girls had to do all the menial things that older females didn’t care to do, and then, to finish with, they became slaves to men and obliged to do all the things that men didn’t care to do as well as have a load of babies like her drunken mum had produced.

Now she was twelve and on the cusp of being a woman and simply had to change things or die. That’s why she was in the s**t-heat of steaming dung. The alternative was trying to clean the shanty hut she called home with an almost twigless besom and avoid being seen by the woman she should love but didn’t, her mother, who by this hour would be drunk out of her brain.

The neighbours all knew about her, but then there wasn’t one of them who was much better. Avril next door got beaten once a week, every Sunday when Jim, her scarred and bullying husband came back from church filled with the fuel of hate preached by the minister in his finery from a woodworm pulpit. Then, next door on the other side, was Eva with her endless sores, especially in her private parts, according to her when she was too drunk not to tell it.

And those two, together with her mum, weren’t different from all the other groups of miserable women living miserable lives in Shingleton, and she knew one thing above all others: it was time for her to get away from the lot of them and find something a darned sight better than what she knew she had to look forward to. This was fourteenth century England and she hated it, and it was why she was hiding in the stinking heart of a dung heap while she worked out what to do next.

“What are you doing here?” asked Bish, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard him because she hadn’t known anyone was near, especially not sharing a dung heap with her.

“Having fun,” she replied, “counting slugs.”

Bish was a boy from down the street and he it was said in Shingleton that he was so naughty his dad had beaten the brains out of him and it was commonly thought he couldn’t think any more, which was probably a good thing bearing in mind the sort of father he had.

“I can count too,” he said with a lisping grin.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, “this is no place for you, Bish, and you know what your dad will say when he finds the sewer syrup on your best clothes.

“My only clothes, more like,” replied Bish, “and he’ll take the belt to me like he always does if he finds me, stink or no stink. So he won’t find me, not in this pile of dung!”

“But you’ll have to go home, Bish,” she said.

He gave her, through the steam and toxic gases of their putrid hiding place, a knowing grin.

“I’m not going home,” he said, “not now and not ever, now that I’m a man!”

“You’re only twelve, Bish,”

“Well, twelve’s being a man, and anyway nobody’s counted the years so I don’t rightly know how many have passed since I was squeezed out of ma’s belly. Dad says as soon as hair grows on my chin then I’m a man and can do man’s work, and hair is growing on my chin but I ain’t doing man’s work, not the sort he wants me to do, ‘cause it’d kill me.”

“So, you’re not going home, Bish?”

He grinned a dirty fetid grin at her and nodded his head.

“Nor am I,” she told him, “I was born a girl and this world’s no place for us. I’m going to find a better place. Somewhere I might find, I dunno, happiness.”

“What’s happiness when it’s as home?” he asked, kicking with unerring accuracy at a dung-encrusted rat that wanted to share his hidey hole with him.

“Anything but life,” she said.

“Then I want it too,” he murmured thoughtfully.

“Claudette! Where’s that damned girl got to? Claudette!” came the bellowing voice of her mother, “wait till I get my hands on you, gal, I’ll give you such a lathering you won’t know what’s up and what’s down!”

“You’re wanted,” whispered Bish, and Claudette was grateful that he had the sense to whisper rather than use his usual slightly husky and rather loud voice.

“She can want all she wants. I ain’t going back,” Claudette told him in an equally quiet whisper.

“So what are you doin’?” he asked.

“I’m goin’ anywhere but here, and soon as the light starts goin’ I’ll be off, like a spirit in the night.”

“They’ll smell you,” said Bish logically. “We both stink to high heaven, you and me, in this dung heap all filled with s**t!”

“Then I’ll wash myself. In the stream by the turnip field, out of sight and out of mind,” Claudette told him, “and I’ll wash my togs too, make them cleaner than they’ve been since yuletime!”

“Can I come too?” he asked, “I mean, I’m planning on going myself. On an adventure taking me away from Shingleton and all the folks as live in it, away from my dad and his belt and birch rods, away from everything.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” muttered Claudette, “but truth to tell I want to go on my own. It’ll be safer that way, ‘cause they’re bound to look for me. I heard my ma saying it’s about time I had a nipper of my own, someone who can scrub the place when I’m in the fields, and that’s not for me!”

“So I can’t go with you?”

“If you don’t mind...”

“Then,” he said spitefully, “I’ll go an’ tell ‘em where you are! I can’t have a sissy girl doing me out of my freedom, ‘cause you would, you’d get all girly and start crying and I couldn’t cope with that. No ma’am, I couldn’t.”

“I’m no sissy!” she hissed, “but I tell you what. Say we both go off together before it’s properly dark and then, when we’ve gone so far, say after a day, we split up and go our separate ways, you wherever you want to go and me, well, I’m gonna reach out for life!”

“I ain’t reachin’ for anything!” he protested, then he understood her meaning. “Okay then, Claudette, After one day we’ll split up, you and me, and take our own chances on our own. But you might have to go slow. I’m a bit awkward, you know, that leg me dad smashed last yuletide when he were out of his skull. It still don’t work proper, like, an’ it hurts a lot.”

For a moment she felt a surge of sympathy for the battered boy who they said couldn’t think any more, then, angrily, she shook it off.

“One day and no more then,” she said, and couldn’t see his almost happy grin in the slurry of their temporary hiding place.

© Peter Rogerson 20.09.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on September 20, 2020
Last Updated on September 20, 2020
Tags: boy, girl, teenage, dung escape


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 76 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..