The current issue (July) of Writing Magazine includes my story which won first prize in a Writers' News competition on the theme of 'Comeuppance'. Being familiar with my darkish short stories, some of my writing group could quite see why I entered! The story is She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, told by a chap who watches his own funeral and the aftermath, and involves a naughty wife, a cardigan, a chubby chancer and a pink leather jacket.
I was also awarded second place in a competition run by our city council & their 'depot'. This one was The Butchers, and since I'm vegetarian I put the boot into them but as sweetly as I could.
Then I realised that I haven't, as it were, spread myself around in a literary way. So here is a short story (760w) from my first collection, Bottles and Pots. Not all are historical, and length ranges from flash fiction to 3,000w or so. Hope you like it.
ST ANSELM’S DAY
The people of Fordwich held a festival each year on the feast day of St Anselm.
He was their much-loved eleventh-century local saint, once archbishop of nearby Canterbury and now interred in the cathedral. Each year on April 21st the servants at the manor house were granted the day off, as were the labourers; shopkeepers and merchants closed their doors. Even lords and ladies from other manor houses would mingle with the crowd in the market place. And this year, 1263, events had been meticulously planned, for local records suggested that Anselm was canonised exactly one hundred years earlier.
Milo Chaloner had lived in Fordwich all his life, as had his wife, Estrild. At this time they had been married for some ten years, and had been reasonably comfortable together, although there remained silent shadows in the background. Still, like others, they and their three children were looking forward to the next day’s festival. There had been another child, but he had died during his first weeks after crying bitterly and often during his brief time. As was usual for little ones, his body, wrapped in its christening gown, had been taken to an ancient oak outside the village. A small tomb had been hollowed out for him within its massive trunk, and Estrild had gently placed him within, watching and weeping as the elders sealed the tomb with pieces of the bark held together by mortar. His remains would feed the tree in the months to come.
Now Estrild was preparing the slaughtered pig, a job she loathed but it was expected of her.
“You’re doing the hog roast again this year, Milo?” she asked, without looking up.
“Aye. And the brewer’s supplying the ale.”
“Anyone helping you with the roast? I’d rather not, myself.”
“When you say ‘anyone’ …?”
“I mean Alwyn. He usually helps you.”
“Aye, and he helps himself, too. Not only to the meat, neither.”
Estrild’s knife slipped and cut her hand. He watched as she went to find cloth for a bandage.
On the day itself, the weather was fine. The maypole dances went well, with just the occasional knotting of ribbons, and much ale was bought and drunk. The Greene Man was splendid in his costume of branches, leaves and grasses, and he lit the bonfire as the day wore on. The travelling fortune-teller told Estrild that there had been sadness – of course everyone knew about the baby – but said there was more to come and dismissed her without taking her silver.
Two farm hands helped Milo with the hog roast, but Estrild had no interest. Alwyn had stayed away, and she was sorry. She did not mention him further to Milo.
As evening fell, the villagers formed a group and began, as was traditional, to walk the boundary of the village, laying their hands upon established trees in thanks and reciting prayers to St Anselm around any that held living tombs.
As they approached the Chaloner baby’s tree, Estrild held on to Milo’s arm as the tears welled up. But his arm was stiff and he could not offer comfort. The prayer was said and the group moved on, but not before the Greene Man had noted some dislodged mortar. There was whispering and later he, with two others, returned to the tree. They studied the mortar carefully, and it was decided that the tomb must be checked.
The replaced bark pieces were removed, and they peered inside. The body of the baby was decayed while the gown was in fair form, but doubled up and pressed against it was another that should not have been. A man, not long placed.
“That looks to me like Alwyn,” said one of the farm hands.
“It’s Alwyn all right,” said the other. And so it was.
The news spread quickly back to the group, and they were shocked. Alwyn had been a striking young man who featured in the dreams of many of the local girls, though as far as anyone knew, he had not taken up an offer in the village. There were rumours of a lover, possibly in Canterbury itself, but no proof.
Estrild was grief-stricken once again, and Milo spoke harshly.
“It’s months since we lost the child. You’ve three others to look after, and they need you to be strong. So be strong.”
As Estrild made her way tearfully to their bedchamber, she heard Milo muttering but could not make out his words.
“Best thing for the bastard child. Together with his father until the tree be felled.”