Gone to London: My Roisin

Summary:

Roisin Sullivan is an immigrant, working for a family in London because that’s the only job she can get. She came to London because her family needed the money, the family she’s working for came a century or so ago for basically the same reasons, and now is focused on getting ahead. 

Is this the America of today? No, it’s nineteenth century London. We’re still playing the same games though, and putting up with the same savage inequalities. Only the cast of characters have changed. There are always reasons why people who are different can’t have the same opportunities as the rest of us. 

In this installment, Roisin (called Lucy, because her Irish name is too foreign, even for the Jewish family she works for) gets some bad news.

My Roisin, 

We will bury your mother and your sister today. Famine fever took them, as it has so many others. Please, on no account try to come home! The countryside is emptying as Dublin fills to bursting. The money you sent arrived yesterday, and I thank God for it for it has helped to give Michael and I the means to leave this deathly place. There is nothing but starvation in Ireland now. We will be sailing for America by the time you read this. I hope you will take care now and wait for word, as we will bring you out as soon as we find work. I will send your ticket as soon as we can get it. Carry our love with you until then, and may you stay safe and well in London, my darling girl. 

Your loving father 

The hand holding the letter slowly drifted down to my lap. I sat on the edge of the bed, dry-eyed, wordless. 

“Lucy?” Sarah seemed to appear from nowhere in the doorway of my tiny garret room, the candle in its rough pewter holder casting a pool of light  into the now dark room. “Mrs. Rosenthal is asking for you.” 

“Mrs. Rosenthal can go hang.” 

The circle of light wobbled as Sarah set the candle on our dresser. “What?” she said. “She’s not best pleased. The laundry is still in the yard and you’ve not laid the fire.” She came closer to look me in the eye. “Lucy?” 

I felt my hands clenching into fists, and as the letter began to crumple I remembered, and dropped it as if it were a burning coal. The last thing I might have from my family. I dropped to my knees and smoothed it out against the clean wooden floorboards. I laid it carefully on the dresser.

“Lucy, what’s happened?” 

I took a deep breath, and the rage receded, just enough for me to remember that Sarah was my employer’s niece, not my friend, even if she was kinder than the rest of them. She had nothing to do with the stealing of my life. “My mother–” The tears came, I couldn’t stop them if I’d wanted to. I was surprised to feel arms around me, and if they weren’t the ones I wanted, they were kind, and I could pretend that there was still someone in the world who cared for me. 

It was a long time before I was quiet. Sarah rose from the bed where she’d sat me down and got a cloth. She wet it with water poured into the basin from the pitcher I’d filled and brought up with the letter. The last ordinary act of a day that had my family in it. When she tried to  wash my face, I took the cloth and bathed my hot eyes. She understood, it seemed, and left me alone. 

Morning came, and I didn’t care. Sarah appeared at the door and called to me. 

“Lucy, you must get up. My Aunt is looking for you.” 

I said nothing. The bed was warm, and I wanted to go back to sleep. I pulled the covers closer. I didn’t see her take my letter from the dresser as she left. 

“Lucy?” 

A hand on my shoulder and a gentle shake. “Lucy?” 

It was Mrs. Rosenthal. 

I turned to face her, and sat up. My letter was in her hand, and my feet were on the floor. I snatched it from her. 

“Lucy!” The look of concern fell from her face, and her fists hit her hips. “How dare you!” 

“Where did you get that!” I shouted back. 

She took a deep breath. “I know you’ve had a shock, my girl, and I’m sorry for your loss, but I’ll thank you for remembering your place! This is my house, and I have a perfect right to know what goes on under my roof. I’ll thank you to get dressed and get to work.” 

Mechanically, I pulled open a drawer. Her footsteps receded down the stairs and I closed it, lay back down, tears streaming down my face. 

Sarah came up long after dark, a bowl of cold stew obviously filched from the kitchen  in her hand. I knew it hadn’t come from Cook. For a moment the ice where my heart should be began to thaw. She was kind, but she wasn’t my friend. My letter lay between us, even though I had it tucked under my pillow. 

