Her mother-in-law, the midwife, had promised her that, after the first three, leastways it would be wonderful easy this time around, like shelling peas she said, but now that her belly had begun to bloat, now that she had started spitting up that thin, bitter bile-water early in the mornings again, now that the ache in her ankles was back to bite her as she puddled about, and now that her already short temper was growing even shorter by the day, she knew now that the lying old bitch was lying to her again.
She cursed her for her lying, she cursed that feckless runagate streak she called a son for lying to her, with his silvery words, his golden tongue and his brass promises, and most of all she cursed herself for falling for them easy, empty lies again. She cursed the stupid, boss-eyed bitch they’d sent to help her grub out the last of these stupid, worm-riddled turnips, what with her stupid lisp and her stupid whistling. She cursed her own aching back, her fruz fingers and this stupid, stupid, unwanted brat. She hoicked her mire-spattered round-frock about her knees, swung herself to one side and planted her otherside, cack-caked clog half a yard to the left.
A rabbit erupted from the sod, its scut bobbing in the half-light, she hadn’t seen it cowering in the turf and she cursed the fright it gave her. If only she’d seen it first, she’d have brained the thing and there’d have been spoon-meat in the pot tonight. The boss-eyed bitch snorted and spluttered, hawking out what might have been a laugh, and dropped her sack of swedes, spilling them in the mud. Mary skewered the spawny-eyed silly with a gimlet glare for a second, spat a satisfying green gob at her and turned back to the clung red clay. Stupid damn rabbit.
She flinched as the gormless bitch plucked at her arm, spun and faced her, a curse forming in her mouth when she saw the pointing finger. There. There in the hedge. Under an elder. Another rabbit quaked, twitching and shivering, tight as a fist, hiding in brambles. Slowly, she drew the hefty turnip from her trug, weighing it with a poacher’s pull as she raised her weary arm back. Aim and weigh, slow, slowly, without blinking or breathing, she hefted it, arcing it toward the brown buck’s back.
It sprang, rising and jinking and kinking like a trout on a line, barrelling toward her, quirking afirst then, at once, a wild thing screeching like a teething brat. She’d been told once that rabbits could scream but she’d never heard one do it before. The banshee bolted aright at her and then, in a blinking, it was gone, gone as quickly as her bloom, her figure and her dreams. Too frightened to think, it had panicked and now it was her turn to gasp and shiver, cold with sweat, trembling with fear, wondering why. Stupid, stupid rabbit. And deep inside her belly, she felt a kick.
Tomorrow - The True Tale of Mary Toft