The Song of the Butcher Bird
The Stationmaster’s Wife
He doesn’t know I can see him, the little fat lickspittle. You bow and scrape to the folk from the Abbey. They’ll be laughing at you just like I do, and everybody else in the village. Here comes the big man. Here comes The Stationmaster. Take your hat off to The Stationmaster, Thomas Porter. Call him The Stationmaster, he says! If you could hear what I call you when Eileen Todd and Lizzie Dockle and me are sharing a pot of tea your ears would catch fire. I hate that hat. I’d like to rip it off his fat head and stamp on it one day. Watch his face. I hate the little stuffed radish that wears it. I despise him from the top of his hat to the soles of his boots. But I don’t show it, not to him. Mustn’t let on to the little tin god. Persevere. Take the money and keep mum. Mum knew you for what you are, but no-one else offered. Not even the farm boys. Dad was glad to get me out of the Post Office. Too sharp for my own good, he said. Too clever, Miss. Well I wasn’t clever enough to run a mile from the Assistant Stationmaster of Warmsley Keyton. Wasn’t woman enough to give him children to order around either. He blames me. Too boney. Too dry. Couldn’t stand him touching me. Not there or anywhere. He spat on his hand on our wedding night. I’d have his damned hand off if he tried it now. I’ve seen him looking. Pursed lips, breathing that way. Me forty-seven now and him fifty-three. Still thinking about it. Well you had your last lot six years back and you won’t get within a yard of it again as long as I live. Wee Willy Winky. There was a time I thought there was a child in me. A baby tucked in there like a little fish under the bank of a stream drying in a drought. It was there. I could feel it waiting. Mother Morton said it was there and she knows. A boy, she told me, but I wouldn’t carry it for the likes of him, even if his powder had blown my backside off. But he was firing dud bullets, sure as eggs are eggs. Humping and snuffling. Like being rutted by a pig. Dud bullets. Or maybe the gun was too small. The little pisser. If I had my time again I would run. Anywhere. Anywhere but here. Anything but this. Sometimes I think I’ll snap and stick a knife in him. Sometimes when I’m listening to him droning on. Over and over again. I pick a spot on his waistcoat and imagine my long ham knife sliding into his hairy belly. As if he knows something I don’t. He barely knows which way the trains run through his own station. He can hardly get that right. But you’d think he was the Almanac the way he talks. He’ll tell me all about these Abbey people. How grand he is, bowing and scraping to the Abbey people. They despise him. But he makes them feel better. Even the stupid ones. Born better. Anyone’s born better than that. That’s why he married me. The village Postmaster’s daughter. He was set on wedding above his station. I know. Sidesplitting. I was the only victim in the parish he could catch. Too old, too tall, too bitter for anyone else to fancy. So he got me. Me and my great dowry of £50 and an oak chest full of bridal clothes I never wore. Maybe he still thinks he got a bargain. Not even he can be that stupid. Maybe he can. But I will work it out on him. I will pay him back for every time he has drawn himself up onto his trotters to make himself look taller when he is telling me what to do. I will make him eat every stupid word he has uttered in twenty years of hell. I will stuff fat mutton and dumplings into that little red hole in his beard until his eyes pop out of his thick head and his heart bursts with a bang they will hear in Oxford. Or maybe I’ll feed him one of Mother Morton’s specials drop by drop until he gets the gripes and curls into a little moaning ball. Mother Morton knows how to do that and no man the wiser. Including that pompous old fool that calls himself a doctor. Steady does it. Bide your time. Let him draw his pension from the almighty company. Then I can sit by his bedside and watch him shrivel up and die. And here he comes, full of the Abbey people, look. Coming to tell me how privileged we are. How fortunate I am.