From Our Lady of Mumbles

Here is a short extract from the novel

Susannah did not know how far she had run or where she was. But then why should she? She had never been to Swansea before. Everything was strange, disorientating. She should have stopped when she crossed the railway line but she had wanted to get away and she was frightened that they might be chasing her. Now she was lost in the dark in this unfamiliar and threatening town.

Her mind was unable to process properly all that had happened to her. How could she have been so foolish? Had she picked up everything when she ran from them? She didn’t know. She thought that she was wearing all her clothes, though it didn’t seem to matter that much. She had to get away.

Tears came again, unbidden. They had dried up, as if stolen by the autumn winds. But now they had returned, blurring her vision. Not that there was much to see. The streets were poorly lit, without kerbs and their surface was uneven, with loose boulders and mud pools. There was faint but persistent rain. Susannah’s best dress was now ruined, but she had to stumble on, as far away as possible from her shame. She was a teacher, for goodness sake. How could she have been tricked in this way? She heard a splash in one of the foul puddles behind her and so she ran, slipping and sliding and then falling full length. She managed to stand, then fell again, sobbing in terror and self-disgust.

Susannah crawled a short distance and then pulled herself up using an un-lit streetlamp and looked around. There was no one in sight but she was convinced she was being followed. So she stumbled on, because she was too frightened to turn around. A man outside a public house on the other side of the road shouted something at her and so she ran again – and found herself in Hell.

Through the open doors of the factories she could see furnaces and smoke and bright orange flames, with small dark figures silhouetted, carrying tools like devils. She had finally arrived; this was her fate. Eternal damnation. Susannah sat down on a mud bank above an unfenced canal and wept once more.

‘A young man in business, aged 29,’ the advertisement had said. ‘Wishes to meet a Christian young lady with means, with view to early marriage.’ She remembered thinking that this would teach Clifford a lesson. And now she was damned.

Who was that woman? Was it his mother? Was this sort of behaviour normal? Who could she ask? And what was the man wearing? Not one fleeting moment of what she had experienced made any sense at all. She hadn’t felt right, distanced from herself, as if her body didn’t belong to her. She knew that what was happening was wrong and she knew that it was happening to her but she could not stop it. No one had ever told her that this is what she had to do. She had a vague recollection of being in some way restrained and of someone muttering to her but she could not remember what any of it meant. Her chest and neck were sore, they felt bruised.

If only she could remember where the train line was, then she would be able to find the station – if, of course, they had trains in Hell. There was no one following her; that had been merely her imagination and she was relieved. The best thing she could do was to re-trace her steps. Be strong. Be sensible. Find a policeman. Speak to the landlord of a public house, anyone. Yes, that was it. Pull yourself together. She took a deep breath and stood up and immediately lost her footing on the mud. She slipped and skidded down the bank and fell into the filthy water of the canal.

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