Kate Kerrow


Kate Kerrow

Kate Kerrow studied Theatre, then English, and was a recipient of The Arvon/Jerwood Playwright’s Award, receiving a year’s mentorship from award-winning writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Kate’s plays have been produced in the UK and America; they focus on gender, race and their related political histories. She’s the founder of The Heroine Collective, a publication which celebrates women who contribute to progressive social change. She’s currently working on a novel. Read more at www.katekerrow.com 
Contact: kate [at] theheroinecollective [dot] com 

‘Nineteen Thirteen’ is one narrative from a collection of ten which explore women activists across history. Each narrative is fictitious but based upon – and inspired by – historical research into testimonies from global conflicts. Other narratives in the collection include fictitious portrayals of activists from the Harlem Renaissance, the Nazi Resistance, the Civil Rights movement and the turbulent late nineties in Kabul.

Nineteen Thirteen


Even that horse was fat and idle compared to those at the Derby I said, but she said it was the best we could do or how else could we get near any at speed? We had to practise touching them at speed she said, anyone could do it if a horse was just at a slow amble. 

It’s dangerous, I said. 

No more dangerous than anything else, she said and looked down. 

The horse stood watching us. Even though it was nothing like the ones they raced, it towered over us, the muscles in its front legs full of threat. I watched her pushing back the layers of her skirts to lean down and tie the lace that had come loose from her little black boots. The edge of the sole was frayed, promising a hole. Her stockinged shins looked thin and rigid. 

Don’t show the world, I said.

She smiled.

I’m worried, I said. Don’t like horses. 

You don’t like anything lately, she said and straightened. Oh, I’ll go giddy facing down like that.

I never liked horses. Not since I got caught in the field passing through the quick way home and suddenly there was twenty of them and they all looked at me and ran, I said.

I didn’t say: it was the first time I thought I was going to die. 

She put her hands on her hips all proper, like she did that time when she was teaching me how to read longer words and I said what use it is for my lot, so then she made me learn twice as many and I still ain’t used them. 

It’s out of town and there’s no one around to wonder what on earth two women are doing chasing around a field, jumping at horses, she said. It was the best we could do so I wasn’t to be sullen. 

I ain’t being sullen, I said, it was me who asked Mr Bourne to let us into the field and borrow his horse in the first place.

She kissed me and then before I could grab her, she ran for the horse. 

You don’t run, I said, you don’t just run at them!

Bourne said you have to run to get them moving!

The horse stopped static, leaning back in its body, preparing for the strange, sudden attack, deciding which way to go to escape. She reached round and hit it so hard on the rear, it rose on its back legs, made that awful sound they make and ran. She chased.

Bourne said he’d have to give her a bad tempered one. Said most of them would just look at her and munch grass. And that one, it flew past her without her so much as touching a fingertip on its shiny brown back. It was worrying.

If you can’t touch the saddle on that one, how you going to touch the saddle on the fast ones? I said. She ignored me and went on chasing the horse, who went on chasing her. Poor horse, I thought. Like us and them. Cat and mouse.

I stood by the fence and held onto its wooden bars. I didn’t know why I’d been picked. There was other women who was willing. She said it was because I was small and nimble. I didn’t feel nimble.

Other women was practising too. We was all going to pull straws on who was to do it. They spoke about it like they spoke about every act – them moments was relished, full of promise and I knew what that felt like but lately, I felt too tired. 

These last six months. In and out. I don’t think she sensed the change in me because we was all so used to looking different after stints inside. Used to seeing each other with blackness around our eyes, the bones on our wrists sticking out. Mostly, we recovered.

Have a go! she called to me. Her face was flushed like it used to go sometimes. All rosy.

You’re making it angry, I said.

She rolled her eyes. She stood like a man, her legs wide and her behind sunken and when the horse passed, she jumped up to it, her skirt flailed out, her boots came up in the air. She kept chasing for over an hour. The cold bit at my toes. I was hungry and tired. When I looked down at my hands, they looked wrinkled, the knuckles red and big. I wished I remembered what they looked like when I’d been a girl.

