A Day at the Races, short story
A while ago my writers' group was set a task to write an historic event through the eyes of a by-stander. This was my humble attempt.
A Day at the Races by Carmilla Voiez written in dialect
Here I is, wanderin’ round the edges o’ the track. Meetin’ people brief-like then movin’ on. S’pose that’s just what me life is really. Keepin’ to the edges and movin’ on regular-like. It suits me. Rose is me name. I travels, followin’ grai fairs an’ races. Most of me summer is spent on the road. We’re Romani see, me and me family, an’ today we is workin’. Right busy at Epsom too, and the weather’s real kushti. Sniffin’ the Solstice air I smells wild flowers ‘n’ horse shit. Racin’ season. All of London gathers ’ere and we comes to make sure enough poshes is spent and we gits our fair share o’ it. Even ’is Majesty is ’ere. Racin’ a fine bay ’e is. ’Ad a lil peepsies at Anmer earlier I dids: powerful lookin’. Some of these grai look a bit too spindly-like to be o’ much use off the race track. Us Romani, we’s traders too see, we knows our grai, knows what they is worf.
I peds through the folki in the Tattersalls and the Dee, tattin’ me lucky ’eather to all these bristly gents who ’ave been busy wiv the bookies. Dukkerin’ on a few palms too, easy when you’s selling ’eather to keep their hand a bit longer, glimpse a bit of kushti bak ’ere ‘n’ there. No lies mind you, I only tells what I sees. I’ve got a talent fer this kinda work. Me Ma was the best, famous she were in ’er day. She passed twelvemoon ago… Still follows me roun’ though, whispering chal’s secrets in me ear. Bein’ Romani is like that, we got connections. So when these superstitious types sees me snaking over to ’em, in me fine ’and painted skirts an’ red ’ed-scarf, they makes sure they treats me right.
‘Lucky ’eather, sir?’ I enquires. You kin always tell ’em whose bettin’ large on the grai by how polite they is to the Romani. None o’ yer arrogant sniffs ‘n’ snoots when there’s a few shillin’s hangin’ in the balance. I always gives a big flash of me danners when they bows at me. Me, who they more likely fall over afore they sees me anywhere or any time else. ‘Lucky ’eather, sir? Best luck o’ the derby.’
‘Hmm,’ answers this tall chal, dressed in a brown suit.
’E’s staring out over the track. ’E turns an’ sees me. I feels ’im shudder. ’E recovers fast enough mind. ’E digs deep in his pootsi fer the last of his coins, git hissell a bit of kooshti bak. I takes ’is poshes but keeps ’is hand a moment longer, enjoyin’ ’is discomfort.
‘I kin see you’ll ’ave some luck today, sir.’ I says, breathin’ in ’is face.
‘Really?’ ’e exclaims, ’is tidy eyebrows raises up and ’is pink skin prickles wiv excitement.
‘I kin do you a readin’ right now, sir.’
Course ’e’s all eager to discover what I’ve seen. They always are. I kin make enough to buy me some fine tuv fer me pipe an’ still keep me going fer sixmoon, just by duckerin’ palms and tattin’ ’eather at the derbies. I tells ’im ’is ’orse’ll come first cross the line an’, after gitten me palm crossed fer me trouble, I swish away to greet the next moosh.
Glimpsin’ a few ladies near the track, at Tattenham corner, I feels glad o’ me light blouse an’ cotton skirts under this glarin’ sun. I can’ help but consider how divi these ladies are, all dressed in their long black chuffas on a baking hot afternoon. I laugh at ’em, “victims of fashion” and passes ’em by. But somethin’ tugs at me, call it second sight, and I turns back and peds towards ’em.