The smell of food woke my body to its needs, and as I ate the floating, bodiless feeling I hadn’t noticed receded. I listened with half an ear to Sarah as she told me what I must do, to obey her aunt and do my work. I nodded at the right moments, said “yes,” and “I’m sorry,” and anything else she wanted to hear until at last she left me alone again. 

I lay down, crying silently until I drifted into darkness. 

The next morning my limbs were like lead, my spirit grey as the rough blanket covering me. I closed my eyes again and turned my face to the wall. 

I woke to Mrs. Rosenthal pulling the blanket back from my face. I pulled it out of her hand and turned back to the wall. 

“Lucy?” she said, more quietly than I’d expected. “You must get up now. This cannot continue.” 

If I stayed silent, surely she’d see reason and let me be. Instead, she stripped the blanket from me, grabbed me by the wrist, and pulled me from the bed. She stood in the doorway while I shivered my way into my clothes. As she turned I grabbed the letter and stuffed it into my pocket. I followed her downstairs, the picture of the obedient servant I’d been for the last fifteen years. 

I laid the fire in the sitting room with all the coal in the scuttle. I put Mr. Rosenthal’s’s newspaper on as well and lit it. I left it blazing on the hearth and went out into the yard. I didn’t collect the linens, I didn’t fill the coppers. I didn’t light the fires. I just stood there. 

The house didn’t burn. Mrs. Rosenthal found the flames licking at the mantel and ran to the scullery for a bucket of water. She sent Sarah to sit with me, and though I know she spoke to me, I have no recollection of what she said. Mrs. Rosenthal soon returned with my small case. She took me by the hand and walked me through the scullery to the back door. The cook looked daggers at me from her place at the stove as we passed through the kitchen. 

Mrs. Rosenthal walked me outside, out of earshot of any of the household. “I can’t have you here, Lucy,” she said quietly, “I’m sorry for it, but you all but had the house in flames. My home, my family aren’t safe with you under our roof.” She took my fingers and wrapped them around a handful of coins. “Go, my girl, and I pray you find some peace, but if I see you near my home again I’ll call the law.” 

I walked. Our court met the street, then a larger one, and then I was on the high road leading to the river. See me again? She never would. I walked along the river until I found a place where the walkway passed over the water.  I dropped the bundle I carried at my feet and looked down at the tumbling water below. I set my hand on the low wall and began to pull myself up on it. 

To Be Continued

Link to Archive Of Our Own: https://archiveofourown.org/works/32247553

What I Want

Sun at Dover

I want to move. I want out of the overcrowded city of my birth, to give the City Spirit the gift of my absence. I want our neighbors to be our friends, to accept us as we are and to value the home we build together. I want to live in a community that works to make everyone welcome. Where we can love whoever we like and don’t have to hide who we are. Where we are celebrated for who we are. I want the whole damn world to be able to live well and in harmony with the land, sea, and sky.


I want to invite everybody over for dinner. Bring me black pepper and chai and olive oil from Athens. We will feed you on the fat of the land and send you home with acorn meal and rich red wine many years laid down in cool dark cellars.


I want a funky house with character, my back door opening onto redwood and hazel. I want a wood stove, if climate and forest allow it, and plenty of magical places with trails to get us there. I want rituals in the woods and acid trips and good weed. I want to climb trees. I want friends, the ones I knew in college and at Faire. People to ramble with and grow old with. Neighbors. The kids down the road who will be the next generation will remember our adventures when we’re gone. The ones we raised to protect the land and only take what it can freely give. I want to see the hourglass pulled over until it spills Pandora’s gifts on the good green Earth. Dagaz, instead of Extinction. Revels instead of Rebellion. The First Peoples as friends, neighbors, and Elders, re-indigenizing the people whose ancestors were once foolish enough to call themselves white.


I want the wheel of the year, Faires and bardic circles and a junior league that dances in the dirt and screws in the forest. I want to help cook gargantuan meals to feed the whole community when Lughnasadh comes and the travelers arrive on their yearly round. I want to sing around the fire after the first rain falls. I want to smell the earth open up after the long hot summer when Lugh’s high gold is beaten into the gray dust. I want the cool of evening.


