LOOKING FOR THE WITCHES (Part 4 of 11)

DAYLIFE

Agnes Hamond of Hadleigh: she

she gets herself through the worst times by remembering the best.

God save the Queen!” It’s thirty years ago to the day and they’re not hitting her, they’re not.

And everything smells nice for a change! These shitty streets have been cleaned up and even old John Brewer’s had a bath, he’s made an effort!

Midday: somewhere words are being intoned. A new word is being born.

But here: Elizabethans as of today we throng and our words are raucous, we don’t do solemnity round these parts. And why should we on a day like this?!

The Bousfield boy from up her street tries his luck: “Fancy going to the fair with me, Agnes?”

She laughs a laugh that is simultaneously cruelhard and flirty: “Not in a million years!”

I won’t want you in a million years; how’s about today now the weather’s nice?”

She laughs. She keeps walking, away: it’s the coldest day of the year, this year or any other, she crunches and sometimes slips through snow, she doesn’t drop the crate she’s carrying, full of little cakes to sell. She doesn’t feel cold: no-one could, on a day like this!

We will laugh, we will play!

On Coronation, Coronation,

Coronation Day.

Everywhere bells are ringing. Everywhere St. George’s cross. Everywhere the three lions.

Somewhere she is speaking: Queen Glory! The Goddess Queen, married to England! She of the famed virginity! Founder of a Church! They tried to kill her but she prevailed! They tried to lock her away, she prevailed! Ascender! Reunify this nation and bring peace to it! Defend the True Religion!

She loves you!

She is Wisdom, she bears the means of Judgement. An end to superstition and ignorance! She covers her made-the-most-of cleavage with a Bible, she adopts radical positions, she wins wars! Golden Age! Dawn of Empire!

We will sing, we will play!

On Coronation, Coronation,

Coronation Day.

Here: on a day astrologically determined by her man Dee who charts the oceans and orders the angels, here on a bittercold day in which no-one complains not even once about the weather, today! today! today! we glow, jewelbright in our ardours and devotions, grey is gold today! We are the celebrants, alive! alive! we are the never-ever-ever-to-be-slaves, and in the midst of this Agnes takes cakes from a box and lays them out artfully upon trays, she exchanges the cakes for metal.

And and somewhere they’re still hitting her, hitting they they hit her and and she goes out of her body again: the world. It stops. Turning.

And oh what a sight to see! Skaters on the Thames! On Elizabeth’s day, the first of her many days!

We will dance, we will play!

On Coronation, Coronation,

Coronation Day.

England! Parties radiate out from Westminster but there’s no party like our party. Is she not the much-maligned-but-never-by-us daughter of the great Anne Boleyn, and was not the much-missed Anne born just five minutes up the road from here in Rochford, did she not come regularly to visit our castle? I knew her personally.

And there’s music, the music! and crowds, the crowds! and there’s a bear in a cage, there are dancing girls, even poor Sally’s out today, twisted-neck Sally sitting alone by the castle wishing someone would look at her in a nice way: but when they look they see she’s all wrong, they stop looking. “How are you, Sal, you alright?” villagers say but they never stop or slow as they say it. And more dancing girls! and the finest foods and drinks and there’s this and there’s that, all around the castle’s grounds but sweep with your eyes and see them celebrating in Leigh, see distant banners and streamers sagging from windows, “In our own way we’re all rich!” they seem to say; look the other way, see crowds on Canvey Island where a Moor is barefist-fighting the best of the local boys: today we’re all England, even over the water, there, out and across the frosted Thames on which some of us stand, today’s a day men walk on water! – across, occupying under a white sky the horizon, Kent, even they’re not so bloody bad! To be English on a day like this!

More drinks. There’s a bit of a scuffle over by the bushes but it gets broken up.

We will feast, we will play!

On Coronation, Coronation,

Coronation Day.

