Excerpt of Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
(Page 1 of 4)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Portrait of an Unknown Woman
It was just a room. A mean little room at the back of a mean little house,
under All Hallows. But it was a room full of God.
Bet youd like to see how I make my remedies, Davy had said almost a
taunt when I took myself with cloak and basket round the apothecaries and
stopped at his tatty display. He grinned for the passers-by. Bet youve never
seen real unicorns horn, eh, missis?
The street boys cackled and poked each other with their elbows. I swallowed,
ignored them, and nodded, wondering whether he was really just a lunatic after
all, and he loped off eastwards, looking behind to make sure I was following.
He went on muttering. I caught some words on the wind as I hurried along
behind, but nothing that made any sense. Once he turned round with a mad laugh
and waved a dirty bottle taken from his pocket at me. Elixir of truth! he
shrieked cheerfully. Lets drink it! Then he ducked into an alleyway,
beckoning me forward with a bony finger, and pushed into his home.
It stank. There was bedding at the back, rolled up; and at the front of the
room a frowsty old woman in a chair picked half-heartedly at some needlework.
There was a table in the window with a dozen or so sloppy bottles, half-full of
greyish, yellowish stuff, and basins with more of the same indeterminate liquids
half-covered with cloths like childrens games. Davys games, I presumed. The
old woman looked up and her eyes widened at the sight of me. But she hid her
surprise reasonably well. She didnt put down her mending. Good morning,
mistress, she said with composure.
Davy took his craziness off like a cloak when he came indoors. Well go to
the room, Mum, he said calmly. Will you let the others in later?
We walked through the courtyard where two cats were hissing at each other and
into the half-submerged cellar room at the back, whose walls were loaded with
firewood, tools, bottles, a couple of shelves of foodstuffs and a couple of
shelves, right at the back, of square shapes covered in cloth. There were three
long trestle benches in the middle of the room.
Sit down, Davy said. Please. Can I get you something? Wine? and he
laughed, but a sane laugh now, perhaps even a little wry. Elixir of truth?
Ive come to ask for the truth, I said seriously, and was encouraged to see
him sit down on another bench and nod back with equally serious simplicity. I
think you know why. I want to know about the women you sent to me. The man who
died. The Bible men and why my father hates them. Im guessing you can tell me.
He nodded. Considering. There was a gleam in those strange old eyes that I
didnt remember seeing before.
Ive got a question for you first, he said. What do you say when you
I paused. Watching his lips but not understanding the sounds they made. What
kind of question was that?
I mean it. Think, he said. What words do you pray with?
And the candle gloom of the church swept through me; the mighty, measured
words of God. Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium, et invisibilium. Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum, Filium
Dei unigenitum. Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula. Deum de Deo, lumen de
luminae, Deum verum de Deo vero. Genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt ... Pater noster, quis es in coelis; sanctificetur
nomen tuum: ad veniat regnum tuum: fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo, et in
terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.
Excerpted from Portrait of an Unknown Woman
by Vanora Bennett, Copyright © 2007 by Vanora Bennett. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the author.