It’s a late winter afternoon in 1921. In Violet cottage, one of an isolated terrace of eight tied-cottages, deep in Holderness, an oil lamp sheds a pale glow in the small front room. Orstine, dressed in a cotton shroud, lies in a cheap pine coffin, which rests on a trestle, with his feet pointing at the curtained windows. The women of the terrace have reluctantly laid him out in accordance with local tradition: a bandage around his head keeps his mouth shut; scraps of muslin are wedged up his nose and pennies cover his eyes. The GP, who’d taken three days to attend, attributed his death to natural causes.
Agnes, so recently widowed, dressed in a threadbare black dress stands next to her husband’s coffin. She stares down at him and says, I’m glad I killed you. You had it coming, you vicious bastard. She wonders why she’d waited so long to murder him. She could have suffocated him in one of his drunken stupors long ago. A knock on the front door interrupts her reverie.
Jenny, a neighbour, follows Agnes into the front room and says, I thought you could do with some company.
Thank you. Will anyone come for his lying in? Agnes asks. Jenny is silent. He wasn’t respected, was he?
He was a violent drunk; it’s a wonder you survived his endless beatings. He’ll not be missed round here, Jenny says.
The two women sit in silence on straight-backed wooden chairs.
Finally, Jenny sighs, I’m sorry but I need to get home to make tea for the family – will you be alright?
Do you want to see him before you go?
If I must.
Agnes and Jenny stand by the coffin.
He moved, Agnes gasps. Jenny looks puzzled. His head moved. His shoulders shook. He’s not dead! Agnes whimpers.
Jenny turns her away. He’s dead. It’s all in your mind, the terror of him lurking in you. Come to ours and have some tea.
Sorry, I need to make sure he stays dead before we bury him.
That’s just superstition, Agnes, Jenny says.
Agnes, alone, looks at the body. Jenny’s right, she thinks, I’m imagining things. Suddenly, Orstine raises his head. The pennies fall from his eyes, and he stares at Agnes. He thrashes to and fro. The bandage holding his mouth shut tears apart. Agnes gapes. Everything slows. Time stops. Agnes is frozen in terror. Orstine’s rage is silent. She screams. His mouth, wide as a vicious jagged mantrap, is no longer flesh and bone but now a razor sharp smashed brown beer bottle. It’s impossible she thinks. I’m just mad. Her scream is silent. Orstine forces his way up and out of the coffin. His arms grab Agnes and force her to him. His jagged glass teeth rip her neck apart.
The next morning Jenny finds Agnes’ body lying in a pool of blood. There’s no change in Orstine, though Jenny doesn’t think he was smirking the last time she saw him.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.