I want to build a labyrinth and a library and shrines in the woods. I want to play with my imaginary friends and write the stories we live. I want the other side of the adulthood we were roped into. I want a long happy, healthy, prosperous time where I can finish the gifts I want to leave to the world when I die.


I want us to wear whatever we want and be treated the same no matter how odd our choices. Where we are not judged by our clothes, our hair. I don’t want to hide my Thor’s Hammer or my Awen or the patches on my jacket. If I walk down to the local store in a robe and a cloak I don’t want anyone to bat an eye.


I want to live in a place where cars are rare. Where all that we need is available and accessible to all who live there. I want occasional wireless and plentiful conversation, sharing the bus with whoever climbs aboard. I want roads I can ride a bicycle on and to do my shopping safely. I want solar panels and the sense to go to bed when it’s dark. Tomorrow will come soon enough. I want bonfires and clear, sweet water.


I want to live on the coast, near the forest, where Druids celebrate the ninth wave that rolls in from the Pacific. I want to dance with Dervishes and ride horses bareback through the wet sand as the wave rolls out to the ocean. I want fog and cool and quiet.


I want the Triad of Wealth. My body healthy and strong, my time my own. I spend my remaining days doing as I please, and my money for the few things it is needful for. An Awen of plenty crowned with three bright sundrops. I want to live as part of the land, leaving it better than I found it and when I leave this life, my last sight of it inhabited with people who feel the same way, who will care for it after I am gone.


I want fewer people and more quiet.


When the ferry comes, there will be no coins of gold over my eyes, no shroud of silk. Three rays of light, returning to the sun, the rest of me melting into the rich brown loam.

Gone To London:The Life Of Roisin Sullivan

Dickens Fair is in the process of transformation. It is a matter of changing or dying. Times have changed and it is no longer possible or desirable to privilege one group over another, or to deny the needs and chances of people on the basis of appearance, gender, or identification. I hope we make it through. 

In the meantime, I have gone back to my roots, remembering why I loved Renaissance and Dickens Fairs so much, and how my feelings have changed. My Bartstationbard.com site has those posts. 

I have also gone back to what amounts to an electronic version of the Faire application that used to be the standard. After all the contact and workshop info, we were faced with a blank page to be filled with our character bio. 

A couple Dickens back, I tried to go back to busking. My character has a tin ear, and I was tired of playing a tart, so I created another. She lasted a year, I found the new rules unbearable. We were to be confined to one defined spot, and our repertoires were to be cleared in advance. We were carded on a regular basis. My gig became robotic, my mind on whether or not I was boring the boothies I was stationed in front of to tears, and where Security was. It was hard to spark interaction with the customers or the cast tucked away in a corner as I was, and by the end of the run I was through. 

Roisin, however, thrived. We talked constantly with each other, and when Fair was over she was happy to go back to busking the transit stations with me. She discovered the Dropkick Murphys and fell in love with punk. She loved the freedom of my time. When we decided to pack it in at the end of the run we planned her exit. Her life had been largely chosen for her. I may have set the parameters, but in my head she told me her story. I have always done my best to let characters, whether written or played at Faire, tell their own stories. Choosing for them either leaves me alone in my costume, or produces a story with the consistency of cardboard. 

Roisin’s story was built on my gig, and the what-if of giving it to an Irish girl who had been put into service in London because her parents could not support either her or themselves. What if, after fifteen years, when the Famine came, that family was destroyed, some dying in Ireland, and the rest emigrating to America? What if she lost her place, and met Jeremy? 

Believe it or not, after setting her up with that awful situation, she still speaks to me. She quickly made a deal with Jeremy, continued to busk on the same terms the girls had, and at the end of the run, he got her on a ship to Boston where she joined her family. That was all I knew. It was plenty to work with then, and now it is a great excuse to do the rest of the research and tell that story. After all, one of the reasons it came alive so easily is that we have not worked through these issues to this day. All we have done is to cast other marginalized people in the roles. Now that the Irish have become white, it is quite clear what was going on then, and now. 

