I cannot complain, Lord. There's something so human about being inside here. Sightless, warm… a bit cramped, but nothing on earth is perfect. Just her voice ringing through the crack…
But Lord, let this ordeal be short. Or at least shorter than the last time, when I was squatting in a puddle of my own urine. But we all have to endure this time on earth. The true reward lies in Heaven.
But Lord… his voice does grind through me like a saw. I know Jesus commands that I must love, but some are more difficult to care for than others. Face like a strutting bull. A reckless, tatty way of dressing which would only be fit in a brothel, half way through a session with a courtesan. And that funny shade of purple his face turns as he yells ‘Where is he? Where is he, you devil woman?’ I have only the tiniest crack to see from, and I can still spy that blistering shade of purple on his cheeks.
She says nothing. I spot the hem of her dress sliding across an ankle. She knows the Lord has blessed her with a calming silence and a level gaze, and now she uses these gifts to their fullest. She has always been so god-fearing, so obedient.
‘Do you think I am stupid, Anne? You think I can't smell him? A man like that… has a very distinctive stench.’ I hear the sound of thumping footsteps as he roams around the room, a heaving boar trying to smell out his rival.
Finally, she speaks; a smooth, mild voice. ‘I don't know what you are talking about, John.’
‘Don't play your games with me! I know!’
A crash. I flinch and scuttle back further into my darkness. Did he knock things off the mantelpiece? Flip the table? I bring a nervous eye back to the crack and see only her ankle again. She hasn't moved an inch.
Her, once again: ‘I don't know what you're talking about, John.’
A strange pause. Then his voice, quieter. ‘I can't believe this. You don't know what I'm talking about? Just look at yourself, Anne. You're covered in proof.’ A flash of an arm as he gestures at her. ‘I didn't get you that necklace, did I?’
‘Look at it… That gold. Those jewels… It's not a subtle crucifix, Anne! A mysterious, out of the blue object that says so much about you!’
I try to angle myself to see her clearer, but I cannot see the necklace.
In her own time, she responds. ‘No John. You didn't get this for me—’
‘Because I got it for myself.’
Another smash. I guess it to be a water jug.
‘Liar!’ he shouts. ‘He gave it to you! And with it a direct passage to hell!’
People are taken in by the silliest things, Lord. To think Anne would go to hell for all this! People do not know real sin when they see it, Lord. Instead they thrust blame on the persecuted without a second thought. It keeps their own soul clean, they think. And as I sit here, Lord, in this humble darkness, I know true modesty. As I sit here in humble darkness, Lord, I peek out at the cruel, blinding beacon of his sin.
Her tone changes suddenly. ‘I will not go to hell.’
He thumps something hard, rage building. ‘Well then to jail, at least. You know the law, Anne. And you're a fool. We don't even need to find him. That crucifix can be evidence enough nowadays…’
The ankle twitches and she stands. I tense, watching. Oh Lord, stop this. Stop this sickening persecutor. I place a hand on the dark wall of my hovel and pray for her safety.
‘Alright John,’ she says. ‘Would you like to know the truth? How I got this necklace? It was given to me by my lover.’
This silence is not like the other silences. It is deep and asphyxiating.
‘Really, Anne?’ his voice now whimpers. ‘A lover? I didn't… I thought you had…’
‘I know what you thought I had,’ Anne is stern. ‘I know what you were insinuating, John. It was very clear. So let me make this clear. I got this from my lover. I did not get it from a Priest.’
He stumbles. ‘But… a lover! What about us, Anne? Seven years! Anne… why? Why?’
‘Because you treat me like this.’
Another silence. Then, tiny clattering noises – the apologetic sounds one makes when they are trying to tidy up the mess they have so recently made.
I see her arms crossed over her chest, crumpling the green material of her dress. Her voice grows in power. ‘Once you've picked them up, I'd like you to go.’
His anger flares again and I see his body sidle up to hers. ‘So you weren't a Catholic after all, Anne. Turns out you were just a tart.’
She doesn't move an inch. ‘Go.’
The bull canters away. As soon as his footsteps disappear, she sinks back into her chair for a moment, head in her hands.
‘Knock knock,’ I say. ‘Safe now, I presume?’
‘Oh, yes.’ She jumps up, crouches into the empty fireplace and removes the fake panel from the back. I tumble out of the priest hole, covered in soot.
‘Thank you,’ I say, patting down my robes.
‘I take it you heard all of it,’ she says, going back to her chair. ‘My… marriage is over, Father.’
I touch her crucifix gently. ‘But better than execution, my dear.’
She lets me sit beside her as she brushes down my robes, wiping away the last of the soot. ‘Well,’ she murmurs. ‘It's a small price to pay really.’
‘Small indeed,’ I agree. ‘We both know our true reward lies in Heaven.’
A pause. Anna leans over and squeezes my thigh.
‘Mostly, Anne.’ I touch her breast.
Hannah Constance studies Drama and Creative Writing at Salford University. Her prose can be found in The Askance 2014 Short Story Collection, Homes.