3. A First Night of Freedom

3. A First Night of Freedom

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



The ragged night wore on as Claudette forced herself to move on, vomit mixed with decomposing turds dribbling down her face and her heart sickened by the brief but very final violence shown to Bish and knowing she had been just a smidgen away from it herself. It might have happened, she knew that much. The miracle was the savage man hadn’t seen her, but then he was the worse from drink and half blinded by it and irrational anger. She knew that much from the way her mother got night after night until she ran out of a revolting sort of turnip gin, and then she just wept.

But if things had been different and he’d caught even a glimpse of her she’d have been used as women usually are in the rough dark night, then left to die, or even killed there and then. Or if the stench of her had troubled the man and he wanted no tale of the murder of Bish going beyond the square yard they were standing in, he could easily and at no trouble to himself have taken her life from her. It’s what men did.

Keeping as silent as she could she slithered away, hoping that the night would absorb any trace of her going. She had that much sense and hopefully a great deal more.

When she was sure she was safe she fought the undergrowth for greater speed, kicked at shadows, swore at nothing as she struggled through the night. Owls hooted at the scent of her, that foul, repulsive farmyard scent that she was almost oblivious to now that her senses had absorbed it to saturation. One brave white owl swooped to take a specially close look then called crassly, warning other owls that it might be best to steer clear of the struggling putrescence.

What passed for footwear, you could never suggest that the rags round her feet remotely related to shoes, fell away in tatters and her feet started to bleed. But she was oblivious to that, careless of the way her feet were tormented by the forest floor and its hidden traps set for unwary feet by nature herself. And after half a lifetime of fighting exhaustion a glimmer in the east told her dawn wasn’t so far away.

She flung herself onto the ground, and even she with her world-weary knowledge, wept. And she was still weeping when she was numbed by her own tears to sleep.

The sun rose brightly and she slept on, haunted by lives in her dreams. Other lives, Bish and his dead sister, gaunt in the dawning, sat hunched together, faces bleeding, hearts pumping to death and then bloodied faces falling off. And she wept at their sorrow because she guessed there must be sorrow in death.

Maybe, the dream then suggested, death is an improvement on life. Tales are told, her mind reminded her, that there is another land that people go to when they die, a perfect place of green fields and singing, of birds flying like coloured marvels through blue skies, and the only fragrance is from flowers blooming the whole year round. And maybe, who can tell? But maybe an honest lord on his golden thrown bestowing gifts on everyone, sweetmeats to eat that make the mouth water with joy. But is there any such thing as an honest lord?

Her dreams shrunk because she knew there couldn’t be, or she would have heard tell of one. Maybe a skipping joyous friend, a girl of course, because she was a girl, would have told of a kindly father or gentle uncle, but she’d not heard tell of any such thing wonder.

She had an uncle, didn’t she? And he was never gentle when he barged in and had his way with her drunken mother before descending on her when she was too drunk for his intentions…

She wanted to forget that, but she couldn’t. The reality of it penetrated her dreams and she screamed, loud, deafening screams, tearing the morning light with the very sound of them…

That uncle was her mother’s brother, and he had her often enough. Had she known enough of the magic of life and the facts that bound it together she would have known that her uncle was also her father… but truths like that are hidden by ignorance, and she was ignorant.

Child, what is it?” asked a voice suddenly, a whisper soothing her vicious dreams, and she heard it. Maybe she thought of waking up, but she didn’t. Instead she lay there and listened for what else it was going to say.

Sweet girl, you smell terribly bad,” it said, and its tones were so sweet and the sympathy, what did she know of sympathy other than falsehoods designed to trap, false words woven by those who might wish her harm?

She opened her eyes one at the time.

The woman was sitting on the back of a horse. She’d heard of such things, but had never seen one. Sitting on the back of a horse like a splendid knight searching for miscreants or taxes, riding through Shingleton like a demon with a flashing sword. A knight, yes, but not a woman.

And she was smiling a strange sort of smile, half twisted and half real. Claudette knew one thing for certain, having learned very little in her dozen or so years: if something seems good it is bad and if it seems bad it is worse. It was a law of nature akin to the rising of the sun or the setting of the moon.

You need a good wash,” said the woman, smiling on her horseback, dressed in finery like Claudette had never dreamed of, silks that gleamed beneath the sun. Not real things like hessian, but finery she’d never guessed could be anywhere under the sun.

There were questions Claudette wanted to ask, but knew in her heart she didn’t have the words. So, feeling sick as a beaten dog she picked up her dung-encrusted skirts and tried to run. To run away. Get away, for no good could ever come from women in finery, for they’re not women at all, not scrubbing or tilling or tending the pottage with weeds from the roadside and the inevitable turnips and coarse grain. No, they’re nightmare visions promising only deceit.

She pulled herself upright and vomited.

You poor child,” whispered the horse, or was it the woman? Horse or woman, it might have been either, but she hadn’t the time to work it out.

Run, her brain told her, and run she did. Not quickly and not far until the blackness of night returned, her eyes closed involuntarily, and she fell down again and saw nothing.

Stupid girl,” sighed the fine lady, and slowly, avoiding the girl in order to keep well away from the fragrance that was drifting in clouds from her, she rode away towards a very fine house indeed.

© Peter Rogerson, 22.09.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on September 22, 2020
Last Updated on September 22, 2020
Tags: fine woman, finery, horseback, escape, collapse, incest


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..