A CASE IN POINT

(Amazon) 2011
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)

WOMAN OF THE CENTURY

 

IF YOU'RE NOT DOING IT TO SOMEONE...THEY'RE DOING IT TO YOU.

A woman dies celebrating the arrival of the twenty-first century beneath a spectacular fireworks display on the river Thames. It is the end of a story that arcs across one hundred years of poverty, neglect, war, peace, family deceit, lost childhood, sudden wealth, violent and philandering lovers, gentle and patient husbands, inspiring mentors, ungrateful children, supportive friends and predatory women. It is played out across three continents, against the backdrop of the creative and complex world of painting and the emergence of modern art.

Spanning a period of massive transformation, we share the journey of a woman who makes her own choices and pays for her own mistakes. In doing so she learns that time provides the opportunity for redemption, allowing her to repent of, correct and compensate for her all too human life choices.

The story takes us from London to Paris to the Orient, Canada, America and back again. It opens fresh doors to the world of art; flappers, bohemians, beatniks and hippies; booze, drugs and sex; dysfunctional families and painful sacrifices through the hope of growing up, the dissatisfaction of youth, the responsibilities of middle age, the fear of growing old and the inevitability of death. Somewhere in the mess of getting on with life, there is something to believe in, a reason to endure.

BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE.

1900

She was induced to arrive a full six weeks early, summoned to the world by the last echoes of the big bell dying away in the cold, night air. She emerged, scrambling out of the womb and onto the hard, scrubbed, wooden table, squalling as soon as her head breached, huffing, sneezing and snorting, in a big hurry to get somewhere, quivering between her mother’s blood-smeared legs, vibrating with an insatiable hunger, a desperate craving, screaming like a banshee, covered in red and blue embryonic slime, traces of amniotic fluid glowing with luminous vitality on the full mane of her wet, black hair. She positively glistened under the yellow gaslight.

‘For the love of Christ! Keep the bairn quiet! Someone’ll be hearin’ it,’ Frank Hunter rasped from the other side of the blanket that had been draped over a slack rope across the middle of the tiny room to give his wife some modicum of privacy. He had been waiting for several hours on a hard chair, a small bottle of whisky wrapped in brown paper, clutched in his nervous, black stained fist, his pipe clenched hard between his crooked, brown teeth. At twenty-two, he was young, but still almost a decade older than the baby’s mother. His eyes were barely visible beneath his prominent brow, jumping from side to side at the back of the dark sockets on either side of his long, crooked nose. His narrow shoulders were already slumped under the weary, trademark stoop, common among boot makers.

‘Shush!’ Irene hissed back, not knowing quite what to make of the newborn she lifted from the table. She had never seen such an energetic infant, arms and legs churning, so eager to breath, to smell, to suck at her mother’s milk. She marvelled at such instinctive enthusiasm as she cut and sutured the umbilical cord, holding the squalling infant upside down over the kitchen sink, washing away the bloody placenta with freshly boiled, warm water and towelling the baby dry with a soft, flannel sheet. She checked eyes, nose, mouth and counted fingers and toes. When thoroughly satisfied that everything was as it should be, she turned and laid the child on her mother’s breast, covering both with a freshly laundered, woollen blanket before glancing at the small watch pinned to her blood stained smock. It ticked silently, second by second, relentlessly nibbling into the night. Out in the dark, beyond the cracked and soot caked windows, distant voices floated up from the narrow streets, carrying desperate, drunken greetings, celebrating the arrival of the first year of the new century.

‘Ah! You’ll not be doin’ that!’ Frank barked, tearing back the curtain, bearing down on the kitchen table where his young wife lay, pale and depleted. He threw back the woollen blanket and scooped the wailing infant out of her flannel. ‘You’ll no be startin’ motherin’ with this‘un. I’ll be takin’ the wee beastie now!’

‘You be careful with her,’ Irene cried all aflutter. ‘She’s not one of your old boots.’