That morning I’d been sick and it was laced with blood. We was often sick with blood after stints inside, our pipes was all cut and bruised the doctors said. So it would be expected, normal, he said, to have blood. If that doctor had seen what happened, he wouldn’t have said normal because there wasn’t nothing normal about it. 

But the blood that morning seemed darker. It wasn’t the little threads like red cotton, the threads we talked about to each other, it seemed thicker. I didn’t tell her. 

She had started to look tired, but her eyes still had the stare they had sometimes when she was hell bent on something, when she would do it, when she absolutely would.

It’s getting dark, I said. Bourne will need to bring the horses in.

She said nothing but instead, ran for the horse, who had grown faster and angrier. With all her might, she jumped up, grabbed the saddle and held onto it for one, two, three, and then fell down. The horse ran from her and hovered at the gate, watched her, waited.

She rushed to me. I held it, she said, her eyes even wider than normal.

I kissed her cold, wet cheeks and squeezed her hands between my palms. Clever, I said. But we should stop now.

She nodded and clenched her fist. I’ll do it, she said. In the end.

We walked through the gate back to Bourne’s and the horse was left staring at us all shock and earnest.

On the train back to London, she leaned her head against the window and shut her eyes.

Could sleep forever, she said.

You can’t fall, I said to her. She opened an eye.

If you’re on the ground, you could get trampled.

It was the first practice, I’ll get better.

You can’t fall, I said.


We went to the field four times that spring. Each time I said I’d try it, but each time I stood back at the fence watching. The horse got angrier and angrier and so in the end, Bourne had to swap another one in.

The third time we went, she asked if she could go in and see the horse in the stables after she’d chased it for an hour.

The whole stable’ll be in uproar with you coming near, he laughed. Animals stick together. 

He smiled at her and she smiled back. Yes they do, she said.

When the horse saw her, he stared deep into her. She reached her hand out to touch him and he pulled away, began churning and scraping his hooves on the stable floor, making my ears hurt. The other horses began calling to each other.

I came to say I’m sorry, she whispered to our horse. But you ought to know you’re doing a very, very good thing. She said it all gentle, like she spoke to me sometimes, or to the other women. Her voice was all lovely and low, I could have shut my eyes and listened to it. Could have fallen asleep right there listening to it, I was so tired.

As we left the stable, Bourne turned to me. When you go back in? he said.

She looked down. Bit her lip. Let her eyes roam across the field.

When I’m better, I said. Doctor got to clear it.

Bastards, he said. They’ll go to hell.


Every time she told me I didn’t have to go, but I wanted to go. Every time I went, I thought I’d try it and every time the thought of running after the horse made me feel sick to my stomach, made my head spin, made me think of the dark colours in my vomit. 

Then, the fourth time, it happened. She did it. She put our flag on the saddle. 

The horse raced around the field, our colours flowing real and bright, and it was the feeling we’d always get, the one we did it for. Round and round the horse went and we cheered, and I laughed at her as she raised her fist high in the air, that look on her face that made my skin come alive. She rushed to me then and we held hands as we watched our beautiful flag billowing in the wind. 

Once she’d done it, she just kept on doing it. Almost every time she tied our flag to the saddle and we got to see it fly. At night, I lay awake thinking of it on one of them fast horses. 

Normally on the train home, she slept. But this time, she didn’t. This time, she was bright, her left foot jigging up, down, up, down, her fingers drumming against her thigh.

I’m the one to do it, she said to me suddenly. If I don’t pull the straw, I’m going to do it anyway.

It’s only one woman supposed to do it though, I said.

She leaned her head against the window and watched the world soar by.

The newspapers, she said.

Yes, I said.

Think what it could do for us all. The message spread far and wide. Think about it. Think.

The flag flying round that racecourse, I said, no one could do nothing about it. It’ll be like the mail boxes, no one can do nothing. Once the horse is running, that’s it.

But perhaps there’s more, she said.

More what?

More that can be done. More than the flag.

What? I said.

Her eyes darted back and forth as she followed the buildings passing.

Like what? I said again.

You sick? she said. 


I knew you were sick.

Two weeks force-feeding and labour will do that, eh.

Your medal, she said. Looks nice pinned like that.

Yes, I said and looked at it glinting in the light.

Epsom in June, she said. I hope the sun shines for it.