Monday, 27 September 2010

The Ox by H.E. Bates

A short extract from a very rare short story written by H.E. Bates which was only ever published in John O'London's Weekly from June 9, 1939.

The Thurlows lived on a small hill. As though it were not high enough, the house was raised up, as if on invisible stilts, with a wooden flight of steps to the front door. Exposed and isolated, the wind striking at it from all quarters, it seemed to have no part with the surrounding landscape. Empty ploughed lands, in winter time, stretched away on all sides in wet steel curves.
At half-past seven every morning Mrs. Thurlow pushed her great rusty bicycle down the hill; at six every evening she pushed it back. Loaded always with grey bundles of washing, oil-cans, sacks, cabbages, bundles of old newspaper, boughs of wind-blown wood and bags of chicken food, the bicycle could never be ridden. It was a vehicle of necessity. Her relationship to it was that of a beast to a cart. Slopping along beside it, flat, heavy feet pounding painfully along under mud-stained skirts, her face and body ugly with lumpy angles of bone, she was like a beast of burden.
Coming out of the house, raised up even above the level of the small hill, she stepped into a country of wide horizons. This fact meant nothing to her. The world into which she moved was very small: from six to nine she cleaned for the two retired sisters, nine to twelve for the retired photographer, twelve-thirty to three for the poultry farm, four to six for the middle-aged bachelor. She did not think of going beyond the four lines which made up the square of her life. She thought of other people going beyond them, but this was different. Staring down at a succession of wet floors, working always for other people, against time, she had somehow got into the habit of not thinking about herself......