LOOKING FOR THE WITCHES (Part 6 of 11)

GODSBODY (Part II)

John Watson, 1599: “Yes!” he agrees with the Right Right Reverend, then “Yes!” he agrees with his wife, he tells her he’ll be back home soon, with good news, hopefully.

Anyway he’ll be home soon. He turns from her and the children, from the church, he heads up Essex Way, cottages on either side of him: then that row of houses ends but the sludgemud road continues, puddly and dirtying, and quiet: not a cart going by, not on the Sabbath-day. Above him a down-in-the-dumps sun radiates from behind a veil a despondent unheat; John hates this hill. The world, he reflects grimly, would be better flat. Up. The view to his right becomes fox-haunted dullgreen and brownbrown wide slopeland in the foreground, khaki expanses in the distance and the bleak estuary, the jagged horizon, sky the colour of nothing: he’s seen all this too many times to see it now.

Outside a farmhouse, by where the road turns northwards, his friends are attaching blades to roosters’ feet. “Watching, John?”

“Er, no. Mouths to feed!”

“…You trying up at the Welch home? No work there this week or next, I tried earlier.”

“Oh. Oh well I’ll, I think I’ll stroll that way anyway,” they’re his friends but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can trust them. So he strolls: Essex Way remains an uphill effort, his breathing’s a chore, his knees start telling him that they really shouldn’t be telling him this. The road turns: and grows narrower, no view now: on both sides, above miserable bushes, a deadparade of trees, their bare branches tangling like warriors. Suddenly John stops, hearing: it’s not a dog, he can tell straight away, it sounds like a person pretending to be a dog! It is: he sees, a girl down on all-fours, barking!

His first instinct was to stop walking, his second is to hurry forwards: “Grace? …Grace! What are you doing here? What are you doing?”

Her mouth is full of grass: “Mmf!” she spits it out in his direction. “I’m delighted!”

John looks around, sees there’s no-one around. He crouches, face-to-face: her thin white face and her huge red eyes; a paste of dried snot from her nostrils to her upper lip. She smells of sick and jam. “I think you better…”

“We are the Queen! We are! Queen of the day, Queen of the fair game! I’m evil! There’s a fire in my attic. You’re not another of the made-up-men are you?”

“What? Grace… Is this a game? It’s a game you’re playing, isn’t it. Where’s…”

She dogbarks two more times then whispers: “My clothes smell but they’ve not got a nose. Don’t tell anyone.” Her eyes won’t quite meet his nor will they stay still, nor will the rest of her, “Woof! Woof! There are four and a half doors and I can’t go through any of them.” She burps in John’s face, laughs at his reaction: “When it was now I used to cry. Queen Elizzybess didn’t have any so she’s the last of the Chewed-’er line: we are sad for her. It’s not nice to be the end of a line.”

“Grace…” He tries it a bit differently: “Grace.” On the inside he allows himself a FUCK! What’s wrong with her?

She looks in a thousand directions, she looks terrified; she confesses to him: “I’m not supposed to have but I’ve seen a thousand futures: and we’re not in any of them!”

“That’s enough, Grace.”

“Does the word ‘dog’ bark?”

“I mean it: stop being silly.”

“When God dyes us are we clothes? I learnt how to laugh today: ‘HA HA!’”

“GRACE!” – at that she bursts into tears. “I, I’m sorry…” She says at him a word that sounds somewhere between “hello” and “alone.” He thinks about resting a consoling hand on one of her shoulders but feels that he shouldn’t so he doesn’t. Crouching: his legs are aching. “Grace, is it… Are you alright?”

“All,” she’s stopped crying, “of some of us are right. But I’m left over.” She lunges at him, off-balance he’s toppled easily, ridiculous he blomps onto his back and she sits on his stomach for as long as she can sucking the crucifix around his neck, “I know where this has been!” she slywinks as he lifts her off him, he’s up on his feet, kneeling she tries to hold her arms around his waist, “I’m a whole woman!” he hears, “I’m a whole woman!”

John looks around him, behind him, there’s no-one there: he unclasps her grasp and pulls her notgently to her feet, he realises his shirt is damp with urine, he doesn’t know what to do.

And her eyes decide to meet his now: “You know! You know!”

“What do I…? Grace…”

“You know.” She yawns. “When does Mummy come back from dead?”

“I don’t… You’d better ask the Reverend.”

“Take me.”

Being told what to do resolves him: “Yes,” he begins walking back the way he came, with one hand on her back he ambles her alongside him, and when she stumbles he waits for her to steady herself, and when she chatters he smiles and nods. Pigeons eye them, fly away if they get too close. This road goes straight back to the church but John’s not taking her there: he’s remembered who’s nearer. Along that narrow road until it widens, see the sea again and the curvychaos greens and browns and the farmhouse, there: dancing to the tune of animals killing each other are two dozen bustled men, “Go on you beauty!” “Do it, fucking do it.” Some of them are winning money, some are losing. But sudden silence from all except the roosters: the crowd has seen John and Grace seeing them, Grace is moaning: “The moon… The moon… They’re doing it on the moon.”

One of the cock-watchers detaches from the others, approaches John and his ward. Who lowers her voice to say: “When times are hard it’s nice to have someone to hurt.” She giggles knowingly: “Time isn’t all that’s hard!” – and lunges again at John, tries to get her lips on his lips but he keeps her away and then Davey Browne’s standing behind Grace with his hands on her shoulders. She stays still now, still saying very very quietly: “The moon… They’re doing it on the moon!”

Davey Browne glares. John explains: “Ah, I found her, ah, just, just up there, that way! She was, she seemed to be…” Davey Browne’s eyes shoot from John down to Grace then back again. “And I, well I, I’m not really sure what’s the, what seems to be the… I’ll leave her with you now.” Davey Browne, very slowly, starts to walk, keeping his hands on the girl’s bony shoulders and staring backwards at John for as long as he possibly can, he disappears up the hill, and John nods briefly at his friends then continues down it, as behind him “Now what” one of those friends says, “do you suppose that was all about?”

Soon John’s walking through his door. After that he could really do with a drink. Or a smoke. Or a… “Anything?” asks his wife. He tries to tell her what happened: she knows that that means no, nothing; she stops listening. John sits down. What a day.

Soon he’s being hauled through some other door, he’s being sat down, and everything is cold and smells of cold. He’s done something to the Browne girl: there are witnesses who saw him consorting and cavorting with her, the state he’s put her in! “Why did you bewitch Grace Browne?”

“I didn’t!”

“She said you took her to the moon.”

“I…”

“Why did you do it? We know you did it.”

“I didn’t!”

“Why did you do it?”

“I didn’t do anything to her!” They say they have ways to learn the truth with absolute certainty so he knows he’s alright.

He doesn’t know that a couple of doors down his wife is being told: “We know you did it.”

“I didn’t!”

“We know you did. That poor girl.”

“I didn’t.”

“We know you did.”

“I… didn’t.”

“We know you did.”

Stop it. I haven’t done anything!”

“We know you have.”

A couple of doors down her children are being told: “You saw them doing it, didn’t you. You saw them.”

It’s just a matter of time.

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