The Manningtree Women – Caroline Roberts [SNAP Entry 2022]

‘The Student New Angle Prize ‘SNAP’ is an annual event and offers all students of the University of Suffolk the chance to enter by submitting 500 words of original writing as prose or poetry. All entries must either be set in or clearly influenced by our East Anglian region.’ SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF SUFFOLK’S WEBSITE The… Read more »

by Caroline Roberts 1 month ago

‘The Student New Angle Prize ‘SNAP’ is an annual event and offers all students of the University of Suffolk the chance to enter by submitting 500 words of original writing as prose or poetry. All entries must either be set in or clearly influenced by our East Anglian region.’

SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF SUFFOLK’S WEBSITE

The air is thin and chill, and the scent of grass is carried on the breeze as it brushes, fresh, against my face. A low mist lingers on the Stour, hovering oppressively in the grey, morning light. The hem of my wool skirt is wet and heavy as it flaps at my legs, rubbing back and forth against my skin as I walk. My step quickens across the boggy earth that runs along the river.

I breathe deeply. The air is clearer here and I love to see the water.

My sister, Sarah endures her aches and ailments. When last I saw her, she complained of a new irritation and my basket now is filled with herbs and nettles for an ointment that will soothe her. I bring her comfort, as I do others who seek my help.

The thick brushes rustle, catching my ear like whispers. A solitary bee accompanies me, watching almost as I pick my way along the banks. My linen bonnet pulls at the nape of my neck and my rough fingers seek to loosen it. A strand of hair escapes.

I think of my Sarah. Always fretting, always uneasy, her mind fractious. How I wish she would walk out more and take the air, away from the filth and noise of the narrow, stifling streets.

The warning call of a magpie makes me turn but there is no one there. He flies up to the still-bare branch of a hawthorn tree and another joins him; their glossy, black plumage puffing up against the cold as they nod and chatter.

My breath is suddenly loud to me against the stagnant air. I hasten on; searching once more for the water’s edge as the mist clamps down across the river.

My sister ails and I must go to her.

 

Then the ground shifts and I am dragged back to my fate. My basket is gone but a thick rope, heavy with mud entangles my body and tightens angrily at my throat. I am forced on towards the crossroads and up South Street towards The Green.

A crowd is gathered outside the Red Lion Inn and they shout and jeer as two men haul me up; their coarse, eager hands groping my body as a last degradation.

I am strung alongside the other women. Only our petrified eyes console one another.

I search for my Sarah but the truth now pricks at my mind. That in the cruellest cut she was used to convict me. Accused too of witchcraft and interrogated until she named me provider of her devil’s imps. Then discarded without trial.

My own sister.

They wanted to hang me and display me with the others. To justify their fears, and their fees.

We are tied forever to this town. Our fate repeating as the myths and tales continue to label and define us.

But we have our own stories.

Me, Marian Hockett, and Anne Cooper, Helen Clarke and Anne West.

 

We are the Manningtree women.