This excerpt is from a story I started to see if I could do first person present tense writing. I liked this exercise and I might continue with this story. However, this excerpt is also very first draft and unpolished. Let me know if you like it.
I am scrubbing the stew pot. It is huge and heavy. My fingers are clammy and I hit my knees on the rim twice. But at least I can clean this one outside in the fresh air and not in that stuffy kitchen.
Sometimes I have to clean the main cauldron. You can only do that by climbing into the fireplace and turn the thing sideways. It is so heavy that it needs two grown men to carry it and usually there are never two grown men around when you need them. Stepping into the fireplace is the last thing I want to do. I have some major respect for fire. My father died in one.
He was shoeing a horse. The horse was feisty and kicked him. He stumbled and fell into the hot coals. He was aflame before anyone could even think to get a bucket of water to him. The whole smithy smelled like pork roast for days after. They said it was because of the leather apron he was wearing. I don’t believe that.
I look into the pot. It has no more burnt up pieces of food stuck inside of it and my hard brush has left a picture of crossed scratches. I’m done with this chore.
On I go to the next one. There is always something to do at an Inn. I bring the pot back into the kitchen.
Nobody is there right now. Abigail, the cook must be at the coop, picking some chickens for dinner. I watch the cauldron, still thinking of my father.
Right after he died, Myrtle left with her brood. She said she hated the village and the cold and wet weather and took off. I understand that she didn’t take me. I wasn’t one of hers.
Aunt Bridget was happy when Myrtle left. She had never been friends with father’s second wife. She was not on good terms with father either. She used to say that father just got a little taste of what he was going to face in hell for all eternity.
I don’t believe that either.
If everyone would have to keep doing what they did when they died, Aunt Bridget would forever spew ice water at us. Because that is how she died. She broke through the ice and drowned in the river. That was the winter before last. That’s when I came to the Inn to be with Margaret.
Abigail, the cook comes in with two chickens in each fist. They swing by their necks and on of them still flaps those useless wings. She throws them on the table with a clunk.
“Here, start plucking.”
I sit on a stool, a chicken between my legs, a bucket in front of me and I get to work. Abigail gets some dough out of a bowl and kneads it with gusto. She hums a song – no it’s a hymn. She is an older woman of the more rotund kind. She also never talks, other than giving orders. I think she is deadly afraid of Margaret.
Margaret is my older sister. She makes me and everyone else call her Madame Margaret.
She would probably make everyone call her Lady Margaret if she could get away with it. But she can’t, because she won’t. There are some rules even Margaret won’t mess with.
She did get away from our village by marrying Joseph, who is twice her age and almost deaf and the owner of the Red Rooster Inn. Now she thinks she is a countess or something.
Margaret calls me Stump, because I am so much shorter than her. Everyone else has pretty much followed suit. I don’t mind. It makes them forget that I’m a girl. And in an Inn that provides some entertainment that can be a good thing.
My real name is Susanna. I haven’t heard that one in years.
Margaret sweeps into the kitchen. I’m on chicken number three.
“Stump, the main room is caked with mud, get to sweeping before I kick you out. Abigail, why is the apple tart not out yet?”
With another whirl of her skirts she is out front again.
Abigail nods at me: “Go.”
I put the almost naked chicken on the table and grab a broom.
The main room is almost empty. Just old Todd sits in a corner and snores the time away. Margaret is behind the bar and stacks tankards.
I washed all of them earlier today. She doesn’t really look at me as I put the broom down, sweeping up the dried mud and the occasional bits of straw. She just follows the motion of the broom with her eyes for a little before she returns to the stacking.
I work methodically. I open the front door to sweep the little hill of dirt out.
“Close the damn door, it’s cold!”
Is it now?
I would never say that to her, of course. I still remember the glee in her eyes when she punished me with two days without food and digging up a new out house after my last talking back. Sometimes I wish I would say what I wanted to. Sometimes I even wished she would kick me out, so that I would have no choice but go out into the world. Sometimes I dream about just leaving, no matter the danger.
But I know how bad the world is out there for a young girl without protection. Reason keeps me to shut up and obey. Someday I will get out of here, I swear. Just not today.
I close the door.
“Go, Joseph needs you.”
I pull my cap deeper into my face and leave. Working with Joseph is one of the better chores, because he is usually in the stables and I just love being with the horses. They love you, no matter what your standing is in the world. And on a day like this, they are nice and warm to be close to and their breath steams like miniature clouds.
I go to the stables and see Joseph. He is greasing bridles and saddles. He tells me to clear out the manure from the occupied stables.
Right now we only have three horses in care. Two of them are postilion horses that are sturdy and will be replaced with different ones before the week is out. One belongs to the vicar who thinks that his horse should not be stabled in or near his church.
I think he just wants an excuse to get into our house wine. In the back are Rosy and Elfie, Joseph’s own horses. He usually puts them in front of the wagon when he goes to get supplies. But sometimes he lets me ride them. Horses need to be exercised and I am a darn good rider.
Today he sends me right back to the house after I finish my work. He is in a grumpy mood. We didn’t have enough guests to make ends meet the last four days. It is high time that someone comes along.
I open the door to the main room and see the first of the usual drunkards have arrived already. Margaret is serving them and laughing it up. She is her best customer too. She always drinks with them.
I can understand that she has to drink every once in a while. A barkeep who doesn’t drink her own brew is suspicious.
But she keeps up with the best of them and this isn’t the thin beer either, that we put in the soup and the sauces. I am talking about the strong ale. Maybe she needs it to keep her spirits up? I would probably drink too if I were married to an old, hairy man like Joseph.
Outside it is getting dark and I hurry to put another log on the fire. A cold Inn is not a friendly Inn.
Margaret sees me.
“Go check the beds!”
I don’t need to check the beds. The beds are fine. The linens are all washed and the pillows fluffed. Just like they were yesterday. The one good thing about not having guests is there is considerably less laundry to boil.
I just nod and leave the main room. I go up the stairs all the way to the attic.
There is my alcove and my bed. I check it by lying on it. It feels so cozy. It is a dangerous place to be. If I fall asleep now, I will have hell to pay later.
I get up. I look out of the tiny attic window. There is movement on the road to us. Six riders! They look weary and beat. We will have guests tonight and I saw them first.