The Girl Who Never Slept

Out in the wilder end of Northumberland there once lived a farmer’s daughter who never slept.

She cost her dad a good deal in light bulbs and heating, but more than made up for it in the work she did in the lonely hours, when her family rested.  She had so much time, and yet never wanted for things to do; because others were always happy to give her the tasks that fell fall to them.

So when her mam got up, some time before first light, the breakfast would be mostly done, the kitchen cleaned and the dogs fed.  When her brother Mark got up, just before first light, the troughs were full, the milking machine was ready and the animals were already out.  When her dad got up, at first light, the tractor was filled with petrol, the rotas for the lads were ready, and his bacon would be crispy.

And this was aside from the other things she did.  She washed and cleaned, she mended clothes and farm equipment with equal skill, she saw to the occasional birth or death of an animal at inconvenient hours, she fetched in the wood and fiddled the accounts better than even her Uncle Larry could manage.  All this she did all night, every night, except for the one hour she allowed herself to read.

She had been doing this since she was four, when she had become increasingly puzzled at sleep, and had decided not to go in for any of that nonsense.  She started with the few books in the house, but these were few and simplistic and tended to feature annoyingly gung-ho males who did things like fly planes and drink whisky, or go into distant fantasylands to free the exotic populace with the aid of only a talking goat and a magical slipper. So then she started getting books from the library, on the sly of course, this was her secret.

But that was an hour of her life, the rest of her unsleeping time belonged to family and farm.

 

Now word got out, and a few of the local boys perked up at the idea. The girl was known to be quiet and a little shy (good qualities in a lass, they were sure), was decently pretty, was the daughter of a well-off farmer and allegedly never stopped working.  Quite the prize.

So they began to court her.

First was William ‘Billy’ Avers, whose family was from up Ashington way.  He came to the girl one day and decided he would act like a real man, because he knew that’s what all girls liked, especially her sort.

“Morning pet,” he said as she stitched her brother’s shirt in the back yard, “I’ve been seeing you about like, and I reckon you could handle me, and there’s not many birds I’d say that about.”

The girl smiled, and said she would indeed handle him, if he could guess her favourite book.

“Book?”  He sneered.  “What’s a lass like you want one of them for?”

And so the girl lost her temper with the uncouth youth and strangled Billy, and left his body in the pig trough.  They fed well that day.

Next was Abdul ‘Abbers’ Carter, whose family was ‘not from these parts’, which is what the locals said in company when trying not to look racist.  He decided the way to woo the girl was to act like an old fashioned gentleman, and charm his way into her affections, sure a friendly smile and polite words would be just what such a quiet, hardworking girl would fall for.

“Good morning Miss Handler,” he was wearing his best jacket and shiniest trainers when he approached her outside the Post Office, “what a fine day this is.  Would you care to take a turn about the graveyard?  It is uncommonly pretty since the litter pick.”

The girl smiled, and said she would take a turn with him in the graveyard, if he could guess her favourite book.

“Why,” he said after some thought, “for a genteel lady such as yourself, I would assume the works of Mrs Stephanie Meyers.”

And so the girl lost her temper with the boy who saw her as such a stereotype, and beat his brains out with the hardback copy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy she kept in her handbag for emergencies.  She later deposited his body in the freshly dug flower-bed of the vicarage, as there were some useful rumours about the vicar.  The Rhododendrons did uncommonly well that year.

The third boy to try his luck was little James ‘Jammy Dodger’ Atkinson, whose family was local and had been local as long as anybody cared to remember (and they certainly cared to remind other folk, sometimes twice a week).  He decided honesty was the best policy, and decided to tell her exactly why he would like them to plan a life together.

“‘Ello Sonya,” he said as she untangled the remains of a sheep from the wire fence that sat between their field and the gorge, “I’ve been thinking, ‘n my dad sez I ought to get married, ‘n I reckon your dad would want you to marry my dad’s only son, bring the two farms together sort of thing.  Up for it?”

