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Danielle Elliott


A Rose from Dust


‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was in

1803, whenas I was a novitiate at The Convent of the Institute

of the Blessed Virgin, and I was as thee – made in God’s image.

Alas, my flesh has been corrupted and I am more akin to the

Lilith of Babylonian demonology than thy Adam or Eve. Ergo

I seek not thy shriven, sith I am beyond thy jurisdiction.’

‘I am an ordained priest, permitted to minister…’

‘Whisht. I beseech thee listen. T’is thy opinion, not thy

absolution, I seek… Forsooth, I am an abomination, albeit my

Husband, Luke, would never believe. Innumerable hours did

he spend studying my body samples through a lens but died

without answers. Natheless, he made excuses for my sins and

reasoned if I had existed as an unconscious savage then I was

not responsible. He would say, “Do we blame the snake for

the prey it kills? No, because t’is in its nature and it knows no

better.” T’was a kindness, he was a good man, but I was

unable to confess all. The wintry morn I first met Luke, I was

expiring under the blaze of the rising sun. He thought not of

the pustule eruptions on my skin; thus, I was gathered into a

carriage, conveyed to his lodgings and nursed to health – as

I said, Luke was a good man. Being preserved from death,

infamy and sin, I remained and married him. For Luke was a

surgeon, and his medical procurements were civilising, but

my salvation did not begin with him.

‘Alas, t’was Rose that roused my senses to a state of

passion methought impossible, and for whom I was crying

that morn. My gentle Rose. Rose, with her eyes hollowed

large, her chilblained hands and her too-big boots dangling

and curling at the toes. Without Rose I would have remained

a pulse of hunger and a creature emptied of meaning. Verily,

the country-dwellers from whence I came conjectured I was

the evil Baobhan Sith of folklore and there was certes truth to

their terrors. Forsooth, I am a night creature sustained by

blood, and albeit mine visage is a maiden mask, I have

walked the earth for fourscore and ten years… Ah… I hear

thy thoughts of contempt, thou thinks I should get thee to the

mad-doctors.’

‘T’is not my place to judge, merely to mediate.’

‘Aye, t’is not thy place. For I know of thy carnal lust for

the Widow Braddon, thy dalliances in the supper rooms with

forsaken ladies whenas thou was first ordained, and thy

doubts at the quiet hours whenas thy master creator, God,

seems hidden by Charles Darwin’s natural selection…’

‘What trickery be…’

‘Hark, t’is no trickery and thou need not defend; t’is not

my place to judge. I say not to accuse but merely to convince.

The modern world’s disbelief has been serviceable but does

not presently suit my purposes. In 1832, I came hither to

Manchester, finding the citizens – governed by empiricism,

rationale and reason – ignored superstitions. Thus, I walked

the gaslit streets in the guise of an anonymous passer-by,

dollymop, or beggar. Forthwith I was startled to consciousness

by the environment. The noise, the noise and smell were so

loud – black fumes choking in the throat, the effluvia from

ashpit privies, the tread of weary feet, the crunching of cogs,

the thrashing of looms, rumbling carts, shrieking steam boilers

– but t’was amidst this clamorous stench that awareness

evolved. The wilderness whitherward I had come, with its

green scents and still nights, became a comparison. Gradatim

cognizance returned: first a word, then chiming phrases, and

lastly the rattling tangle of sentences. I listened to voices

trampling over one another, intrigued by the busy weft and

weave of unfolding narratives. Textures appeared, natheless,

I was detached.

‘T’was Rose; she made the difference.

‘One summer eventide in 1832 was whenas I noticed her

in Piccadilly. Shrouded in threadbare but modest clothes, she

was begging with murmured half-pleas and a downturned

head. Rose spent till evenfall securing the cost of a cheap

meal, and her manner contrasted with t’other urchins, who

forthright solicited. Likewise, I had borne hunger, and acted

as a brute, but not Rose. Rose was dignified. Observing her, I

was reminded of erstwhile habits by which I had once lived,

of long agone whenas I was with the grace of God – whenas

I was mortal flesh and blood.

‘Rose purchased, then ate, a cup of eel-jelly at a food stall.

Whenas she departed, I pursued. Apart from the crowd, Rose

walked and cried. She held onto the crucifix around her neck

and lifted her eyes to the heavens, but nought was there for

her. The sky was obscured with noxious fumes and not even

a star shone through – not even a star to inspire her

imagination and that she might attribute to lost kin, saint or

angel. Yet Rose twinkled, she twinkled with a loss that

threatened to spill into tears.

