LOOKING FOR THE WITCHES (Part 10 of 11)

THE LAST WORD

Ann Harvey, 1645: “FFFFFFUCK OFF.”

Her new house is one room, tiny stinking, windowless. The one way in or out is blocked by metal bars, the same type of metal as is tied around her ankles, iron: to combat her powers, her devilish and damnable arts. She hobbles up to those bars. She shouts as loud as she can: “Give me some food you fucking bastards.”

Nothing. She’s been here for… weeks? Months? They brought her in on Christmas Day, don’t know what it is now. They keep putting back her date: there’s hardly anyone around to do it or watch, they’re all off fighting each other. So she’s stuck here, no bail: no-one would’ve made bail for her anyway. All she’s ever had is John and that tightfisted evil old bastard never did a fucking thing for her.

It’s funny, John, the things you remember: the things you forget: take her wedding-day, not a fucking minute remains except for him joking a sneer at her in the evening, that she’d had the nerve to wear white! She made him pay for that, he made her pay for making him pay.

…She wakes up, she didn’t know she’d gone to sleep. She coughs. Days-weeks-months in this shithole with not another face around except when they remember to feed her which they occasionally do: here’s one now, the spotty ponce with the squeaky voice, I’ll drop his fucking balls for him he gives me half a chance, she thinks. He’s wearing his helmet, he thinks he’s a soldier! “Goodwife Hovey!” he exclaims genially: “And how are we this fine morning? With compliments from the chef,” he tips a bowl of gruelly-mash potatoes and things through the bars, it dribblyslops onto the coldsharp ground. Ann springs-falls across to spit at him but he’s gone, laughing. She’s too fucking hungry not to kneel. Little fucking bastard.

John: happier days, him handing her the broom after some screaming-throwing row, “Clean this fucking mess up why don’t you?” She mimes jamming the broom-handle up her fucking arse, throws it to the floor, tells him to go fuck himself.

Ann closes her eyes, makes herself go back to sleep, there’s nothing else to do.

She wakes up, coughs, she keeps coughing, it lasts for about half an hour: she wishes they’d get it fucking over with. But they’re hoping for a sizeable crowd, everyone wants to see them drop her: at her trial she pleaded Eat My Snot You Fucking Shit Bastards, she spat on the Judge! “Fucking bastards.”

John and Ann, the honeymoon that never started. He hit her sometimes, never hard enough that he broke any rules: never hard enough that he broke her permanently. Anyway she fucking hit him too.

Another interrogation: she doesn’t know why they’re still bothering, probably there’s fuck-all for them to do either. They want the names of her familiars; “‘Fuck’ and ‘Off.’”

“That’s two: what about the rest of them?”

“Fuck off.”

They call her things like “a lewd woman come seldom to church”; they don’t want her in their Heaven, why should she sing their fucking hymns? Anyway, what fucking Heaven: they’ve hardly given her a hint of a glimmer of a taste of it, not that she’s been waiting for them to give her anything.

But once a year, one day a year, she did, she knew what Heaven was like: on Christmas Day things were different, the pair of them would decorate a tree, sit, arms around each other, by the fire. Just the two of them. That useless bastard never gave her any children nor did any of the other useless bastards she’d ever been with.

And then he died. “Seems a bit of a shame,” her neighbours said, “that she should be stuck in that  nice big house all by herself.” Mrs. Littleberry wondered out loud how, exactly, this poor, deformed and ignorant woman would manage to support herself now he was gone?

In 1644 Ann celebrated Christmas for the first time alone. She lit a fire, she decorated, got drunk, sat rocking on a stool trying to remember her wedding-night, started crying. Then men kicked down her door: didn’t she know the Puritans had just outlawed Christmas? Of course she knew. She tried to explain to them: “You stupid fucking bastards, fuck off and leave me alone.”

At the trial it came out that she had previous, a longdistant charge of Fornication!

At the trial Mrs. Hugrave said: “She gave ear-aches to my children!”

Mrs. Cole said: “She gave me this rash!”

Mr Crayne said: “She wishes storms onto sailors.” He got his ugly face snarling into hers: “You killed my brother!”

