Today I am one of the blog spots on the blog tour for The Abandoned by Sharon Thompson. The publisher is Bloodhound Books. The publication date for The Abandoned was January 25th. I will be sharing an excerpt from the novel.
Peggy Bowden has not had an easy life. As a teenager her mother was committed to an asylum and then a local priest forced her into an abusive marriage. But when her husband dies in an accident Peggy sees an opportunity to start again and trains as a midwife.
In 1950s Dublin it is not easy for a woman to make a living and Peggy sees a chance to start a business and soon a lucrative maternity home is up and running. But when Peggy realizes that the lack of birth control is an issue for women, she uses their plight as a way to make more money. Very soon Peggy is on the wrong side of the law.
What makes a woman decide to walk down a dark path? Can Peggy ever get back on the straight and narrow? Or will she have to pay for her crimes?
Set against the backdrop of Ireland in the 1950’s The Abandoned tells the story of one woman’s fight for survival and her journey into the underbelly of a dangerous criminal world.
I knew the stranger at my door would cry. All that curled blonde hair and her clinging to a navy handbag. I was surprised her type still found me.
‘Peggy?’ she asked.
A gloved hand steadied her on the door frame, and I moved to let her inside. Thanks be to God she didn’t embarrass us both on the doorstep. A busy Dublin street is not the place for a woman to weep and wail about her lot.
‘I was sent by –’
I lifted my hungover hand to stop her. ‘No names. You’re lucky. My medicines room is free at the minute.’
Perfect curls danced under her fancy hat when she nodded. Then, sweet Christ, it started. Like I knew it would. Big tears, plopping down onto those pale cheeks, blue eyes begging me for sympathy. I know I’m hardened to a great deal, but tears are tough to ignore.
‘How far along are you?’
‘This way,’ I said. There was no sound from upstairs. My two girls must have been sleeping rather than humping.
This blonde one had a slim behind with no bulge out in front. A navy skirt snipped in at the waist and a grey jacket that I’d have liked myself over her cream blouse all ironed and silky looking. She knew how to look after herself, and someone had raised the money quick-smart; by the looks of her, she seemed much the age of myself. Hitting thirty, she was, and she should’ve had more sense than to need me.
She watched me intently, despite the tears; my bleached hair not to her standards and me with a tattered apron on to hide my tight knitted jumper and straight skirt.
‘You sure you’re in bother?’ I asked, turning the key and creaking open the door to my medicines room.
That nodding started again and more snivelling. Slim shoulders rising and falling as she trembled to her very knees.
‘Don’t be crying.’ I thought of the money. ‘Please.’ I became as gentle as you like and used the midwife’s face that I’ve practiced over the years.
An odd time, I wonder why and how they have come to this. I know though that most of them are married and visit me more than once. Burdened with too many. Used to spreading their legs and having life or death removed from their groins. But these girls are different. They’re damaged either by themselves or somebody else. I probably hurt them again, but, sure, that’s business. I can’t think of every one of them.
‘It’ll be grand. We’ll sort things. Stop the crying.’
I pointed at the high bed in the middle of the room. Light for my work comes in the tall window, with the flash of an odd pigeon behind the net curtain. It’s not a palace, but it will do for now.
The Angelus rang out, and we blessed ourselves. Looking down, I prayed to Our Lady and St Brigid for blessings and guidance. I’ve given up on forgiveness.
There before me when my eyes opened were expensive navy shoes with elegant straps. They were just the perfect height for dancing.
‘Where did you get them?’
‘Sligo town…’ A handkerchief muffled the name of the shop. But sure, I wasn’t going all the way back to Sligo for a pair of dainty shoes. She’d come as far as myself, but she’d most likely go back.
‘Got money for this?’
The tiny gold clasp clicked open. She took out an envelope that bulged like my eyes. I tried not to snatch it. Country girls always have the right amount. Honest as the day is long. I left the twenty pounds on the dresser, under the mirror out of harm’s way, and pointed again to the bed. The greyish sheet was changed – this morning had left its mark.