‘Whenas Rose reached the railway viaduct, she holed

herself within one of its arches and attempted at snatches of

sleep. I watched over her the entire night, listened as she

muttered for her parents in disturbed sleeps and offered

whispered prayers to a God it must have seemed had

abandoned her. At twitterlight Rose wakened; she

uncrumpled the folds of a restless night from her clothes,

attempted to wash the dirt of poverty from her skin, and tried

combing away her destitution with neat fingers.

‘I was enthralled.

‘In the dark hours I was her shadow, becoming familiar

with the places she frequented, people she knew, and the

rotting frames cracking twattle at her back. Whenas she

secured work as a Piecer in the mills, she was able to afford a

residence in one of the many lodging houses situated in the

curve of the Medlock. This area made up part of the city’s

inner residential belt, but its living conditions were dire. I

knew the place; bringing a quiet death amongst its

inhabitants was overlooked and dismissed as a consequence

of the poisonous microclimate or cholera epidemic. Whenas

desperate with hunger I had prowled its corners, the

experience had been repulsive – like dining in a pig sty. The

stink of human waste permeated the entire area, wherewith

was unsurprising considering one communal cesspit was

allocated to every twain hundred people and during periods

of heavy rain these would overflow.

‘The ghetto Rose inhabited was the same one that haunted

Engels’ conscience and propelled his pen. He accused the

place of being populated with those whom had reached ‘the

lowest stage of humanity’. T’was appropriate that I should

walk its ruinous streets, but not Rose. She did not seem to

belong. Rose carried a sense of worth about her being and

was not an incident of shame, as were many of the urchins.

Natheless, the place had always been her home, but for the

most she had resided in the better parts – in the purpose-built

working-class suburbs south of the river Medlock. Those

accommodations had been comfortable: the streets were

paved, through terraces came complete with their own

necessities, household middens were emptied weekly, and

the dwellings were occupied by families – not packed to the

rafters with drifting lodgers. Howbeit, Rose was no longer

the sole cherished child from a respectable working-class

family. She was an orphan, but one unhardened by her

misfortunes.

‘Alas, Rose stood apart and was noticed. Notwithstanding

her dull attire passers-by remarked on the delicacy of her

features. I eftsoons appreciated Rose was an understated

beauty and acknowledged the comments with misplaced

pride. I should have heeded the warnings. For the bad

memories dull, but never leave. That is the rub of a life

without death, there is no forgiving forgetfulness.

‘I remember t’was an autumnal Saturday in 1832, the

weekend’s pinnacle, whenas finding victims was effortless. I

had been in the town less than an hour afore happening upon

a comatose drunk. He was bloody, robbed bootless, and

strewn in a knotted back alley forby the Bull’s Head Tavern.

Eager to seek Rose, I drained him swith without a thought to

whether he had a family who depended on him or would

mourn his loss. Notwithstanding my attachment to Rose,

inflicting death remained uncomplicated. I resented my

victims sith I perceived an unfettered passage to paradise

extending to them in the afterlife, whilst I was condemned.

Aye, by then I had recollected my erstwhile life and

comprehended my abject position in the Christian cosmology

– but never did I resent Rose. I wanted to save Rose from

Fortune’s insanity; t’was this causative, events unravelled as

they did.

‘Once fed, I continued to the Saturday night market

cluttered along Oldham Street and Shudehill. I knew if Rose

was unable to find work, her habit was to stay at the market

until it closed at midnight. She would wait for hours, hoping

one of the stallholders might take pity on her. Haply for Rose

they were able to distinguish her from the professional

beggars and she was oft given the unsold foodstuffs that

would have spoiled by the next market day. That eventide

Rose was at the market, monochromed amidst the choleric

red faces, jaundiced drunks, and floral whores.

‘Due to the gin-laden blood, my senses were eschewed

and I had not forthwith realised who was alongside Rose. Ma

Wilson could have been mistaken for a flamboyant lady. She

was apparelled appropriately, but I was not fooled by her

accessories, gloves and bonnet. Dressed and coated, inviting

as a sweetshop window, Ma Wilson’s heavily rouged face

betrayed her, but Rose was innocent to the peril. She lavished

Ma Wilson with courteous bows and deferential nods as

though the strumpet warranted it. Ma Wilson deserved

nought but a dance with air.

