was getting silly. It doesn’t matter when you’re a little kid and there are
lots of people around who believe in fairies and ghosts and giants and things.
But when you get to grammar school and nobody believes in fairies or Santa
Claus or Gulliver’s Travels, that’s
when it can be embarrassing to think of the sorts of things your family
grown-ups believe in God and Jesus and angels and maybe that was all right
though Susan couldn’t think why it was any different from fairies, but her
family believed in other stuff as well like the coming of the Lord and the
Great Climax before next Tuesday and demons and eschewing things and how
terribly wicked other people were, especially those who believed in God but in
the wrong way. And they had these phrases they were always using that made them
sound like they were reciting things from silly Gilead pamphlets, which they
were, of course. Phrases like, ‘in these perilous times’ and ‘the machinations
of the devil.’ If she heard her mother say either of those once more she would
fling her bedroom window wide open and scream all the rudest swear words she
could think of and hope they got picked up by the radio masts on Alvanley Hill
so they could echo round and round the forest for ever and always. And
afterwards, even when she was lots older, when she went walking in the forest
on a windy day she thought they were doing just that.
to its absolute stupidest when she was thirteen. Some idiots started to put it
around that things, objects, could be demon-possessed. The Wise Old Men of
Gilead started it but there were plenty of others with the right sort of
Gilead-mindedness to fill in the details. The most susceptible objects were
things like antiques or any second-hand goods which could have been owned by
people who dabbled in occult arts. And children were a special target for the
demons so, naturally, toys were the obvious places for evil spirits to lurk.
able to cope with this if it had just been other people at Gilead Hall who took
the hunt for hidden demons seriously. But one Friday afternoon when she got
home from school Alan was in the back yard tending a bonfire. When she went up
to her room she saw that Pookie, her teddy bear who always sat on her pillow,
was missing. She went downstairs and into the kitchen where her mother was
on peeling carrots and replied in a wearied tone, ‘Susan, you are thirteen. You
ought to have grown out of playing with dolls by now.’
play with dolls. I never did. Pookie isn’t a doll. He’s a teddy bear and he’s
special. I’ve had him since before I can remember and I want to keep him.’
It’s gone on the bonfire. You know very well that these things attract the
attention of demons. We have to be as
cautious as serpents in these perilous times.’
her room and flung the window open and sent the swear words out. ‘Damn, bugger,
piss, bloody hell.’ And in a whisper, she added, ‘fuck.’
forgotten about the teddy bear ¨C well, eventually she might ¨C but what really
needled her was the pressure to behave as if she was always on the look-out for
lurking demons. They get everywhere in these perilous times.
Tom Sparrow falls in love with Susan Ridley his dad insists that no good will
come of it. Her family belongs to a strict religious sect and they disapprove
of all outsiders. Against the odds their friendship develops until the time
when Tom is all set to go to university and Susan is free at last to escape
from her family’s religion and move to Manchester with Tom. What stopped her?
Why was she no longer around?
Thirty years later when he is contemplating a change of career, the Ridley’s
old house, tucked away in the forest, comes up for sale. It is just what he
wants – though he isn’t sure about Melanie, a young woman who also has an
interest in the house. Otherwise it is perfect for his plans for a new life
back where he has his roots. As he prepares to move in he discovers something
hidden away in an outbuilding and at last he begins to learn the truth of what
happened all those years before.
Leaving Gilead is the story of two women’s struggles to build new lives
after growing up in a religion that promotes irrational belief and conformity
with arbitrary rules above above personal development.