The year was 1560 and eight-teen year old Pertunia was one of the many common and less fortunate children who were poorly raised in the destitute and unkempt streets of old Canterbury. Her filthy brown curls grew down the length of her back which covered the dirty cotton ribbon which tied round her rake thin waist. If it were not for the length of her hair, she surely could have been mistaken for a lad. Her dark brown eyes were a perfect contrast against her porcelain like washed out complexion. She always held a vague expression and it was often difficult to tell what emotion she was feeling, even when she laughed, which was a rarity, only her mouth would move. She was often accused of freaking people out with her eerie blank glares. Her clothes were rags of a dress, which bared the faint odor of pig manure.
Her father Owen was a hardworking man, he too wore the same rags of clothes, day in and day out. He was usually unshaven and he rarely bathed. Owen had a small block of land that he rented from the town Mayor, which he paid for weekly with the produce from his pigs, chickens and two cows. Times were harsh and even with a modest farm, it was rare to put enough food on the table daily to feed himself and his family.
Pertunia’s mother Mollie was a weak woman, also an obedient wife to Owen, she cleaned the tiny house where they lived. She cooked whatever off-cut of bone she could afford to buy and stretched it as far as she could each meal. They mostly ate pottage; made from the few vegetables they could grow in the limited garden space they had spare. She hardly ate, yet baked fresh loaves each morning to sell at the markets. She learned the hard way from Owen, that she was never to eat any of the profits. Even though he would normally take a few fresh rolls for himself, before he started work on his miniature farm for the day.
Owen hated his wife, he felt trapped and useless. He also resented his own daughter Pertunia, sometimes he thought she’d be better off dead, one less mouth to feed, he often thought to himself.
Pertunia was treated ill by her father, she couldn’t read nor write. He could not afford a tutor for her like the wealthy towns folk, nor did he have the time or want to teach her himself. Mollie was mostly silent, she rarely spoke, especially when Owen was home and she too was not overly close to her daughter. Pertunia was simple minded and spent most of her days in the streets with the other street rats her age. They were tough kid’s, who mostly pinched from pockets of passersby.
Most of the street kids were inarticulate, but Pertunia still seemed to be slower in the mind than the others. None of them liked her anyway, they made fun of her at any given chance. She usually wore long sleeves when she was around the other kid’s, to cover the bruises her father left behind from the years of physical abuse. She always prayed for the nights when he would romp out of the house after dinner and not return until the next morning, hung-over and apologetic to his wife. She never knew what he got up to, but she always remembered her mother would spend most of the nights weeping her self to sleep.
‘Mother?’ asked Pertunia. ’Is dad gonna be ere tonight? She said in her southern twang.
‘Not sure Pertunia, it’s Frid’y, so I bloody hope not.’ She answered as she hacked a large carrot in to the pot. ‘Any way, go to the well and fetch me a pale, this pottage has to go a long way and it needs thin-in.’
Pertunia assumed her father was not coming home until the next morning, but she knew that her mother was still going to make sure she had his supper ready just in case he did return early. He was always given most of the good meat from the bone and much of the few vegetables that were in it, leaving the usual bone broth for herself and daughter to share, with any left-over bread that she couldn’t sell off at the market. It was normal for them to almost starve on a Friday as Owen would use most of the house keeping money on his whiskey and whores.
Pertunia’s body was developing and she was growing in to a young woman, this meant a larger appetite and the lack of food added to her already hormonal stresses. She was becoming more aware of what was going on around her and the reality of just how brutal her father was. She despised the way he treated her mother and was only now realizing how he cheated them daily of their income and quality of life. Her father forever called her names, like “Simpleton” or “Dimwit”, she had been so used to it, that she never took too much notice before to the insult’s behind it, not until now that she was a little older and the insults had started to pick away at her self-esteem.
Although it was rare, Owen did come home from the tavern early, for whatever reason was unknown. He was pissed as usual, but this time he had brought along a large black dog, it was a Labrador, tied with a dirty rope around its scruffy neck.
‘Ah Mollie my Dear,’ groaned Owen, ‘This is Abraham,’ he said as he stared his timid wife down. ‘get used to him, he’s stay-in.’ He said with his usual drunken slur. Mollie knew better than to question Owen after he had a few drinks. She was furious on the inside, they could barely eat as it was and now they had a dog to feed and it was a big dog too.
‘Yes dear,’ she replied as she tried not to make eye contact with her husband.
Abraham sniffed around the pot of water, which stewed the shanks and carrots, Mollie was unsure of the dirty big hound and almost froze when he was near her, frightened and intimidated of his sheer size.
‘Don’t be frightened of that old boy Mollie, he’s ere to make sure none of those fuckin scally’s from up the road steal our eggs any more, and he only cost two pence,’ He said as he tried to justify his purchase. ‘Ah, what would you know about business anyway woman!’ he shouted. He removed his boots at the door and kicked them over to the mop bucket near the small stone kitchen. Mollie’s heart sank when she realized she was in for another dreaded night of abuse.
