“Can you hear the bells begin, Alice? These are the last moments of 1913, and if you don’t let me help you, they’ll be yours as well.”
Her jaw was locked. Her arms and neck and thoughts locked too. How did he think she might answer him?
Her bed faced the front windows, but all she could see were the tops of the trees that fronted St. Partick Dun’s Hospital. No lights were lit on the street, and the trees themselves were merely hunched and hairy shadows against a purple sky.
She thought there should be flames in that sky; surely every street in Dublin was burning? The must be grand heaps of stolen coal, piled the length of the Grand Canal, with all the striking workers sizzling on top of them. Isn’t that why she felt such terrible heat?
“Alice? I’m going to wet your lips, don’t be panicking.”
He lifted her head only slightly, but he might as well have hooked a sickle round the back of her neck and lifted her by the blade. The pain was searing and she couldn’t cry it out. Her breath left her, and when he tipped the glass to her mouth, she was inhaling the water as much as swallowing it. A fit threatened to engulf her, but then his hand was on her brow. There was pain as cold and sharp as the lockjaw was hot, but it was there and gone in an instant and it calmed her.
“Better, isn’t it? Speak to me, Alice.”
“Yes.” Her voice rasped, sounded so much older than her sixteen years.
“Say yes again, and we’re done. Forget Jim Larkin and his unions. Forget about Patrick Traynor. Leave this slum of a city behind and come away.”
Partick Traynor had shot her in the hand.
After fifteen weeks of strikes and lockouts, she’d been reduced to living off the food packets that the Irish Women Worker’s Union were handing out; the stipend from the Trades Union Congress was gone. Her friend Nora said that some of the girls from Jacobs were getting bags of broken biscuits out the back door of the factory, but Alice didn’t see that as much different from being a scab.
On the 18th of December she’d been on Mark Street, collecting her packet, when a group of Robinson’s coal carts had come trundling past. All the men working the carts were scabs, grasping at pennies while the likes of Mr. W.N. Robinson laughed at how cheap they were bought.
Yes, the women of the union had jeered them, threatened to get them gelded or dead. But that wasn’t what did for Alice.
As the protesting crowd grew around the parked carts, the horses shied and bolted. Back at the police barracks, a constable called Allen told his sergeant that he’d been in the middle of the ensuing fray and could attest to the danger of the situation, but Alice never saw no constable. What she saw was Patrick Traynor, and a man she would later learn was his brother Michael, stealing coal.
Traynor claimed he’d not seen her there, and certainly didn’t aim for her. He said he’d only sought to scare off the hostile crowd, fearing for his life. Nobody questioned why Robinson’s workers had guns at all. They let him out the next day, but lifted him and the brother for the “larceny of a bag of coal.” She hadn’t even begrudged it to him.
Nora dressed the wound, but she’d needed the hospital. They took the bullet out and sent her home, but the lockjaw was there and never got better. The dirt of the city was always on you, but if it got in you, you were dead.
“Come away, Alice Brady. Don’t die.”
“To your castle?”
“Is it beautiful? Are the people beautiful there?” Her voice sounded younger by the minute.
“It is beautiful, but wild. And the people are beautiful, but terrible too. You could tame them, Alice. Beguile them, delight them. Be their mistress. Their queen.”
“And they would be my servants?”
“Your faithful servants. As I am.”
“And how much would I pay them, then?”
He looked at her quizzically.
Alice felt the fever rising again, but wouldn’t let her mouth clamp shut.
“That’s what I thought,” she hissed through gritting teeth. “You’re all the same.”
His hand drew back, but she couldn’t be silenced yet.
“Go back to Hell,” she told him. “I’m not a scab.”
“Lockout” originally appeared in Big Jim’s Shadow, edited by Jared Shurin and published by Jurassic London, 2014.