Prologue, “Dutch Courage”

I stood facing the closed door, the crowd swelling outside. For the first time since war broke out, I felt genuine fear. How ironic … now it was over. But not for me. I suspected my past would come back to haunt me but perhaps not so quickly. A man and woman stood on either side of me, like attendants leading a bride to the altar. The sacrificial lamb.

The woman’s nails bit into my skin and I unconsciously winced.

“It’s no more than you deserve,” she sneered.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and cast my gaze downwards, trying to remember to breath. Suddenly, the doors swung open and the mob surged forward. They pushed me down the stairs to the street; my shoes twisting on the cobblestones. People yelled in ugly unison. Hatred glistened in their eyes. It was a look I knew well.

Vitriol laced the air as voices rose in collective ire: “Whore!” I welcomed judgement, the sounds washing over me as the public cast their verdict. The scent of shame and Spring coalesced with winter’s fading chill.

The mob taunted me as my chaperones forced me to witness my humiliation. A nauseating mix of dread and rage kept my body in motion; my senses sharp. My resolve hardened, lest I recognise a face in the rabble … my greatest fear.

I lurched towards the town square, the church bells heralding midday. I unconsciously looked to my left and saw him. My heart skipped a beat. Tears threatened. I bit my lip, hard, lest they drop. It was a moment in time but one that is burnt on my brain. How to describe his expression? Horror? Pity? Love? Would that be too much? I’d always been strong – strong enough for both of us. But he had his own strength: steady, calm, deliberate. I tried to turn but was thrown to the ground.

The cold road was as unforgiving as the crowd that now slapped, kicked and spat on me. A part of my psyche felt this was wholly deserved. Shame seeped out of my pours. I welcomed the blows, vibrating through my body. Vicious hands forced me up on my feet, tearing at my clothes until I stood, shivering, in my white slip.

I was pushed onto wooden box for the final humiliation. Jeers settled on my shoulders as I submitted to my fate. A ruddy-faced man leered, taunting me with the crude razor. My vibrant, auburn tendrils, fell around my face, making pretty patterns around my feet.

© D. E. Monnier, 2019.

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