TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
SCHERZO - STAVE LIII
S T A V E
“Binah!” A cramping, coming once, coming twice and then another and another. “Binah!” She took forever though just outside.
Binah put the basin to her. The discharge seeped out, then a spurt. Obedience, ashen, shook and Binah, with care, swabbed between her legs. The contractions kept coming; Obedience’s face crimped, her hair soaked against her head and her heart beating in her ears.
“Is it over?”
“Mostly.” Binah wiped her clean then went to the burning hearth and threw in the rags and contents. They hissed.
Obedience shivered, the rope bed squealing. Binah wrapped her in blankets and closed the tin lantern. Time for Dark. And sat at Obedience’s side, drying her face.
“Am I going to die?” Obedience teary. “I feel so strange, like coming out of my body.”
Binah took her clammy hand. “I’ll hold you fast.” She looked about for a mist, then prayed no owl be outside the window.
On a hearth crane, a kettle bubbled over. Binah made a tea of lemon balm and mint. “Drink this.”
“Am I going to die? Is God punishing me?”
Binah listened – no owl.
“Well, He might, but I think that’s laudanum talking.” She checked between Obedience’s legs. “You get no more blood, you’ll be fine. And pray you don’t pus.”
“Pus is good, doctors say,” Obedience mumbled.
“Yeah, and they bleed you till you’re bone dry. You rest awhile, then back to your bed. The Misses finds us and we’ll both be dead. And go before the Devil’s Hour lest evil come.”
They snuck across the yard, Binah bolstering Obedience. A cool night for late summer, the house windows open. No light in the Grishams’ room – Mr. G. away again and Mrs. in the habit of laudanum before turning in. Yet, never was the yard so long. Above, a waning gibbous skirting thin clouds and the constellations winking. There be the gods, the angels, Jesus and Mary – they’d seen what she’d done. Should it matter? The term was early – no beating heart, no fingers, no ‘Quickening’ the Clergy or the law could say . . . She would’ve done it still had It taken shape, had It kicked to announce its Presence. Even if It cried as Its nasty little life poured out – like the nasty life that had put It in her. Who’s innocent?
God’s punishing me. He must and Unjust if He’s not – a feckless God, not worth attention.
She touched her womb. What does a woman feel? How should a woman feel? She didn’t care. All the women can go to Hell for what they feel whether they kill their whelps or not. God saw. And she saw.
A noise sounded from a patch of black in the corner of the brick wall cording off the yard. Nothing loud, but a rustle of cloth as one might find when moving an arm. Binah paused and the hair on her neck like a hackle. They stared. The moon flickered behind passing clouds dappling the yard in blue light.
“What is it?” Obedience whispered.
Binah tussled them the scant ten feet to the kitchen steps.
“What did you see?” Obedience breathed, their backs press behind the closed door. “What did you see?”
“Nothing, but I felt it. This is a night best be over.”
They crept up the backstairs. On the second floor they could hear Mrs. Grisham snoring.
“Thank you,” Obedience said once in her room, “and I’ll pay you.”
“Yes, mistress, you certainly will. Rest now.”
“I never want to sleep with a man again.”
“No,” Obedience said. “No more of this – never again.”
“Yes, mistress.” Binah went to the door.
“Binah, what was out there?”
“A shadow . . . Go to sleep –”
Elliot led her down St Anne Street, her head spinning. The Four Farthings blocks behind. No time to think. Nothing she wanted to think. Just get there lest her conscience start working – what’s volition when a fire’s in your head?
It was a shed, if she remembered, a lean-to with meal bags, ropes and pulleys. A peculiar stink of wheat dust and sour fermentation, not a chamber she would pick for lovemaking, but she was drunk and when drunk, didn’t much care – get to the adventure. Though a strange thing as he took her by the hand – he rubbed her knuckle gently with his fingers, almost tender.
In the room, she took the prerogative, dropping to her knees with her face square in front of his breeches, her fingers unbuttoning his fly. She’ll do it ‘cause that’ll be what he expects – what they all seem to like – roll back the hood and close the eyes. And what did it matter, it was just a muscle and skin, what did it matter she hated doing it – the fat thing.
He stopped her in the middle of it, kissed her hand and laid her down. He undressed and when naked, put her arms about him, letting her feel the scars as if her touch could heal them. She could barely reach about, his body hard, like touching pig iron, and the scent of the tannery in his skin that couldn’t be washed out. Her fingers glided over the abrasions and probed into the marks of a man that should be dead. And then her mind flashed to the way she’d embraced the boys at fourteen and then how in an instant they held her down.
“Don’t hurt me,” she whispered, properly, then pensively, with fear, then panic. “Don’t hurt me.” Her nails scored his leathery scars. “Let me go. Let me go.” He tried to kiss her, a sweet redeeming kiss. She pushed him off. He grabbed her by the hair and pinched her breast. She kneed him in the groin. Then rushed out to St Anne’s Lane down to Old Pye and Billy.
She never told him and he never asked.
The next morning, heads filled with bees, Obedience and Billy, lying naked and sticky in bed, made a Pact – she’d never sing again and he’d be kind and never strike her. Her bruised cheek healed. She never dealt with Elliot again and put it out of her head. After all, he hadn’t had her and she, the Good Wife. But Elliot ever present, lurking ‘round corners, stalking ‘bout The Acre, across Town, on the ocean, and Here –
In days before they marched down to Spithead, she’d visit Westminster. A mysterious sanctuary, she thought, whose threshold Elliot could not pass. She would go to a minor chapel to sit at the feet of the Virgin Mary, a spit on the New Awakening, but a comfort, Mary’s face. She sought that image now for a door had opened to another realm. What Creature might walk in?