Fallen women and pitiful heroines

I’ve been working on some stories inspired by historical women – anti-heroines like the Bible’s Jezebel (what did she do to deserve such vilification?); characters from the Mabinigion such as Rhiannon, Blodeuedd and Branwen who were made into such victims; and odd characters such as Mary Jones of Bala, who saved her pennies for six years and walked barefoot for 25 miles through Welsh mountains to buy a Bible.  Girl! Shoes first, then Bible!  When I find it, I’ll add the photo of 6-year-old me dressed as Mary Jones in a St David’s Day pageant.  She’s supposed to be an aspirational heroine, but I think she got her priorities all wrong.

Anyway, here’s something inspired by the Mabinogion story of Blodeuedd, a women created from flowers to give a man a ‘wife’.  Not surprisingly she betrayed her ‘husband’ (who was basically treating her as a sex object), but instead of being celebrated for standing up for herself, she’s vilified.

Blodeuedd (revisited)

Redder than lovers’ roses. Redder than her lips and her sweet gash. Redder than the fury in her cheeks. Beyond red, the colour that was pouring out of him, carrying his life with it, drop by drop.

He was supposed to be invulnerable. Never without a body guard and a bulletproof vest. But here he was, stabbed and castrated with shards of the bedside mirror. Too shocked even to call out for help – but the bedroom door was locked from the inside. The only place he had ever felt truly safe and in control – murdered by this tiny placid girl. Why? He’d given her everything. The taint of his birth meant no woman would consider him, bastard son of that vicious witch Arianrhod. Who would risk her as mother-in-law, despite the wealth and status. A man has needs, as well as his pride. So he’d found this one – a mail-order bride, they’d gossiped, but their envy was plain. As plain as they were, stood next to her, this girl so exotic and innocent she could be made of flowers.

And he, who’d never known shared passion, thought this was how it always was between a man and a woman – she coy and passive, turning her face. So he’d placed the mirror beside the bed, to witness her climax just this once. She’d never protested, and he’d mistaken that retreat into herself for sweet acceptance.

‘Why?’ he found voice to whisper. ‘Didn’t I give you everything you could want? And things you didn’t even know could be wanted?’

She straightened up from her cringing position, letting the bloodied shard drop, and stood tall and proud.

‘You gave,’ she said. ‘You gave and then you took. But you never asked.’

‘I made you my wife. Lifted you from poverty. Gave you an education.’

‘I never asked for those things. Your education was worthless – I’d have done better learning from the village women. I didn’t ask to be your wife and I won’t be your grieving widow.’ She pulled off her wedding ring and flung it on the floor. She was magnificent now, blazing. He’d never imagined she could look like this.

‘Is there someone else?’ he asked.

‘Never you mind. It’s none of your business – you’ll be dead soon. Your stupid white rug is getting ruined. Have you any idea how hard the maids have to scrub to keep it clean?’

‘You won’t get away with this. You’ll never get past the guards. You’ll spend the rest of your life in prison, pining for the sun on your skin, wishing they still hanged murdering bitches so you could die before you get old and ugly.’

‘It doesn’t matter. I’m free now, free of you. I have everything I need in this room – water in the en-suite and plenty of fruit in the bowl. When your rotting corpse smell too much for me to bear, then I’ll let the guards in. I will miss the natural world when I’m in prison, but I know how to act the good girl. I’ll soon be in the prison garden, tending the herbs for the kitchen. And I can amuse my cellmates by reciting that pompous poetry you made me learn. And, hear this – I will welcome the dirt under my ragged nails, the sun baking my face and the wind tangling my hair. I may even cut that short for convenience. I will smell of my own body, not yours. And I won’t have to spend hours on my appearance in a place without mirrors. I don’t want to look at you anymore,’ she said. ‘You’re almost gone, and I don’t want you looking at me like that.’

She grabbed the bedcover, not caring what he might see as she bent over. It was her body, not his. But as she placed the sheet over his face, he slashed up with the last of his strength, the dropped shard slicing deep into her cheek and blinding one eye. She screamed, then her screams became shrill laughter which went on and on. When the laughter stopped, she spoke in a voice so calm it chilled him.

‘A vicious wound. That proves I acted in self defence. Which I did. And if I am jailed, this will be my prison armour.’

She stood over him, blood dripping from her wounds onto his, as red faded to black.

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