Pertunia returned shortly afterwards with a pale of water from the well for her mother, not expecting her father to be home. ‘Where ave you been my little dimwit?’ he asked as she gave her mother an awkward stare and walked right past him.
‘At the well father,’ she replied. ‘Gettin a pale for mother, who’s dogs that?’ she asked as Abraham sniffed around her manure stained dress.
‘That’s Abraham, he’s gonna look after the farm at night so he is.’ Replied Owen as he roughed the dog around its head and ears.
’Awe, well, what’s he gonna eat? She asked as it was the first thing that came to her simple mind.
’What’s he gonna eat!? Argued Owen, ‘I’ll tell ya what he’s gonna eat, he’s gonna eat your supper tonight, that’s fer sure. Coz this mutt’s gonna work harder than any of you two combined and he’s gonna save me a lot in stolen egg’s.’
Pertunia now realized that her father was drunk and wished she had kept her mouth shut, she wasn’t sure if he was serious about the dog having her dinner or not, but she knew her father, and when he said something when he was pissed, he usually stood his ground and kept to his word. Mollie tried her best not to start an argument, but knew that her daughter should be given the meal instead of the dirty mutt who had only been their five minutes.
‘Honestly Owen,’ said Mollie in a calm soft voice, ‘I’m sure I can spare enough for Pertunia as well and Abraham can always have the bone afterwards.’
Owens face turned red in anger ‘Are you…are you questioning me!?’ he yelled. ‘What did I just say, this dog now works for me, so he needs a good meal everyday to stay strong, I’m not having a weak mutt guard my farm, when that simpleton daughter of yours starts to bring money into this house, then she can share in the food then, but no, she’s too stupid to get a job, can’t even sell flowers fer fuck sake.’
Pertunia was enraged, yet her father was always violent when he drank, she knew better to answer back, she looked to her mother with her usual blank expression then went through to the next room where her straw filled mattress sat against the dirty clay wall. She lay down thinking of what she could have said and what would have followed if she had said it. She overheard her mother and father argue for the better part of the evening until he took Abraham outside and locked him in the small paddock beside the house with the few distressed animals.
Owen didn’t come home again after that until the next morning, where once again he sobered up and was apologetic to Mollie for his behavior. He was a different man when he was sober, he wasn’t kind or anything, he just was not as violent, he still snarled nasty remarks occasionally, but they were less insulting and intimidating as they would have been when he had a drink under his belt.
Pertunia woke up hungry, she hardly slept as her stomach pains kept her up for most of the night. All she could think about was food and how that stupid new dog was going to become a threat between her and her much needed meals almost every week’s end from now on. Although Mollie knew she was never to touch the mornings bake for herself, she did stretch it a little and made a couple of extra small buns for herself and Pertunia, she took a risk, but only because she was certain that Owen would sleep most of the day away in their cramped bedroom next to Pertunia’s.
Sometimes, not often, but sometimes. Mollie would stand in her bedroom doorway and watch her husband sleep, and think to herself how easy it would be to just stab him in the heart, or even slit his throat. But there was forever a strong sense of fear that held her back from acting on her thought’s. It was Saturday, and she knew that he more than likely would be back at the tavern a few hours after he woke.
Being a weekend, Pertunia was usually stuck with the hard labor on the tiny farm, she fill large hessian sacks with the manure and lug them over the fence to sell as manure to the other local fruit and vegetable farmers for a pittance. Her father always demanded a ridiculous price, yet Pertunia was simple and was always cheated by the farmers and tricked into selling it for next to nothing. They had to muck out the pig pen and clean it of the week’s shit. She then would often have told the young girl that her father’s manure was shit, and that it was not worth the asking price. A local joke that happened often, Pertunia didn’t understand the joke at why her father’s manure was shit, she just thought it was bad manure and resulted in Pertunia receiving a nasty hiding from her father. But they would trick her and say they would simply not buy it and pretend to walk away, leaving Pertunia helpless to agree to the pittance of a price that they offered. If it didn’t sell at all, there would have been more trouble from Owen than just a regular beating, one time she refused to sell it at a lower price so she would not be beaten and sold none for the day. Owen had given her twenty lashings in front of her mother as punishment.
Again, that night, Owen came home intoxicated and wreaked of cheap whiskey. Only this time he seemed to look a little worse for wear. He had faint red sores around his mouth and his palms seemed to have a reddened rash upon them also. He looked to sweating a lot and his already pale face was whiter than normal and was completely washed out. These were the signs of the popular and common disease of syphilis, Mollie knew it, she had seen this before in the markets. Syphilis often led to disfigurement back then and not to mention the social ostracism that ensued, she could only hope that her husbands case was not going to lead to the usual madness it did to the other horror story’s she had heard about.
Owen had brought Abraham inside of the house again and demanded Mollie to feed him a hearty meal. ‘I noticed our eggs have seemed to multiply,’ he said in a sarcastic tone. ‘this dog’s doin his job, make sure he gets fed well woman!’ he yelled to Mollie.
‘yes dear,’ she replied, again, she was not going to argue after the last night abuse.
