Short Story: Elizabeth Devereux

Wednesday, 9th August 2017

A snippet that I wrote as part of Oxford University's online course 'Writing Fiction'. Based on the courtroom accounts of the murder of Elizabeth Devereux in 1877.

The brief was to write the scene as if it was in a novel, with the emphasis on showing rather than telling. It is an inherent feature of murder cases that the victim's perspective is missing. Nonetheless, while reading through the statements, I found myself getting more and more angry that Elizabeth Devereux lived for four decades, and a hundred and forty years on, more information has survived about her spleen than about anything she said, did, or thought. In writing my piece, I really wanted to give her voice, even if could not be her own.

Warning: Contains graphic references to domestic violence throughout.

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My left side is all on fire. I don’t remember why he hit me the first time, but it doesn’t matter. We’re back at the house, and all I know is I don’t want to go up those steps. I will settle you tonight, he said. He said other things, too, but I’ve heard them all before. Cow, I can take. Bitch as well. But I can’t be alone with him tonight.

‘Go upstairs.’

‘You’ll hit me again.’

‘I won’t.’

The landlord’s boy is in the yard. I don’t know how long he’s stood there. Always quiet, that one. Watches and says nothing.

George turns to him and says, ‘you’ll see her upstairs won’t you?’

I go up in front of him, slowly, so close I can feel the heat of his lamp on my back. It’s nothing to the fire in me - it coils around my ribs and I can feel it in my fingers, and I never knew a body could feel this and still walk. But all I care about right now is keeping young Ambling between him and me.

The lamp isn’t even set down, and he’s across the room and raising his hand. The pain blooms hot and sticky, and my right eye sees the world through a mist of red. I can taste metal on my lip.

‘Don’t hit her again.’

It’s the boy, in the doorway.

‘Go, or I’ll hit you.’

I look up at the boy with my good eye, and try to speak into his soul. Don’t leave, don’t leave, don’t leave. But he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at George, and I know what he sees.

I try to get up, but the fire has me now. And now he’s on me again, tearing at my dress. I think he’s gone, but then the water comes over my head, and it’s another blow, an icy fist. I am no longer human: this wet, naked thing on the floor, freezing skin and burning heart.

The boy is back at the door. Watches, says nothing. Watch away, boy. Don’t forget me.

The room is going dark, though I can still see the flickering dot of the lamp. And in the midst of that darkness is his shape hunched in the chair. Always hunched in that chair. Apologies. I don’t remember, I have not the slightest recollection, it was the drink. Always the same.

Maybe I’ll get to miss that part this time.