Thievery: Kiss of Shame
On Thursdays, I invite my favourite writers to share the inspirations behind their stories. Here’s one from smart, sensual writer Nikki Magennis.
‘Kiss of Shame’ was published in the anthology Quick & Dirty.
‘I kissed his arse, yes, I did, you pea brained cat faced bastards. I tore my clothes from off my back and beat myself about the body. With the dirt ingrained under my nails, and the leaves in my hair and the smell of eggs and smoke on my skin. I swayed towards him like I was drunk, knowing he wanted me, knowing he cared not for a polished rump sweet as a windfallen apple, nor the fine soft hair of a noble woman.
I know what he wanted. My hardened bones and my open, loud calling mouth. The ferocious heat between my legs, how it burned and burned. Tie me to the stake and I’ll shiver with joy. I’ll feel the flame lick up my legs, feel the fire snap at my buttocks. I’ll fuck your fire. Watch me.’
‘Kiss of Shame’ is an emotional response to the horrific abuses of the Scottish witch trials. The inspiration for it was anger. If it were possible to wreak retrospective vengeance or send help through writing, I’d certainly be tempted do it. I suppose in a way, that’s a form of witchcraft, isn’t it? It’s written in honour of someone like Agnes Sampson – ‘The Wise Wife of Keith’ – a famed midwife and healer who was tortured and executed in 1591.
If nothing else, it felt like an attempt to bear witness, an act of solidarity with some nameless woman from history who suffered for no good reason. I wanted to create a character that I could give voice to, and to make a story in which she might win a moral, if not a straightforward or outright victory. I also wanted to nod to the reasons that the mob – the town elders – might feel moved to accuse the woman, and how they might feel about the man suspected of being the devil in human form, without making it too black and white in terms of judgement. In the end, the story is a short, intense blend of disgust, sexual longing, tenderness, rage, and dark comedy.
‘Kiss of Shame’ is a rough translation of ‘Osculum Infame’, which was supposedly how women proved they were enslaved to the devil – by kissing his anus. I can’t remember why or how I stumbled on this idea, but the image of it instantly lit a fire.
Here’s a quote from Newes from Scotland, declaring the damnable Life of Doctor Fian (1591), a pamphlet written by King James VI and of which an original copy is kept at Glasgow University. It describes the North Berwick witch trials, and the supposed ritual of ‘The Shameful Kiss’ in delightfully horrified glee:
…and seeing that they tarried over long, hee at their coming enjoyed them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his buttockes, in sign of duety to him, which being put over the pulpit bare, every one did as he had enjoyned them.
I wrote with an ear on the fabulous richness of the language of the time, so the story’s fuelled by archaic words and rough, rustic imagery. As its such a short piece, I let myself really get carried away with earthy wording and a rollicking rhythm.
It is not historically accurate, I should add – as far as I can tell, being fairly ignorant of history, the language of Scotland at the time was a confusing and shambolic mix of Scots (or Inglis), Middle English, Latin and Gaelic (or ‘Erse’.) I wanted to convey a raw, visceral story that would draw the reader in and affect them immediately and bodily, so I wasn’t as rigorous about verimisilitude as I might have been. Instead, I focussed on the energy produced by lust, horror and fury – what affects human emotions hasn’t changed that much since the sixteenth century, I suspect.
Perhaps the anger remains because the issues involved are still recognisable – this isn’t the Middle Ages but similar motivations still linger: we’re not over slut shaming, woman hating and superstition.
Read ‘Kiss of Shame’ in Quick & Dirty here.