On the book tour for Isabel Ashdown’s thrilling new book called ’33 Women’ sit back and enjoy an extract from the story.
THE SISTERS OF TWO CROSS FARM :
CODE OF CONDUCT
1. Come as yourself, sister, whoever that may be.
2. No man shall enter through the gates of our community.
3. In all things, sisters are equal.
4. Trust is implicit, loyalty a given.
5. 33 will be the number at our table.
6. 6 will be the number of our Founding Sisters, the caretakers
of our community.
7. All who dwell here must first shed their limpets, who or
whatever they may be.
8. Come for a day or stay forever, but all must come in the
spirit of sisterhood.
9. Every sister will be afforded a week to weep and a lifetime
10. Each sister will rise with the sun and rest with the moon.
11. She will labour six days out of seven for her weekly shelter.
12. Banishment is final.
There is a moment in which pain and fear slips into acceptance.
I am there now, and all around me is still, a midnight hush
of shock and awe. No more can I feel the weight of fists slamming into my jaw, or the snap of my ribs, or even the gasping pressure of fingers closing around my throat. In fact, I barely feel a thing, just the frost-damp grass beneath my palms and the cool white whisper of my breath as it slips through my broken lips. Above me, the stars are out, the indigo sky quite lit up by them, and, as white wings soar by, it occurs to me that they are silent witnesses to my passing. I wonder if I should feel afraid.
But then I am sixteen again; I see Celine and Pip shrouded
in sunlight at the kitchen table, laying out bread for cheese
on toast, and Celine is cutting the crusts off Pip’s because she
won’t eat them, and drizzling Worcester sauce on mine because
that’s how I like it. And I’m standing there in the doorway in
my school uniform, biting down on my lip because I love these
two so much – I’m feeling too much – and it’s chaos inside my
head; and now we’re sitting on the back steps, arranged like pot
plants, one-two-three, eating our toast and looking out across the courtyard, naïvely planning summer day trips and meal rotas,
and Celine is saying ‘Delilah who ?’ and the light is radiating
through Pip’s scruffy blonde hair and she’s sticking two fingers
in the air, blowing raspberries and we’re laughing, all three of
us through tears, and we have each other and we’ll cling to that,and we’ll never walk away . . .
A sound, a thud like iron against hard earth, brings me back
to this starry night, and even through my inertia fresh panic
grips me. How will they know how to find me? How will my
sisters know where to look?
The night sky is obscured as women gather over me, their
faces lined with age, eyes moving closer, closer, closer still, testing me for life. Whether they see it or not, I wish them only love in this final breath, before their eyes, like the stars, fade to nothing.
If you liked this short extract from ’33 Women’, you can buy it from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.