Written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge-48hrs/1000 words/Historical fiction/house for sale/a bomb.
In 1913 Manchester, Sylvia Pankhurst returns to her childhood home at the request of her sister Christabel. As the feuding sisters clash over the direction their cause is taking, elsewhere another suffragette takes extreme action.
The red brick facade seemed sullen in the humid shade of the infirmary. Or perhaps, dread added shadow only she could feel. Sylvia swung open the black piked gate, noticing the fading peel of the painted iron. Weeds in the flagstone. The hedge with too many thorns and not enough blooms. The door stood slightly ajar as if half welcome, half warning. She pressed her hand against the brocade at her stomach, breathing deeply. Reluctantly she lifted her skirts over the well worn step and into her childhood home.
And they’re off!
Christabel sat in simple grey velvet at the small round parlour table where their mother once held court. Behind her, the heavy burgundy drapes blanketed most of the light from the bay window. A single kerosene lamp cast illuminated a sheaf of legal papers and a crystal decanter.
“You missed Mister Brearley.” Christabel finished the small glass and promptly refilled it. She rankled at the fact she’d earned a law degree, but as a woman was unable to practise.
But Sylvia knew the paperwork for the sale was not the real reason for her summons to Manchester. She twisted up the lamp wick a quarter turn, illuminating the green, white and violet on shawls, cushions and wall hangings. The Women’s Social and Political Union was born in this room. Sylvia shuddered at what the group had become, despite the sticky June day. Suffragettes was the derisive term now used.
Above the mantle, the two WSPU flags were missing, though the centerpiece remained. Her own embroidery, her mother’s battle cry.
A huge roar went up from the crowd. As one they pressed toward the track. A tall, thin woman in blue jostled her way toward the fence at Tattenham Corner, where the horses would ease off a little before the sprint down the home straight. Only forty, she looked closer to sixty with gaunt skin stretched paper lantern thin over her long frame. Her golden hair already hurried to grey well ahead of its time. She cursed her weak body. If only it were as strong as her mind! But she had suffered much in recent times. A small price, she reminded herself. Inside her coat, she had pinned the two distinctive flags to leave no doubt as to her cause…
“Deeds not words,” mocked Christabel. “There was a time when you believed that as well.”
“There was a time,” answered Sylvia, “when we did not light fires, throw axes at Prime Ministers…”
“Shame it missed.”
“…or plant bombs!”
The explosion at Lloyd George’s summer house had been the line in the sand at which Sylvia had recoiled. The politician had been sympathetic to their cause until then.
“Our mother took the blame for that Chrissie. Sentenced to three years for it.”
“And released in thirty days. Emily says they’re terrified of creating a martyr.”
“Emily? Davison? The woman is insane.”
Davison had been arrested on countless occasions. She’d been force fed nearly fifty times in prison after orchestrating hunger strikes. The woman ranted to newspapers and people in the street alike. Issued threats. Made bombs from kerosene soaked linen. No one had died, yet. Oh Chrissie…
“Up the hill they come with a mile and two furlongs to go. Prue for Danny Maher leads early, with Louvois just astern. The favourite Craganour is next, buffeted by Abouyer, with Shogun at their wither. Then Day Comet and Radiant. Fairy King sits outside his majesty’s colt, Anmer but they’re well off the pace…” An excited racegoer pressed against the woman’s back, sending stars of pain shooting through her. She was still two rows back from the railing, and could feel the thunder of hooves growing beneath her feet…
Christabel mocked her sister’s grimace. “Are you too delicate for a bowl a’skilly in ‘Ollaway? For milk and raw egg funneled through a pipe, only to vomit it up again? To be hosed down like an animal? Emily broke her back when she threw herself off that railing in prison. A true sister. Words have failed. Now there are only deeds.”
“And on the downhill run to Tattenham they come with six furlongs to run. Prue is joined by the long shot Abouyer. Louvois lost his position. The favourite begins to make his move under strong riding. Day Comet is cramped Shogun is shuffled rearwards. The king’s horse is still well back. In fact Anmer has only two behind him…” She must get to the rail. Now. She lifted her voice to the sky. “Votes for women” she screeched. The shocked man in front of her turned, and in that moment she squeezed past him…
“No,” whispered Sylvia. “It’s too much.” The pins had slipped from Christabel’s neat auburn hair. She shook it free. Her eyes blazed like a cornered cat.
“Chrissie. The new petition w…” Sylvia reached her hand across the table. Christabel recoiled, brushing the legal papers to the floor as she stood.
“Words! Stupid, empty words! What will you do Sylvie? Paint a pretty picture that gets them to rush it through parliament? New Zealanders, and South Australian women can vote. Even run for office! Our colonies before us! What use are our words when those that listen do not hear?”
She drained her glass, slamming it down.
“Don’t pretend to care, traitor. Remember what mother said? We need to attack what they value most; money, property…”
“Christabel, where is Emily?”
The Derby. Everyone who was anyone would be at Epsom, including the royal family. There could be eighty-thousand people there.
The first half dozen horses rounded the bend at Tattenham. As they passed, the woman slipped under the rail. Anmer loomed in front of her, leaving no time for his jockey to react. The rider catapulted over the reins as the horses shoulder struck the woman. Her body tumbled, bloody and broken across the turf. A pinwheel of blue, green, white and violet.
Christabel leaned forward and blew out the lamp.