Whither The Bint Of Shelmerdox?

Whither the bint of Shelmerdox? The story goes that she went out a-hiking one morning and never came home. Some said she had a tryst with a tinker and ran away with him to his glen. Others spoke of a mysterious hot air balloon, spotted in the sky above the goaty place around noon. The parish priest insisted he saw her waving from its basket, but he was an old and foolish man and had had sundry hallucinations. There were those who muttered in the shadows of dark and desperate deeds.

Before she left, the bint of Shelmerdox ate an egg on toast and drank half a bottle of gin. She took the time to wash her dishes and place them on the drainer. But she left her purse and keys and passport and engagement ring upon the kitchen table, next to a saucer she used as an ashtray. Had she planned her disappearance, or had she not?.

The bint’s fiancé, the village wrestler, was much distraught. In the market square, by the horse trough, he blubbered like a baby as night fell and there was no sign of her. The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman collected his tears in a cup, and boiled them, that she might see in the clouds of steam a vision of the bint and her present whereabouts. But the steam vouchsafed nought but unreadable swirlings, so the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman next eviscerated a few hens and read their hot bloody entrails, again to no avail. The bint of Shelmerdox had vanished off the face of the earth.

On the first anniversary, the village folk gathered in a barn and sang songs for her. They would have lit candles too, had the parish priest not eaten them all in his madness. The songs they sang were the current popular hits of the village and its hinterland, with newly-minted lyrics, some penned by the wrestler, who still wept every day.

Oh where is she now, my Shelmerdox bint? / I dab at my tears with a poor scrap of lint / If only the gods would let drop a hint / Of where she has gone to, my Shelmerdox bint!

The parish priest, whose chain was lengthened so he could just about reach the doorway of the barn, tried to offer up a prayer for the immortal soul of the bint, but he forgot why he was there, and blessed a couple of cows instead. The names of the cows were Puskas and Di Stefano. They were terrific cows, the pride of the village, and the bint had oftentimes patted their heads and whispered in their ears in that sozzled way of hers.

The commemoration was repeated in subsequent years, always with new songs from the village wrestler, still weeping copiously, and with haphazard blessings from the parish priest. One time he managed a spark of lucidity and actually prayed for the bint, though usually his benediction fell upon the cows or a patch of lupins or even the chain that ensured he did not stray beyond the village.

The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman refused to attend any of these ceremonies. But she had not forgotten about the bint of Shelmerdox. Within her hovel, among her dried-up poisonous plants and toads and beetles and pins and pokey-sticks, she carried on her eldritch flummery in secret. She had somehow got hold of the bint’s passport, abandoned on the kitchen table, and made dozens upon dozens of copies of the photograph therein, on the photocopying machine in the village post office, and plastered the walls of her hovel with them. The bint stared out at her, sour, gin-soaked, and half-asleep. The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman became fixated upon the bint’s smudged lipstick, convinced that the eerily shifting contours of the smudge in the passport photograph held the key to her vanishing. In some copies, the smudge resembled a subtropical peninsula. In others, it looked like a heron.

On the ninth anniversary, the villagers eschewed the barn and gathered instead at the goaty place. The parish priest’s chain had been shortened after he frightened some swans in the summer just gone, and he stayed in his presbytery, sucking on lettuce leaves for their moisture. The village wrestler dabbed at his tear-stained eyes with his filthy scrap of lint, and sang a threnody.

My broken heart has the weight of lead / I can barely totter out of bed / How many more sobbings must I shed? / My bint is gone, she must be dead.

According to the village’s ad hoc legal system, these words counted as a binding declaration of the death of the Shelmerdox bint. Her home and her remaining personal effects could now be burned entire, all trace of her expunged, and fireworks launched from the village green. The wrestler could stop crying and seek a new inamorata. Even were the bint to reappear, miraculously alive, she would be invisible to the villagers, fated to roam among them as a ghost.

Which, oddly, is precisely what happened, at the very moment the final firework fizzled out and was squelched underfoot by the village postie. Drunk and bedraggled and moth-eaten, the Shelmerdox bint emerged from a shrub clump and staggered across the fields into the village. She smashed the window of the off licence and hoicked a bottle of vagabond’s ruin from the display, but now she was dead to the villagers and nobody saw her.

Nobody save for the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, who inhabited a different, lopsided plane. She beckoned to the bint, and took her into her hovel, where the pair of them drank their fill and babbled about the bint’s lipstick smudge long into the night. When morning came, they trudged arm in arm to the barn, and whispered into the ears of Puskas and Di Stefano, and then the bint of Shelmerdox and the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, and the two terrific cows, headed out of the village, across the fields, and into the hills, and up into the mountains, up where the oxygen grew thin, and they passed, oh! so happy, beyond human ken, forevermore.

Originally posted in 2009.

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