Snowcase #4 • 13 August 2007 • The SnowBlog
Here's a snowcase submission from Caroline called Kill-Grief, in which an 18th-century nurse finds that no amount of rotgut gin can help her escape her crime-filled past.
Caroline says: "I live in Buckinghamshire and I'm currently getting away without having a day job, instead dossing about at home looking after my baby son."
(I can't wait to read all of this one - sounds great!) Chapter 1
Chester, 3rd January 1756
Narrowed eyes watched her from across the street. High up in the confines of Cornmarket Row, she gripped the oak railing and returned the stare.
Rain gusted into the walkway and numbed her lips. The eyes narrowed further, as if she were the first darkenings of a horizon, and her knuckles whitened on the rail.
Mary feigned distraction at the drunkards who laughed and skittered on the mud below. Squawks of geese grated in her ears and the sulphurous stench of the gutters surged and ebbed with the wind.
Tightness gathered in her stomach. The man did not move. Slumped against a shop wall, he rested his stubbly head on the bricks, heedless of the people who skirted round his legs.
Hark at you - gawping at a scabby beggar! Mary took up her bag. A few more days in the city and she would ignore him like the rest of them. She hurried on.
Cursing drivers, bellowing poultry hawkers, beer-fuelled brawlers - the city seemed made of gaping mouths. Stumps of teeth as rotten as taters, gums mashed by scurvy, noses crumpled by the pox. Mary squeezed round a horde of men outside a tavern, their armpits level with her nostrils. Beyond their oniony heat and the blast of ale fumes, the air chilled her face.
Then she stopped and looked back. The beggar's gaze had followed her, as folk always said of portraits. She blew out a long sigh. Sometimes the tangle under her ribs writhed so hard she thought of cutting it out with a knife.
A church clock tolled close by. Eleven. Damn. She had promised she would be there by then. Down on the street, away from the shelter of the Row, muck splashed her stockings and seeped through to her legs. The beggar shoved back his sleeves and thrust his arms into the rain, wringing his face into a grimace. Scabs and weeping blisters pitted his skin.
You'll have to deal with worse than him. His stare made Mary's neck itch. A rut, frozen beneath the dirt, made her stumble and swear. The man showed his teeth in a yellow grin, dragged himself up and strolled towards her.
Mary clattered up the steps of the Northgate Street Row, her breath quickening. She had nothing to give him - he must be able to see that. Why did he not follow the gentleman with the gold-threaded hat, or grab watches from the waists of the vast hooped petticoats that blocked the walkways? But then she felt for her pocket. The lump of coins was still there, from the pound he had given her.
This second storey of shops looked smarter. Too smart for her. She hesitated.
Do you think yourself better, Mary?
But she slipped into the nearest doorway and waited for the beggar to pass. He scratched his hands as he walked, his nails dislodging clusters of scabs.
Author: Caroline Rance