‘I panicked and shoved through the crowd, ignoring the

jostling complaints, pressing against unwashed bodies to

reach a distance where I could eavesdrop. Ma Wilson was

splattering sweetmeats into Rose’s palm, delivering

blandishments, and commenting that Rose’s mother must be

proud of her. Rose’s eyes shimmered and she confided her

mother was gone. T’was music to Ma Wilson’s ears, natheless

she bemoaned the shame for Rose, that she was alone in the

world. Tears were fat and ripe in Rose’s eyes. Aware of the

conversation’s effect, Ma Wilson inflated her cajolery; told,

she had sons but wished for a pretty lass and if she were her

daughter she would be gradely proud. She clucked Rose

under the chin and pretended to wipe a tear from her dry

eyes. Forby her twain sons listened, they feigned interest in

the wares of a haberdashery stall but occasionally their

greedy eyes roamed over Rose.

‘Rose uttered, gramercy Ma’am, and curtseyed afore

politely nibbling on the sweetmeats. Ma Wilson insisted she

was not a lady of airs and graces, that the twain were friends,

and she should be addressed accordingly. There was further

gratitude and deference from Rose, whilst Ma Wilson’s slit

mouth twisted into a rotten-toothed smile. Thereon no invites

were extended to Ma Wilson’s abode, as I feared, but her

parting words made me shiver; the threat they would see

much more of o’one t’other thereafter.

‘Ma Wilson withdrew in a flutter of fond faked goodbyes,

imparting to Rose she was a compassionate respectable.

Nought could have been further from the truth. Ma Wilson

was a despicable creature, loathed even amongst her ilke, and

never walked the streets alone. Evermore was she flanked at

either side by the imposing figures of her brutish sons. They

were equally despised but were a pair of cosh wielding

bullies who were feared. I knew Ma Wilson’s intentions.

There was no kindness in her black heart. She befriended

urchins because she was a madam specialising in the trade of

juvenile prostitutes and was detested because her brothel was

niche – procuring children into prostitution to supply a

handful of well-paying clients with virgins.

‘I approached Rose. Afore that day we had never spoken

and though she was familiar with my face, she knew nought

of me. I worried Rose would not heed my warnings, was

aware my unkempt appearance might discredit my words.

Natheless, I blundered – without introductions – into

conversation. I presaged Rose that Ma Wilson must be

avoided and was a wicked woman of ill-repute, who would

think nought of corrupting her. Rose was flummoxed. I wellnigh regretted my words, well-nigh, as they gilded Rose with

sadness. I wanted the world to be a better place than t’was,

to tell her she could have faith and trust people, but such was

an unchancy lie. Over the ensuing weeks, the mere suggestion

of Ma Wilson was sufficient to propel Rose in the opposite

direction. Methought this would be adequate, but I was

mistaken.

‘Rose had a price on her head and a client awaiting.

‘They would not let her be.

‘In the day, I was unable to watch over Rose, and the

complications of protecting her against the likes of Ma Wilson

became apparent. Ma Wilson, her sons and the client were not

the sole problem; if they were, I would have killed them all.

Howbeit, there were more Ma Wilsons, other clients and

whole enclaves of criminals. Aye, I admit t’was feasible for

Rose to escape being kidnapped and set to work in a brothel,

but degradation did not have to be a dramatic affair: it could

happen incrementally. Trawling the streets, I had witnessed

the effects of desperation; I did not want this fate for Rose, for

it to ruin all that captivated me.

‘I resolved, none of them – not the Ma Wilsons, the

perverts wanting to warp misery into their own brand of

pleasure, the tailor suited merchants’ disdain that daily made

her feel shame, the police with their vagrancy laws who

would heedlessly criminalise then imprison her – none of

them would have a chance to destroy Rose. They could not

have her.

‘Mayhap the decision I made was selfish, wrong, but I

made it.

‘The opportunity came one cold wintry night whenas

twain ragged girls accosted Rose in the street. Gaunt faces

hung on the severe grim line of their mouths, they glared

through narrowed eyes and resented Rose for attracting their

sweethearts’ admirations. Whenas Rose cowed from the

confrontation, they were spurred to tug, claw and spit at her.

I rushed in, boxed both girls’ heads – bloodying one’s nose

and blackening t’other’s eye. Wounded, they ran into the

night. Rose was trembling but appreciative of my intervention.