‘What does it matter?’ Frank spat back. He had little appetite for what had to be done, but he squeezed his heart shut, swallowed hard, picked up a dirty, black, burlap sack and dropped the naked baby into it. ‘There’ll be no keepin’ this‘un. It’s the coal sack and the river. You agreed the bargain.’

Irene reached down to her helpless sister and gripped her hand hard, biting her tongue to keep from crying out for help.

‘Clean up this mess proper. We can’ne have any blood or the like left for some old, nosey parker to be findin’,’ Frank snarled as he slammed the door on his way out.

Down the steep stairs he went, two at a time, terrified that he would bump into one of his neighbours and have to explain why he was lurking about on this New Year’s Eve, a squirming coal sack in his hand. The infant would not be still. He was tempted to swing the sack against the wall to quieten the condemned child within but could not bring himself to execute the brutal act of violence so he screwed up the bag tighter and tighter until the wriggling and mewing ceased. He decided that if anyone stopped him, he would say that he was taking unwanted kittens to be thrown in the river. It was not so very far from the truth.

From darkened doorway to darkened doorway, from shadow to shadow, through the deserted streets he scuttled, crossing the pavement when he had to avoid any chance of an encounter with random, wandering revellers who might ask him to join in a chorus of Auld Lang Sign. He was lucky to reach the bottom of Flood Street without incident. Darting along the little lawn on Cheyne Walk, across Grosvenor Road, he ran onto the Albert Bridge. The Thames growled beneath him like some hungry animal, sucking at the bones of London. Frank swung the sack over the railings and dangled it above the dark, bubbling water. Yet, before letting go, he paused, checking in both directions for any unwelcome witnesses. All was quiet. He was alone.

About to release the sack from his frozen fingers, he heard a mewing, a tiny, persistent mewing. It came from the sack. The squirming had stopped but the mewing persisted. It was a pathetic, pleading sound, like a kitten seeking its mother, which gradually intensified into a howl, a desperate, lamenting, otherworldly howl. The hairs on the nape of Frank’s neck stood erect like long grass caught by the wind. He tried to let go of the bag but his fingers would not release their grip. He tried again and still his gnarled hands remained glued to the sack. Then he heard the footsteps. His eyes darted hither and yon but he could see not a soul. He quickly snatched the bag back up over the railings, hunkered down as small as he could get and waited for the footsteps to slowly fade into the distance before he unravelled the knotted burlap and opened it. There she lay, tiny, naked, vulnerable, innocent, covered in black coal dust, bleating like a newborn lamb.

He picked her up in his hard hands and looked down at the so tiny baby, no bigger than the flat of his calloused palm. He held her up under the moonlight, licked his stained fingertip and passed it across the child’s belly, clearing a line in the grimy soot, revealing the milky, white skin beneath, his fear and apprehension evaporating as he beheld the extraordinary creature wriggling and mewing in his upturned palm. He blinked, swallowed hard and stuffed her inside his coat, cradling her beneath his armpit. She quieted immediately. He ran all the way home, fast and without hesitation or doubt.

When he let himself back into the room, Mabel was still lying upon the table where he had left her. Irene was leaning over her, holding a spoon of steaming broth to her sister’s lips. They both fixed their eyes upon him with a look, terrible and accusing. When he opened his coat and pulled the baby from beneath his arm, their faces lit up with delighted relief. Mabel cried out.

‘I could’na do it,’ Frank said with profound and sincere contrition. ‘She’s a wee’un but she’s got the fight, the need, of a full grown. Oh aye, Mabs, you done good. I guess we’ll keep ‘er. She’s right bonny. Nay bigger than a wee bunny.’

The name stuck. From that moment on, everybody called her Bunny, and over time her registered name was forgotten by everyone except her mother.

Bunny's whole story is available on Amazon

WOMAN OF
THE CENTURY

(Amazon) 2012
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)

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