Period Drama by Jo Howard

I’d not long since got back to bed, after visiting wi’young master, when I were woken at ’crack o’ sparrers by this ungodly racket.

‘Aaaargh!’ she goes, ‘Aaaaaaaargh!’

‘What?’ I says, ‘What the divil’s got into you?’

It were Florrie, ’scullery maid, screaming like to wake ’dead.

‘Oh Ellen,’ she goes ‘Oh Ellen, ’elp me, I’m dyin’!’

She staggers over ter ’chamber pot.

‘Tha looks alright ter me,’ I says.

‘No,’ she says, ‘look!’

And she points to ’er bit o’ mattress and sure enough there’s a big patch o’ blood, all brown and reddish like, and then she gets off ’pot and shows me ’back of ’er nightgown and she goes, ‘Ellen I’m bleedin’. I’m goin’ die!’

‘Oh love,’ I says, ‘Tha’s an innocent lamb int tha? Did tha mam not tell thi ’owt about this? Sent thi off ter work in a big ’ouse and dint tell thi about Eve’s curse? T’int reet.’

‘Eve’s what?’

‘We all gets it love, every month, regular as clockwork! I’ll ask Mrs McCallister if she can get thi some bits o’ rag.’

‘No.’ she shrieks, ‘No! It’s … It’s down there … I can’t tell her …

‘Sssh.’ I say, tha’ll wake ’others, if th’a’nt already woken them with tha carryin’ on. It’s tha monthly bleed, love, tha int gonna die or ’owt. Tha’s just becomin’ a woman. ’Appens to us all … even Mrs McCallister.’ An’ I puts me arm round ’er, like.

‘What?’ she says, ‘I don’t geddit. This?’ She points at ’er bloodstained nightgown, ‘This ’appens to all women every month and nobody says ’owt? Is tha pullin’ me leg, Ellen?’

‘No,’ I says but ,’more I thinks about it, ’more it’s like, she’s right, tha knows, it is a proper scandal that we all puts up wi’it and never even says owt.’

‘We ’aff ’tell someone!’ she says, ‘Tha’s a good hand. Write ter ’queen an tell ’er. T’int reet ’er subjects going through this. ’Ere, I’ve thruppence saved. Tha can ’ave a ha’penny fer ’stamp.’

‘Florrie love,’ I says, ’Queen already knows. Queen gets it too.’

‘No!’ she says, ‘Nooooooo!’ and she draws it out so much I think she’s gonna rupture summat. ‘It’s not funny to tell lies about ‘queen, Ellen.’

‘Cross me ‘eart, queen gets Eve’s curse an’ all, just like the rest of us. ‘Cept she’s always ruddy pregnant.’

‘Ellen!’ she gasps, ‘Don’t say bad words about ’queen. It’s a sin!’

An’ when she says that, I can’t ’elp mysen’!

‘Queen’s got bloody drawers! Ruddy bloody drawers!’ I chant and I do a little shimmy and show me drawers which are not bloody cos I ’ant ’ad curse fer a couple o’ months, dunno why like, an’ Florrie looks scandalised but then ’er mouth twitches and she gets ’giggles. Florrie’s a case. She ’as this silent laugh where she can’t breathe and it goes on fer ages and when she comes to she goes,

‘Ooh Ellen, you are wicked.’

And I goes, ‘Come on love, let’s get thi cleaned up before every man and ’is wife is up. See if we can’t find thi them rags.’

And then I stands up sudden and I looks at that bloodstain and I come owwer all queasy, like.

‘Scuse me,’ I says, and I vomits in’ chamber pot which is ’orrible cos it’s half full o’doin’s already.

‘Is tha not well?’ says Florrie, but I can’t speak. I’m too busy retchin’.

Jo Howard is a poet, singer, storyteller, scriptwriter and host of Manchester spoken word night, Verbose, along with Zena Barrie. She is a producer at video company Viva la Zoom, which she runs with her husband. Her work is inspired by experiences growing up in Lancashire and living in Manchester. Twitter: @joannuski@VerboseMCR