And Agnes sells stuff, and she sells stuff, and sells stuff, and sells stuff, and sells, she sells, and sells and sells and sells and she sells, she sells, she sells, sells and she sells. And she sells. And she sells. And sells. And sells, and she sells, she sells, she sells, she sells, she sells, she sells, she sells, she sells, sells, she sells. Around her, the gay pageantry; vignettes of Henry VIII – and Anne! – are paraded; sumptuous tapestries! And it snows, it does! for about an hour, joyjoy snow, we’re all children again, even old Tom Marshall stops moaning! Then it stops snowing and the temperature dips as the day proceeds but no-one is cold, we warm ourselves with reverence and alcohol. Old men weep with gladness to have seen a day like this. The giving and getting of flowers! – Agnes receives lots. But then she gets shouted at: daydreaming! Agnes, look: all the trays in front of her are empty!

She’s sent running back to the house, Nanna must have made up another two or three batches by now, she’ll be wondering where Agnes has got to, Agnes is hurrying along bump-road past more girls dancing, past a passed-out drunk, past cats burned in wicker cages to let the Devil know he’s not welcome here.

Halfway up Castle Lane: the party far behind her, she dashes into the disturbing heat of her house.

Noise from another room, Nanna’s hard at work, hasn’t heard Agnes come in. Fires burning in the kitchen. An only-on-a-day-like-this silence in every room and outside.

Pastry smell and sugar.

Agnes, catching her breath, her heartfast beating, doesn’t know why she feels like crying. Doesn’t know why she…

She tells herself she’s adjusting her skirt. She leans back against a wall, bits of it coldsharp against bits of her, her skin, she tells herself, she’s adjusting her skirt.

She adjusts her, she makes nice little retractions and advances. She bites her lip she gets her breathing all confused.

Her mouth is dry. Her eyes roll. She farts several times. Mn she hips she nicelygently hips but then her mouth makes itself open and her other hand that’s been palming back against wall slips and all of her tumbles, she knocks nothingmuch off a shelf onto the floor, “Is that you, Agnes?” – the loudest burst of words she’s ever heard but it’s not just words there are dangerdanger feet coming too but Agnes is quicking her hands out of her quick she’s standing up straight she adjusts her skirt, “There you are,” Nanna thrusts a big fat pie into her hands. “Cherry; get that to yer dad before they…”

But Mum said I have to…”

Nanna raises a hand: Agnes hurries back outside, carries the pie up the rest of Castle Lane away from the castle and the sea-view, there’s some other action going on at the house on the corner: sixteen men in a room and all hungering for dessert. “Cherry pie,” she announces cordially, the room makes noises in total agreement. Her face is flushed red but why wouldn’t it be? She hands her dad the cake and tells them there’s more to come. Her dad’s proud of her, asks her to stay for a bit, glasses need filling up, custard on the cake, that sort of thing, she doesn’t protest. Her dad’s friends like her and she likes them: they talk to her, she knows when to say “Yes,” she also knows “No,” “I don’t know,” “Maybe!” “[Giggle!]” and “Oh, please!” She knows how to grin and how to ungrin; when they get bored with her she stands patiently against the wall waiting to be told what to do, fill a half-empty glass or dispose of the bones of a slaughtered bird or… as around her they talk and talk and drink, they discuss the day. “E.R!” lewdgrins Benjamin Wallys: “Elizabeth Vagina!” That gets a laugh every time he says it.

They say she’s a virgin!”

Twenty-five and never been touched!”

I’d show her how it’s done!” – they wallow in that thought for half an hour then turn back to the subject of today’s fight over on Canvey, and the quality of the ale, but they drink it despite their complaints, and the more they drink the more their eyes fix Agnes; there’s a brief lull in the chatter and she’s struck by the conviction that every man in the room is right now imagining her naked. The talktalk resumes but she’s sure they’re each of them getting more and more sure that she’s thinking similar thoughts about them.

But all she can think about is dessert, how she’d carried it here in her hands and where her hands had been and, she wonders, now, is that why they’re hitting me?

We will [incoherent shouty jumble], we will play!

On Coronation, Coronation,

Coronation Day.

Is that what she done wrong? She done wrong. A candle is burning down to nothing.

But she is dying a hundred deaths she is in that much pain.

But, in all that there’s nonetheless this, the simple clarity of this thought, she wants, she hopes, she needs to get back to the safety of her cell before she shits herself. “I’m sorry,” she cries, thinking of where her hands had been, “I’m sorry,” she thinks it’s what they want to hear but there is nothing she can say that they want to hear, and they have it specifically in their minds to keep her here until she shits herself.

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