Short story based on “Gin Lane” character Essay

Short story based on “gin lane” character

Mary slept undisturbed by the light flooding through the cracked shutters on the window, until Will nudged her ribs with the toe of his boot.  She awoke with an intense headache, her throat dry and wasted muscles aching.

“Wake up,” Will muttered in a slurred voice.  “We’re pawning these at Gripe’s.”  He held his tool case, an aging wooden box he’d built years ago in Buckinghamshire, when he was apprenticed to his native village’s master carpenter.  As Mary looked at it for a moment, she had a few memories amidst the fog – how she’d met him while he’d worked on the home of her employer, of their courtship and marriage in the village church, and how they’d migrated to London seeking more work.  Since then, she could barely piece together their life, not that she cared to remember much of it.

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Still in the dress she’d worn the day before (and the day before that), Mary rolled herself off the straw pile they used as a bed, pulling herself slowly to her feet.  She looked around the small room they shared, empty except for a table and two battered chairs, their bedding, a chamber pot, pieces of partly-eaten food, and a few empty bottles of gin scattered on the floor.  She saw her shawl and hat hanging on the back of a chair and moved slowly toward it, groaning with pain and fatigue.  Will took the half-filled bottle from the table, took a swig from it, and passed it to Mary.  She took a small sip at first, then a larger one, wincing after the second.  As Will moved toward the door, Mary grabbed their old iron cooking pot and kettle, then followed him down the stairs and into the street.

The street was still muddy from the last rain, with puddles every few steps.  Mary walked unsteadily behind Will, trying to avoid the puddles and sinkholes.  The bright midmorning sun hurt her eyes, and the noises of the growing crowd worsened her headache.  The smells of horse droppings, rotting garbage, and the open sewers along the edges of the streets produced horrid smells, which worsened as the temperature rose.  A few pushcart merchants peddling their wares called out, trying to draw people from the ramshackle houses.  A tinker pushed his cart a short way behind Will and Mary, while an apple peddler several yards ahead of them fended off  ragged children trying to steal apples from his cart.  Children, often without shoes and in ragged clothes, played in the muddy streets, while drunkards sat on doorsteps and leaned against walls, either waking up from drunken sleep or feeling the effects of their first drinks of the day.  A somewhat prosperous-looking, well-dressed man with a walking stick walked down the street toward Will and Mary, likely a merchant on his way somewhere.  He looked uncomfortable as he walked carefully, trying to avoid the puddles and barely tolerating the fetid smells.  A woman in torn, filthy clothing approached him quickly and tried to beg from him.

“Spare a few pence, sir?”  The woman said in a raspy voice, revealing her few remaining rotted teeth as she spoke.

“Away from me!” The man bellowed, raising his walking stick defensively but not swinging it.  The beggar woman cringed away.

Will and Mary approached the Gin Lane intersection, passing the Kilman distillery, from which emanated the smells of fermenting grain.  The distillery gave the muddy street its name, as well as its derelicts; its cheaply-produced, easily-affordable gin gave many of these struggling urban workers an affordable diversion which for many became a prison.  It was easier, after all, to find solace in gin than to solve problems that most had never even thought deeply about.

Entering the intersection, Will and Mary sidestepped more puddles and ruts created by carts and passed into the usual scene of chaos.  The distillery sold gin by the glass from a window at the corner as a means of winning customers and making profit from those who could not afford to buy an entire bottle at a time.  Clusters of people, looking much like Will and Mary, clamored around one another, talking, laughing, ranting, and fighting.  A few women held babies that looked malnourished and sickly; the mothers seemed to care little, or else they disguised it with alcoholic merriment.

They entered Gripe’s pawn shop, a cluttered but clean-looking establishment across the lane from Kilman’s.  Inside, Mr. Gripe, the proprietor, stood at his counter, a tall, taciturn, middle-aged man who wore spectacles and looked rather hardier than most of the denizens of Gin Lane.  Indeed, he did not live there, preferring a cleaner, more prosperous neighborhood of small merchants.  He chose to run his shop in Gin Lane because he recognized the value of others’ desperation; as he reasoned, they would sell anything to quench their thirst for gin, and he saw profits in this.  After all, one had to make a living.

Gripe walked around from his counter and stopped Will and Mary near the door.  “What have you, then?”  He asked in a curt, forceful voice.  “We wish to sell these, sir,” Mary spoke before Will could answer.  She could manage a more plaintive tone than her gruff husband, who handed over the saw.  He looked it over with a sour, skeptical look, then looked at the iron pot and kettle with a little less doubt on his face.  “Three shillings for the lot,” he said curtly.

Will was expressionless as Mary looked back at Gripe somewhat timidly, hoping her pitiful expression would raise the pawnbroker’s offer.  “All right,” Will rasped.  Gripe took the goods behind his counter, took three shillings from his till, and paid them without a word.  Will grunted as Mary thanked him sheepishly.  They headed out the door and toward Kilman’s, walking now with somewhat more purpose, ready to face the day and numb themselves with the cheap gin that Kilman’s was only too happy to provide.

 

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