Ann defended herself against these charges: “Fuck you and fuck your brother too.” They tried to shout her into silence, she shouted them into silence, fucking bastards, she spat and she spat.

She wakes up. Men are sitting outside her cell: she coughs, she shouts something like “Gyaa!” to get their attention, they ignore her:

“…on guard against our filthy affections, our naughty dispositions,” sternly squeaks the pimply soldier; the elder of the three men nods wearily at that.

“Fetch us some more water,” orders the amputee alongside them: the lapdog warrior dutifully rushes away to accomplish his mission. As soon as he’s gone his superior mutters: “Little prick.”

“Water,” laments the older man, “only fucking water to drink.”

“Gyaaaaaa you fucking fuck arseholes.”

They ignore her. “It should come to this! I thought we were fighting to make things better for us, that’s what I signed up for! But Cromwell’s just another king; this is mad.”

“A big gang of us got called out the other night, a big militia to fight the good fight, you know what they had us doing? Knocking the heads off bloody statues.”

“I’m as pure as the next man but this… I thought we were fighting for better conditions and freedom!”

“There’s no theatres and no fights to watch, you can’t drink, and as for… Hrr! Puritans.” They shake their heads: Ann’s been yelling all this time, they haven’t heard her once.

“Beheading statues of angels and smashing stained-glass-windows, torturing anyone suspected of singing a bloody song! And what about this crippled bitch, what great threat to our nation are we guarding here with our very lives? It’s all fucking shit.”

“Quiet or she’ll turn us to newts.”

“Long live the King!”

“You’d have to be a fucking idiot to believe any of this shit. He does,” with a jab of his thumb at the returning boy.

Triumphantly setting the jug down on their table: “What’s that?”

“We were just saying, Simon, we both feel very strongly that you are a great and good battler in the long war against Satan.”

“Oh I am!”

“A soul such as yours has never been tainted with music or the tits of a woman, has it.”

“Oh, no, never, I…”

Face up close, a hint of severity: “Has it?”

“N-No, Sir! Never! …They’re, they’re ready outside.”

“Now?”

“Water!” exclaims the old man, “That’s fucking delicious, that is! – excuse my language Simon, I am an old man and do sometimes err.”

“Here,” the man with half his limbs missing hands over a jangle-droop of keys: “I’ll stay behind if no-one objects: best keep watch lest any of her imps do remain.”

“A good idea.” The kid trooper opens her cell-door, walks bravely into that barrage of “Fuck” and “Gyuh!” and “Kcah!” and “Fucking shit!” and… He hits her with his stick, breaks her arm.

Doesn’t shut her up for a second: “Fuck fucking little fucker fuck fuck you fuck you little fuck…”

“Move,” the elder man stands to her side, grabbing her hurt arm; the younger is behind, Ann can’t walk as fast as they walk but he digs his stick into her back and makes her walk as fast as they walk.

Dazzlebright outside! A subdued crowd gets an earful of FUCK YOU FUCK OFF YOU, all these people! all around the old oak tree. John – not her John, a different one – gets today’s blessèd task: “Repent!” he tells her. No-one else says a word; a harsh moment, the noose is placed around her neck but not tight. “Go unto God with a clean conscience!”

She spits at him. Now he’s tightening the noose, she croaks words out, the last of her: “If I’m a witch I’ll make you lick me all over.”

“Is that right?”

“Tha’s right.”

Tighter.

“Is that right?”

“Ngkrk…” Tighter, these are her last choked coughs. Her rope is angled around a tree-branch above her: suddenly her feet are off the floor. She makes worse noises, the oak-tree branch hardly bends under her starved body’s spasms, her can’tquite gasps after life, “Guh fckuh! Gg, ff! Ffuh guhh…” with her withered hands clutching at the death around her throat her legs kicking forwards and backwards she twizzles on that string like a child’s toy, straining “Fggguh” her eyes going anyeveryway, piss and shit lolling down her legs: peristalses of suppressed amusement nourish the crowd, they know to look like they’re learning a sad but necessary lesson. “Ckkkk…” The blood can’t go where it needs to go. She can’t… Her arms by her sides, twitching. Her legs, not kicking. Piss and shit. Her sagged mouth. Her staring eyes.

The hangman swears a word in her face.

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