The girl smiled, and said she would marry him for his massive endowment, if he could guess her favourite book.

“The Bible?” he managed after several moments of hard thought, delving for the name of something he had once read, in the distant time when he was required to do such things.

And so the girl lost her temper with the boy who didn’t even pretend to like reading, and whipped him to death with a length of barbed wire before allowing his body to sink into the bogs on the far side of the gorge.  The tadpoles did reasonably well, that year.

 

For a time there were no further attempts to court, seduce or marry her, the village was far too interested in the mysterious disappearances to think of such things.  The girl continued on as she had, deep at night working her way through one of the more readable greats of Russian literature, and otherwise just generally working.

But eventually there came attention from another boy, the slightly drippy boy on holiday with his parents despite being a little too old to be doing so.  They were staying in a caravan, rumour had it the three of them shared a bed.

He was staring at her one afternoon in the library, he sat with a hardback bedecked in fake, black leather, with a silver skull on the cover.  Hers was in shades of green and brown, and published by Faber & Faber.

She felt uncomfortable with his gaze on her neck, not because she was unwelcome to such attention, but just because she didn’t want word getting back to her family that she wasted time in the library.  They could get very snippy when she rested, they feared the disease would become terminal.

But he solved his dilemma and, for the first time in his life, asked a girl out.  The way she handled her hardbacks left him unable to resist.

She smiled, and told him she would indeed go round the back and “fuck like bunnies”, if only he could tell her what her favourite book was.

He did not hesitate, merely wrinkled his brow in confusion and asked;

“You mean you actually have a favourite?”

And that was it, she was in love.

She was not a girl to wait around, and he was not a boy to blow such a chance.  Seventeen minutes later they were engaged, and slightly out of breath. Neither family were pleased with the news.

His mother wailed and screamed and mourned the passing of her baby, she did not make it sound as though he were dead to her, she made it sound as though death would have been the preferable option.  Her dad shouted and raged, asked what they were going to do on the farm.  Who would strangle the unwanted kittens now, he wondered.  Did she expect her brother to do it instead?  It was all very tiresome.

Happily their dilemma was brought to an unaccountably fast end by the police storming the farm; the bodies had been found, and it was common knowledge all three had been going to ask out the peculiar girl with the bags under her eyes.  Her dad was not known to be a gun-shy man, nor to be the kind of man who would allow his daughter to do something so selfish as choose her own husband.  Their cars had flashing lights and rattling engines, in her father’s head came a flashback to that tragic night he had watched Full Metal Jacket, Black Hawk Down and Apocalypse Now back-to-back; the bang of a faulty exhaust completed the feeling and out came the shotgun, with which he retreated to a makeshift barricade consisting of the fridge, two sofas and the kitchen table.  From that spot he peppered the invading filth with antique lead, accompanied only by a succession of equally matured terms of abuse.

An armed response was sent, and in the ensuing gun battle the girl’s mam and brother were both killed, and her dad eventually subdued and arrested, after a good kicking in the police van.  The two lovers escaped through the field, and soon reached his caravan.

He had already taken care of his parents by placing a sheep’s head (the same who earlier had to be freed from barbed wire) in the fridge, leading his mother to panic and accidentally smother her much smaller husband in her colossal bosoms while she clung to him in fright.  She then killed herself, thoughtfully saving her son the effort.

Their corpses were weighted and dropped into the town’s famous Deeping Well, according to entirely fictitious local folklore the one remaining path to the death courts of King Arawn, which the girl felt to be a happy irony.  The two then departed in the blissful malaise of first love, and planned their life together.  They found themselves opposite enough to be interesting, and similar enough to be compatible.  He did sleep, but mostly through the day, which was ideal for her because she was never lonely when it was light.  More importantly he did not call her pet, did not wear shiny trainers, and did not have any intention of ever owning a farm.  Instead he had a caravan all of his own, she’d never met anyone who could offer her the open road in such a way.

The marriage lasted half a year, but it was certainly fun for most of that.

By John Conway

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