Archive of our Own hosts original fiction as well as fanfic. It’s a great place for us to tell our character stories. When Fair has worked through the issues, we might just know each other better on and off the streets of London. 

Gone To London:The Life Of Roisin Sullivan

Respect For The Performer

A busker suspended in a collage of Renaissance Faire Images

We spent a lot of time last weekend looking at our old photos of Faire, and topped it off with videos on YouTube. The videos in particular reminded me of the shape of the illusion we all created. While it is true that LHC made the playground, we made the Faire.

Over my desk there’s a collage of images. They cover much more than Faire. In the center is a woman made of branches, her heart of fire green in her breast and her face uplifted to the sky among her leaves. An enhanced computer image of Long Meg, with all her cup-and-ring decorations towers over her, scarred by the passage of time and floating in a black background. My backpack, outer clothing and bodhran case are grouped around a tree on the shore of Llyn Tegid, in Wales, but the image I look to now is of myself, bodhran in hand, in leine and wool bonnet in Witches Wood, at Black Point.

Back then things were far from perfect, but I walked into another time and place every morning. My bodhran and basket were on my back and the day was there for the living. I started my journey as a matter of fact, the same way I started my day at Dickens, with a cup of Chai at the Mullah’s and conversation with good friends. Kenny Millikan might regale us with the tale of the Dawn Haggis, a creature we could only glimpse in his words. He had a jar of soft sculpture backsides, which he swore were pixie butts. The Pixie would take up the story at this point, telling us how they fell off in the fall, and that each Pixie had a special dance that sent them flying.

We carried stories like this into the streets and told them to Travellers. Some embellished them further or spun off wild tales of their own. There were a pair of Celts who came to Faire every year and found me busking on the streets. They would persuade me to take a trip to an alestand with them, and we would roar through the Faire. I would drop off after a while to play another set, and let them continue their colorful ramble through the playground they visited once a year. You may remember them, or you may not, for they were an ornament to the time and place we all created together, and while they were the very picture of uproarious revellers, they never, to my knowledge, caused a problem. Would they be welcome today? I don’t know. They chose their level of participation, and had complete freedom on the day per year they chose. They would not have been out of place backstage, though of course they were never seen there. Some lines, it has been made quite clear to me, are not to be crossed.

As a busker, I walked until I was tired, kept my tankard full of water when I played–both singer and bodhran found song a thirsty business–and told tales in rhyme to the beat of the drum. I stopped when asked, as some of the vendors would want me to grace the area around their booths with my music, and also when the Faire beckoned. While I had specific places I favored for a set, I was not in any one of them for longer than an hour or so. I made it a point to never repeat a song within a set lest I cease to please and begin to grate on those whose trade kept them in one place.

To me, that endless round through the streets is now missing. Every nook and cranny is filled with a booth or a stage, and there is nowhere to stop without stepping on the perfectly timed shows. Performers run from one to another, rarely stopping to play in streets too small to build a world in! We are watched, and our flaws marked. While there do of course have to be certain standards, we are no longer trusted to want to uphold them, not because they render a world deeper and more colorful than the one we return to after the last chorus is sung, but because we have people working to reveal our flaws instead of praising our glories.

There are still good times to be had, and bright spots in days growing ever longer, but as a busker I have been chased from these streets. I am no longer Jeremy’s messenger, part of the web of the underworld of London. While I miss Roisin, or Lucy, as she was called in London, I take heart in the knowledge that Jeremy’s girls were only a temporary shelter for her. In the end she did manage to join her family in America where they fled from An Gorta Mor. Perhaps Lucy’s story will fork, as did Jeremy’s and Jenny’s. Perhaps not. The characters I played never were wholly confined to the Faire. They came from somewhere, and kept going after it was over. Knowing who they were and in the end where they went was a part of their living presence on the streets, and the memory they leave for me when they move on.