“Mortgage” is Old French for “Death Pledge”

by Hannah Austin

You won’t have a home of your own. You won’t have your very own painting studio. You won’t have corniced ceilings, stained-glass windows, Victorian fireplaces. You won’t have fruit trees and ornamental grasses and a summerhouse in the garden, which backs onto a forest, which overlooks the sea. You won’t have a beach five minutes from your door, acres of sky, all that light. You won’t have any of these luxurious, extravagant, unnecessary things you neither had nor desired before him.

You won’t have to pretend you were done with cities anyway. You won’t have to tell yourself all this unpunctuated solitude is good for your art. You won’t have to share a local shop and a post office and a voting booth with racist, sexist, homophobic Brexit voters. You won’t have to arrange to see your friends weeks in advance, google how to look like you haven’t been crying on the train, lie when they ask how you are. You won’t have to pop pills all day to stop knowing the answer to that question.

You won’t have to do all the housework because you work from home so what do you even do all day anyway. You won’t have to fake another headache when he reaches for you across miles of Egyptian cotton at night. You won’t have to spend a fortune in therapy analyzing your anger, as though its causes weren’t screamingly obvious. You won’t have to use painting as a pin to drain the blister of resentment beneath your skin. You won’t have to force your mouth shut because if you opened it the volcano in your throat would erupt.

You’ll have to go home with your tail between your legs, again. You’ll have to reconnect with the friends you so eagerly abandoned for something masquerading as love, again. You’ll have to remember the hard way that the best way to get one person off your mind is not to get another person on your body; to resist the urge to self-medicate or self-annihilate; to refuse the part of you that insists numbness is preferable to pain—again.

You’ll have to spend your life savings on lawyers’ fees to unmortgage your life from his. You’ll have to hire a moving van for the first time because in the absence of life you’ve accumulated stuff. You’ll have to rent a broken-down hovel on the wrong side of town because you earn a quarter of what he earns. You’ll have to find a landlord who won’t mind you moving your cat in, and pray the boiler doesn’t break, because the Venn diagram of landlords who accept pets and landlords who give a shit about their tenants is just two separate circles.

You’ll have to live alone, eat alone, sleep alone. You’ll have to rebuild your life, brick by tortuous brick. You’ll have to learn how to trust the gut feelings of a body that’s relentlessly betrayed you. You’ll have to peel back layer upon layer of dead skin to remember who you were before him. You’ll have to live with whatever you find there, in all its quivering, tender, naked vulnerability, however far that is from everything you thought that you were.

But you’ll finally be free.


Hannah Austin is a queer Welsh writer and editor based in Somerset, England. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Guardian, Mslexia, The Moth, New Internationalist, New Welsh Review and The Real Story, among other publications. She was recently awarded an Arts Council England grant to write her first book (a hybrid memoir). She tweets, sporadically, at @HAustinEditor.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “’Mortgage’ is Old French for ‘Death Pledge’”?

Unusually for me, I started this piece with the title. I’m obsessed with etymology, and in a past life was a bit of (okay, a lot of) a commitmentphobe, so the meaning of “mortgage” has always stuck with me! I then worked on the structure, dividing the piece into two halves: what would be lost vs. what would be gained from this character leaving her relationship. The final sentence might be the shortest, but it took me the longest; I wanted it to quickly puncture the neatness of the “two halves” structure, but I kept overdoing it with loads of fancy language. I stripped it all back and went for simplicity, in the end, which is usually the best option!


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