She admitted she was afeared of the pair and that they had

pursued her for days. Inbetwixt the conversation I heard

Rose’s stomach curmur.

‘I interrupted and remarked, parfay, thou are famished.

Rose blushed but nay denied. Forby was the tinkling bell of

the muffin-man and I heard his jingling ditty, one-a-penny,

two-a-penny, hot cross buns. With monies stolen from an

erstwhile victim I purchased a buttered muffin and insisted

she partook of the victual. She was awkward but grateful and

accepted the food with smiling acknowledgement. As she ate,

I followed her to the railway viaduct. Unnerved by the attack,

feeling vulnerable and attempting to express her gratitude

Rose offered to share her sleeping place. I accepted. We settled

into one of the bridge’s alcoves and Rose prepared for sleep

by tightly binding her threadbare clothes against the chill. I

unwrapped my shawl and tucked it around her. Initially there

were objections but these embered to a murmur as

exhaustion, warmth, and a full belly slipped her eyes to sleep.

‘The city centre slumbered, but underneath that bridge –

at night – seethed a populace crawling with coughs, drunken

bickerings, and the earthy grunts of sex. Beneath these sounds

I listened closely to Rose’s breathing – waiting for the heavy

rhythmic sound of deep sleep, which came swith. Careful not

to waken her, I enfolded Rose in my arms and softly rubbed

at her to keep in the warmth. Close up I felt Rose’s frailty: the

staggered vibrations of her heartbeat, the oft-times rattled

breath sticking in her throat, and the bones that painfully

protruded wherethrough her skin.

‘Rose was dying. No Physician’s diagnosis was needed.

The crimson blood splatters of her cough told Rose she was

ailing with the malady that had stricken her mother. I had

known from our first encounter she was consumptive. I could

smell the disease and its odour intensifying daily. She had

another year if she was lucky, twain if her standard of living

improved, but this was doubtful. Already the mill owners

were refusing her work and the more respectable lodging

houses denied board due to her hacking cough. There was no

reprieve for Rose. The meagre time she had left would bring

nought but suffering, desolation and loneliness.

‘Whenas the chill of deep night passed and silence arrived,

I knew the period for stalling and avoiding the deed I had

come to commit had ended. I pulled Rose closer and drew

back the shawl to expose the white flesh of her neck. With my

lips I felt for the pulse of her jugular, and then unfurled the

proboscis from my tongue and pierced into her vein. Bitter

with disease her blood gushed into my mouth, but despite

the fatality of the wound Rose felt nought. My anaesthetic

saliva numbed the pain and these circumstances were

preferable.

‘There was no suffering.

‘Rose did not rouse from her sleep.

‘I nursed and drained her life. The shallow stuttering of

her breathing and stammering of her heartbeat reminded me

I was losing her. I faltered, as gaping loneliness came upon

me. I wanted to keep Rose but knew corruption with my

curse was even worse than Ma Wilson’s plot. I would not

damn Rose.

‘The moment she passed I knew. The moment the spark

that was Rose was no more I felt the warmth of welcoming

arms. I may have sith doubted the veracity of this experience

but then I felt I had acted as an angel of mercy: I had allowed

her an unperturbed passage to paradise, and t’was painless.

‘Yet, Rose was gone…

‘Her absence was upon me and I felt grief. The world had

been emptied of Rose, and I was responsible. On that day, I

nigh scorched in the sunlight because my thoughts were filled

with the distraction of Rose. Close to dawn, I stumbled from

the railway arches and did something methought only

humans could.

‘I cried.

‘That morn Luke discovered me by happenstance; I was

distraught and blistering. We were wed for twoscore and one

years but never did I reveal the circumstances of our first

meeting. Forsooth, he ascertained my hand was responsible

for Rose’s death, but my reasons remained concealed, sith I

could not betray his forgiveness. I was conscious whenas I

killed her, and he would not have understood. Imbued with

radical ideas and his swevens inspired by the Romantics, the

likes of Shelley and Blake, Luke would have insisted there

would have been another way. For t’was Luke’s flaw and his

virtue that he knew nothing of the degradation life could

bring. Natheless, for the likes of Rose if I had allowed, life is

not merely suffering – t’is losing thyself and descending

deeper into the abyss…

‘In the wake of my husband’s death I query withholding

these truths, ergo whereof saith thou to thy confessional?’


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