Monday, April 14, 2014

Excerpt from Poison is a Woman's Game by Marilyn Watson

1677

Darkness had come early to the underbelly of Paris. A small street leading off the Rue Thevenol to a spot known as the Cour des Miracles hid a wretched corner of Paris. In its seamy misery were beggars, thieves and prostitutes. The wretched hovels that surrounded the Rue St. Denis and the Court housed these families that bred and lived like infestations on Paris. In doorways there were shadowy figures as women finished their transactions clutching a few coins in their hands. A quick fumble in the dark, a swish of their petticoat as they finished with each Man, moving on looking for the next Customer.

One with a large belly staggered down the Street grunting as she looked for a place to rest. Her face was young and lined with pain. Unable to perform, she had not eaten all day. In a dark doorway, the gaudy figure of a Woman pointed at her stomach screeching, “Amalie you’ll never work with a brat; you’re a fool,” spitting in disdain at her feet.

“Pute” snarled the girl. Her tone ferocious as the other Woman rose menacingly to her feet. She walked quickly, not stopping, for dusk was beginning to fall; the mist coming off the pavement gave an eerie glow to her surroundings.

She had no time for a fight. The strong need to rest kept her agitated, looking for a cool place to sit and relieve the pain.

Out of the shadows, a form glided up to her. “Here, you need help; come with me.” He placed a hand on her shivering shoulders.

She looked up at him with tired eyes. “Why would you help me, Father? I am a harlot.”

“Do not speak of yourself that way, Child. I help all those who have sinned; it’s God’s will. It was through no choice of your own. You needed to eat. The coins kept your belly filled. Come with me.” His voice was kind, and she so badly needed it at this moment.

She muttered under her breath, “Oh God,”… but pain was driving her to find shelter. “The Babe,” he grasped her hard by the elbow, “is it to be born soon?”

“Soon, yes,” she gasped as a moan escaped her. “I need to find a place…somewhere.” She looked around. The Streets were grimy and wet; urine and rotten sewage reeked from the corners.

“Not here.” He led her down an evil smelling back lane, “I know someone that will help you,” he muttered, “it’s close.” His arm urged her down the rough cobblestone lane.

“Who would help the likes of me?” her voice broke. She bit her lip as her eyes watered.

“A midwife.” He whispered in her ear, “Someone who can deliver. Come.” His voice was urgent. He led her bulky form by the arm, keeping in the inky darkness down one street and another till they came to a small house. Entering from the back without knocking, he dragged her quickly through a door.

“Quick,” he said to a woman neatly dressed in black, “she is in labor.” He motioned to her belly, “Soon to bear a Child.” He nodded his head to her, “Old mother, can you help?”

The Woman grinned at him nodding her head. Showing no surprise, she led them to a back room that smelled of herbs and something stronger.

The sense of excitement from him transmitted to the Woman. “She’ll come out of this strong. It’ll be a healthy baby for her,” winking at him. “A lively one, “she muttered to herself.

Sweating and grunting, her face moist with pain, it seemed hours to Amalie before the Child came. He came with a rush, his pink face screaming in a wide- open, gusty wail.

“Here,” the young Woman, who had been selling her body just a day before. “Let me suckle him. It will quiet him. ”She reached her arms for him her face still flushed.

“You want to hold him? No, you need to give him up.” the midwife cackled. “He can’t be following you around while every man pays for his pleasure. You need money. I can get you gold coins for him. Take the money and buy bread.” She turned looking at her intensely, “it’s no life for a babe.”

The forlorn, beaten girl, old before her time, thought it over and slowly nodded. “But you will keep him safe. I don’t want him to live on the streets like I do.” Her face pleaded. Looking at the baby, “Is he healthy?”

“You are young.” The Midwife wiped her hands on her black dress. “A lusty boy—he might have a place here.” She grinned at the Priest, “I’ll take care of it.” Studying the girl’s face, “You need to drink something,” bending over a vial. “This will help the pain.” She handed her a glass filled with a bitter demi-vin wine. “I make it myself, “the little Lady nodded, “It’ll make you feel better.”

“It’s bitter,” the girl swallowed more. ” But if it’ll help the pain.” She drank letting the last drop run down her mouth in haste. Wiping it with the back of her hand, she grimaced.

“Rest a bit; then you can leave,” pointing to the girl. Picking up the baby, she scooped up an old cloth and put him in it. She pointed, “Here put it in this,” to the Priest, and they left the room.

Outside the door he murmured, “I told you I’d get you one.”

Lying there, Amalie felt a prick of unease. She decided to follow them. Something was wrong. The looks were not seemly between a Priest and the likes of her. She raised herself painfully to her feet. Holding onto the edge of a table she felt her head spin. She was dizzy from the loss of blood. Her hands were soiled but strong as she steadied herself. This was her first birth. She had been careful to use vinegar to prevent any births except this time. Pain shot through her legs slowing her down. She forced herself to move, dragging one foot after the other. Passing a dirty baby blanket, she snatched it up, smelling another baby recently here. It still held the sour smell of urine and something else.

Down the hallway, the two whisperings gave her chills. They weren’t coming back with the coins to buy bread. It was more likely they planned to cut her throat.

She staggered down the hallway holding onto the wall. Through the open door she saw her baby. He lay in an open room with no blanket or covering. She walked toward him and reached for him, cuddling his warm little body while she held the blanket twisted in her hand.

The edges of the room shadowed to black. Someone was coming. Amalie trembled as she put the sleeping baby back on the table. Breathing became difficult as though her neck was being squeezed tightly. She staggered to the door, wiping away her sweat to see, finally grasping the doorknob. Escape was at hand—she felt the knob turn under her fingers and a rush of cold air on her face. The stomach spasms were worse as she bent over vomiting, finally falling on the ground in convulsions. The coins. What use were they?

“Not far here, look out the back for her…no, wait you fool. People are coming, I must go greet them. You go and make the Altar presentable. What difference does it make to the child now?”


1 comment:

D. D. Falvo said...

Oh, no! Oh no, oh no, oh no! You can't leave us hanging like that. A very exciting beginning. <3