“Uh, no,” replied Mark, vaguely. Arabella could see he was distracted, as he loaded his mug very deliberately into the dishwasher. How he managed to do even the most basic thing so incredibly slowly was beyond her.
“Yes, he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, after being usurped by Henry, Duke of Lancaster – who became Henry IV. There’s a source in this book that says he was kept in chains and started trying to eat himself.”
“Self-cannibalisation is probably a fetish, isn’t it? I expect it would be rather alarming to Google it,” said Mark, becoming more interested, as he sat down on the sofa next to the cat. The cat opened his eyes briefly, looked at Mark suspiciously, then closed his eyes again. It seemed that the cat wasn’t terribly interested in English history.
Arabella put down her wine glass on a little wooden tool trolley, one of Theo’s toys. A classic local mum network bargain, she’d been pleased with it – £5 and a slightly annoying drive through the suburbs to pick it up, rather than £45 new. And wooden, so it would pass muster with the plastic toy police. Theo had played enthusiastically with it for a few twenty-minute stints over a period of a couple of weeks, but didn’t seem to be particularly interested in it anymore. They kept it in place in the living room next to the sofa, referring to it affectionately as the “occasional table”. The things that you find killingly funny after having kids would surprise your pre-parent self, if you could go back in time and tell yourself.
“It’s mad, isn’t it. All those famous history stories that we all know. Divorced, beheaded, died. My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse. And I knew literally nothing about this king until I read this book. And it’s really salacious and gory, what happened to him. I wonder why it’s not more famous?”
Mark sat back on the sofa, watching Arabella getting more and more animated. She got all obsessive about things like this for a while, until it passed and something else piqued her interest.
Doesn’t he understand that I’ve got nothing else to do with my brain all day, she thought, waiting for him to reply, to engage in a conversation about something other than money or how tedious each of their days had been.
She sighed and got up from the armchair.
“I’ll get dinner rolling, then, shall I?”
Later, Arabella closed her eyes in bed and tried to go to sleep, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d read. It was unimaginable to be so hungry that you started to eat yourself, to tear at your own limbs with your teeth. Unimaginable to be kept naked, in chains, in the dark. He must have been driven completely mad. If he wasn’t mad already, which by all accounts he may have been. Not by all accounts, actually – by that account. Which Arabella acknowledged to herself might not be true. It might be legend, or myth, or propaganda. It might be tabloid-friendly popular history, rather than weighty, properly-researched reference material.
But as she lay there next to Mark, who appeared to have fallen asleep already, she kept imagining what it would be like to never see the light. That kind of torture, without even taking the starvation into account, would be enough to break your mind into pieces. Alone in the darkness for hours and hours, days and nights merging into one. Alone with your memories and your regrets. Missing people you loved, raging against your captors and those who had betrayed you.
And there was so much to know, so much to learn. How astonishing and terrifying to think of all the things that were out there to discover, to read about. Infinite knowledge. Infinite light and infinite darkness.
Hannah is a freelance writer and blogger, who shares fiction, poetry and other ramblings at Secret Scribbles in London and ideas for living more sustainably at The Everyday Radical. She is currently also working on a strategic project with a public sector client, and is in the very early stages of writing a novel. Hannah lives in South East London with a marauding toddler, an occasionally-marauding husband and a rescue cat, known as The Fluffbeast, who believes he has a very tragic life.
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