Pertunia kept silent, she quietly sat in the shadows in the corner and kept to herself, and watched her father become more and more abusive towards her mother. She hated Abraham, that dog was given more love and attention from her father in the two days he had him than she could remember she had received from him in her entire life.
Mollie served their meal and again gave most meat, vegetables and bread to her husband, then plated up for herself and Pertunia, she then threw the bare bone and the pottage water into an old timber bowl for Abraham. Owen watched her like a hawk, he hardly blinked at every move she made. He oversaw every move she made. He kept quiet for a moment while he watched Mollie try her best to spread the bleak meal over four mouths.
‘Ah ah ah Mollie my dear.’ he said as he noticed that Abraham’s bowl was not as full to his liking. He pulled himself up from his fathers rocking chair that was left to him and staggered over to the tiny brick kitchen. He grabbed Mollies old pewter plate from her grip and scraped the vegetables from it into Abraham’s bowl, then gently placed her plate back on the table, he was silent as he did this and so was Mollie and Pertunia. All that remained on Mollies plate were a few strings of ham that sat afloat in a watery pond of stock. He then looked over to his daughter who blankly stared at him and did the same to her meal. Abraham was under the table, he clanked and knocked his bowl against the table leg, making sure he didn’t miss a scrap that was given to him.
Mollie stood in silence, Owen could see that she was trying to hold back her tears and this angered him even more. Pertunia had though that her father was a nasty man before, but this cruelty was new, she could see the disgust in her father’s eyes that he had for herself and her mother.
That night, Owen had feasted until he could eat no more, as his wife and daughter almost starved again at the expense of the new family pet, which was now back in the paddock watching over the farm animals and guarding the chicken coop from local thieves.
Pertunia once again went to bed early for the night, she had not wanted to be around her father any longer than she had too. She may have been simple minded, but she was also on occasion very smart. She lay alone in her cramped room unable to sleep again from her agonizing hunger pains. She could hear very clearly through the thin bedroom wall as her father forced himself upon her mother. Only this time because of his newly discovered disease, Mollie fought against him in her defense. She knew her husband had caught the sinful disease from his whores, and tried everything she could to keep her drunken husband from raping her that night, even if it meant she would receive a thrashing.
Pertunia could take no more, she battered the sides of hear head with her fists in silence as she felt defenseless to help her mother. She wanted nothing more to punish her father, but how? She thought to herself, there must be something that she could do to teach him a lesson.
She crept out of her room and sneaked past her parent’s bedroom to the kitchen, there was barely any light, only the few last flickers of flame that burned in the cinders of the fireplace. Pertunia grabbed her mothers only carving knife and the dough that was wrapped in moistened cloth ready for the next mornings bake. She then crept to the front door and left the house unnoticed to the paddock next door. Abraham was asleep, but he soon awoke as he heard Pertunia coming his way, he could smell her dirty dress and recognized her as she quietly approached. He didn’t bark, he wasn’t threatened by her at all. The chickens were alarmed and flurried around the coop when Abraham ran over to fence to greet Pertunia. She unraveled the dough from the moistened cloth and broke off a bit to give to the greedy beast. As expected, he ate it and licked his lips in the hopes for more of the sweet dough. Pertunia climbed the small timber gate so as not to alert her father to the sound of the creaking gate and sat next to the hungry mutt who sniffed at her hand where the rest of the dough sat. She then pulled another small ball from the dough and Abraham carefully ate it from her hand.
‘You’re not such a bad doggy after all are you Abraham?’ asked Pertunia as they sat quietly together, she had gained his trust and bit by bit she had fed him the entire next day’s worth of dough which her mother would have had to sell at the market. ‘Only thing is though, that you’re taking away my food and my mothers too, do you understand?’ she asked the unknowing mutt. ‘Since you’ve come along, my fathers been a real cunt to me and my mum, I think you know now that you have to go.’ She said softly and calmly. With that she pulled the old and worn carving knife from her pinifer and slit it firmly across the unsuspecting dogs throat, it was a deep cut which instantly killed Abraham. The blood poured thick down his fur as he fell limp to the ground in front of her feet.
‘There, don’t you feel better now?’ she asked as he lay dead in the dirt. Pertunia looked down to the lifeless Abraham and smiled, she knew now that she and her mother need not worry about missing out on their meals on the weekends, and her father now got what he deserved. She then stood and turned to the chicken coop and crouched inside. The chickens were used to Pertunia and were not fussed with her presence, they simply sat there in their dirty boxes while Pertunia collected all the eggs they had laid for the evening. There were at least seven eggs in total and Pertunia was not finished with her revenge on her father yet. She stood over the deceased dog and cracked one egg at a time over its limp dead body until there were no more eggs left. She then took the lifeless mutt’s rope from around it’s neck and threw it over the rafters, she pulled as hard as she could until she barely managed to pull the mutt up high, until he hung limp from the old timber beam. She knew her father was not going to be aware of this until morning and hoped he would blame the Scally’s for his murder. Pertunia sneaked back inside the house unnoticed, her father was still pushing himself upon her mother, but Pertunia now felt at peace, she felt that he was soon going to pay for his crude behavior.