They’s all bunched up close, whisperin’. I kin tell they’s excited. No-one else looks at ’em. I’s like they’re invisible cause they dunna belong. All the other fine ladies is up in them shaded stalls, where the likes of me can’ get to ’em, dressed in their pale linens an’ silks an’ them big ’ats. These ain’t no workin’ women neither, yet ’ere they stands, track-side. Defiant. Then I sees it, death, hoverin’ over ’em, its kauli wings beatin’ the air above their black feathered bonnets. It’s ’ungry.
I watches ’em. Their dark coats all kushti and their ’ats like kauli crowns on their proud faces. All around ’em is dirt. Muddy chals jostle wiv sweaty bookies an’ each other. They is the silhouette of an oasis, standin’ so proud-like in the muck. I never feels respect for the chals an’ ladies at these races. Fools they is, crammed in boxes. But I is fascinated wiv these, an’ what death wants wiv ’em. I feels I should sell ’em me ’eather, they looks like they need some kushti bak. But somethin’ ’olds me back.
The breeze teases their chuffas open and I sees stripes ’idden beneath, flashes of purple, white an’ green darin’ to be noticed. No-one else sees. Only I shares their secret. One of ’em looks up, an in ’er eyes I sees crystals shinin’. She brushes ’em away wiv ’er sleeve an’ ’er eyes flash at me, pale as sister moon. She trembles an’ I thinks she’s gonna faint. But she recovers an’ turns away.
The race starts an’ the crowd pushes forward. I ain’t pushed though. I peds to the front at me own speed. I wants to keep me eyes on ’em. People washes past me. I feels like a boulder in the river bed.
Grai is racin’ past us now, jockeys urgin’ ’em wiv beats of the chooper. I looks across an’ sees one of ’em ladies duckin’ un’er the railin’s. She peds up to the middle of’ the race an’ stands there. One grai swerves an’ races past ’er. Then anover’s roundin’ the corner, a bay, Anmer, I recognises ’is colours. This divi puts ’er arm up like she’s ’bout to put ’er scarf roun’ the grai’s bridle. But the grai keeps goin’. Then I hears a scream an’ she’s tumblin’ through the air. A stream of colours is flappin’ in the breeze behind her. Elegant she looks. ’Overin’ in the air before ’ittin’ the ground an’ bouncin’ like a discarded toy. I sees death again, playin’ her, like a violin, extractin’ ’er last notes.
I stares at ’er lyin’ there. Thick rivers o’ bright red rat is streaming from ’er poggered face. She lies still-like in the grass and mud, ’er chuffa open like broken wings and ’er purple, white ‘n’ green scarf trailin’ from ’er right ’and t’wards the crowd. I sees the colours an’ I jin what she is. Suffragists they name ’em. Seem to threaten these chals as much as we Romani do. Freedom’s a scary ideal to some. Yet they ’adn’t no more power than little childer, these ladies, thinkin’ freedom kin be given wiv a vote. Freedom ain’t given, it’s taken. Me own life kin be ’ard, specially in winter-like. But I is free as a bird, and I ’adn’t got no vote neither. Freedom’s all she got now. Spirit soarin’, laughin’ at ’er poggered self. Folki is fidgetin’. They dunna jin what to do, what to fink. ’Er lyin’ there. I sees she still alive though. I feels ’er spirit still bound up wiv ’er flesh. Can’ sees why they ain’t lookin’ to her. S’pose they jin she ’adn’t got long. I sends ’er a kiss to speed ’er to the next life. When I looks fer ’em the other ladies is gorn.
The fallen jockey seems dazed-like but no worse. Chals is carrying ’im aways. The grai looks bungy too, fine bay he was, the kings grai, but ’is hind leg is twisted-like. Everyone’s talkin’ ’bout the jockey an’ the grai. Wonderin’ if they’ll ’ave to shoot Anmer. No-one’s talkin’ ’bout ’er. She’s waitin’, fergotten.
I pulls mesell t’gether. Time to git movin’. I’s never right to stay too long. The race is over, best be peddin’ me own way before the chals come lookin’ fer a refund. Crowds kin turn nasty, ’specially when there’s Romani they kin blame.