The modest way this one removed her skirt and panties made me chuckle. As if I’d never seen my own bits and pieces. Gently, she placed her hat on the chair where I usually plonk my basin. But I said nothing and went about getting my business ready. With my back to her, she sobbed, and I thought of the last time she might have had something inside her.
I never ask questions, but sometimes, they tell me it all, hoping to make it all better. But we all know it’s never that simple.
There was a nice smell from her – calm as lavender, and smooth and fresh like face cream. You could tell the way she looked about the room that she was well raised. She knew her manners. That perfect nose wrinkled in displeasure but not disgust.
Her slim hands still trembled as I told her to come to edge of the bed. I lifted her knees and encouraged them to flop out to the sides. My syringe was full of the concoction that would either solve her ills or make them worse. Who knew?
Sometimes, it takes no time at all to prod the wire and the rubber tubing in. Many don’t say a word or bless themselves and pray throughout. Others cry. Mostly, I don’t notice anymore. But with this pretty, young one, something didn’t feel right. She barely spoke. Even the rich one’s ramble, making excuses for their decision. This one seemed sure in her quest. Her eyes held tears, but as she curled her fingers into a fist, I felt no remorse off her, and it dawned on me she needed this badly. Pity flooded me, and there’s nothing I hate more than pity. I felt it wouldn’t be the last I’d see of her, and this worried me. Something deep in my gut told me she was a bad omen.
‘I’ll have to get myself some shoes like those,’ I said.
She sniffed and murmured her agreement.
‘Do you dance?’
‘I love the dances in the Gresham. Haven’t gone much since…I came here.’
‘I don’t feel like dancing,’
Her blonde curls splayed on the pillow, and she faced right towards the window. ‘I hate everything these days.’ She shuddered either with fear or cold.
‘Those shoes, now, sure you couldn’t hate them?’
She didn’t answer me. I did what I could for her. It all went grand until she was readying herself to leave. I couldn’t help staring and saw no ring on her finger.
Suddenly, she touched my arm. She came closer and said, ‘Thank you. You saved me. You must save so many.’
Something cracked. All I knew about myself shifted. It was the way she did it. I couldn’t look at her.
‘You go now. Wait for the bleeding and the pains to start. Don’t come back here.’
With a zip and a swoosh, she was dressed. Sheathed in the jacket, she reached for her hat; the loud wobble of the chair breaking the silence when the hat was moved.
I was worried for her more than most. ‘My work is over, but sometimes, women need tablets for infections. You’re a clever girl – you should know if things are right down below.’
Her voice shook as she sat to fidget with buckles. ‘Yes. Thank you.’
I couldn’t wait to get rid of her. A lingering sense of all that I knew shattered before me. She’d shaken me to the core of myself. I trembled and opened the latch on the front door. I couldn’t speak. She got to the footpath and walked away.
Closing the door, I felt like a woman who steals souls for money. I normally don’t think on it much at all. I just know I am a criminal bitch who lives in the gutter.
It was never about saving anyone; I just needed the cash, they needed the service. Now, my heart is split with the torture of them all. All of them who’ve needed me and them in a bad way. Those who I thought nothing of at all. I can’t cast my mind to it. I simply can’t. That bitch made me a saviour and made it all too big a deal.
‘God takes and gives life,’ the priest says.
I was always told it was wrong, but this one muddied my waters, unstilled what has been right for so long.
‘Women always do the best with what they are given,’ Mammy would say.
I did my best, but now, I feel like I’m going fucking mad.
About the Author:
Sharon Thompson lives in Donegal, Ireland. She is a member of Imagine, Write, Inspire. This is a writing group, under the mentorship of HarperCollins author Carmel Harrington. Sharon’s short stories have been published in various literary magazines and websites. #WritersWise is her collaboration with writer, Dr Liam Farrell. This is a trending, fortnightly, promotional tweet-chat with corresponding Facebook page and website. Its mission is to encourage and support writers to reach as wide an audience as possible. Although she mostly writes crime fiction, Sharon does have a fun-side and she writes the quirky Woman’s Words column for the Donegal Woman website.