How I wish she’d look up and read my proposal
How I wish she’d look up and read my proposal
We dismounted. Staring in awe at the scene before us we knelt down and gave thanks to the Lord. Our quest had not been in vain. Our beloved Emperor Hadrian would reward us well for had we not found the place they must surely have called Golgotha.
We entered and searched diligently but there was nothing to suggest that the sect known as Christians had interfered with it in any way. It was empty, the mud floor overgrown with brush. It had probably been ransacked many decades previously but we could not afford to take any chances.
We would find lodgings in the village and leave a sentry here while we sent dispatches to Rome. Nothing was to be disturbed on pain of death. All we could do now was wait until we learnt our beloved Emperor’s wishes for this place that seemed to hold so much significance for the followers of this so-called Messiah.
Following the ox
in a cumbersome progress
over rough pastures,
he wears, but we share, the yoke
as from dawn to dusk we toil
To whom then will ye (liken) me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
Isaiah 40.25 King James Bible
You can make magic
let no man say otherwise
believe in yourself
photo courtesy of Jay Pixley.
Marcel looked up from his easel. The pale morning light was just right. The trees’ diffused shadows in their ivy cloaks added just the touch required. Couples were strolling along, the women in gaily coloured gowns. Parasols twirling above their young heads. Young gentlemen in dark suits, others in candy-striped blazers, it seemed each was carrying a cane. Governesses walked in pairs, their black ankle-length dresses and bonnets like uniforms matching the prams they proudly pushed ahead, heedless of approaching pedestrians. Marcel noted the ladies’ hats, mainly of straw, some plain, some in pastel shades or striped in bright colours. All the gentlemen wearing boaters, deftly doffed as each young lady passed thereby causing a reddening of the cheek and a shy dropping of the eyes. When they passed arm in arm in pairs it was often accompanied by the sound of laughter.
Marcel reached down to his left and picking up a brush placed it between his teeth. He took up his palette and gazed once more down the deserted avenue of trees. His vision set in his mind he was certain he could now people his canvas with the representatives of an age long past.
He started to remove the bindings from his feet. He wondered where he would be able to find more strips of cloth such as these. He no longer had access to the old linen store. It had been closed a few months ago. The guards had been reprimanded for losing some of the stock. Had they taken the required bribes and passed them up the chain of command all might have been well. Now some over-zealous pen-pusher had disrupted the system and everyone would suffer.
From now on the guards would also be spending extended holidays in the frozen beauty of the Siberian tundra. Enjoying shared holiday cabins in the resort known as the Gulag. He felt no sympathy for them. No-one could empathise with those who had once had the power of life and death over such as he. In fact the thought made him smile in satisfaction. Though that did not offer physical warmth, only a warm mental glow.
Warmth had been in short supply for the past few days as Autumn was coming to an end. Today had been the first taste of the long Winter to come. Noticeable changes, a glistening sheet of ice inside the windows in the morning. A cool mist that seeped through the holes in the greatcoat. The leaden, overcast skies, clouds building and lingering, slowly but perceptibly, and now the first snowfall.
Instead of fur-lined boots, prison issue hobnails stuffed with linen strips were now the latest fashion, although not by choice, beloved by all, guaranteed to last two Winters with careful usage. Andrei would have no need to replace them. He would be due for release in his second year. It remained a goal to be cherished. Nobody liked to think that most sentences were invariably extended. Two years often becoming three, that was reasonable, seldom more than four.
He finished unwrapping his feet. He stopped and looked about him, reflecting on the silence. Like the forest now that the snow had arrived. Fifty people, yet no conversation; like himself, each lost in their own thoughts and too tired to waste time in conversation with neighbours. Friendships were not made, too easily broken in their hand to mouth existence.
The white skin on his feet, calloused and flaking was already beginning to turn red in the cold air. He rubbed at them furiously with his woollen-gloved hands. He bent his head to examine them more closely, a cloud of steam spreading over each foot with every breath. No signs of frostbite yet. He smiled, surprised at how the smallest thing was able to give him pleasure. He stretched his toes, massaging some heat back into them. He thought he would leave washing them for this one day as there was no guarantee the water would not be freezing cold from the tap. Slowly, savouring the feel of the soft linen he started to rebind each ankle and sole. If the bindings stayed in place his boots would keep the heat in until it was time to go out to the yard for the last roll-call before lights out at ten. He leaned back on his wooden palette and closed his eyes. There were no holes in his mittens or breeches that needed mending, that left two hours respite from the toil of the day. A small luxury to be enjoyed in the best possible way he could think of.
Corporal Reg Burns jumped down from the back of the Land Rover. Quickly scanning the horizon he ordered the rest of the platoon to join him. Nine uniformed men with metal detectors spread out across the narrow strip of bare earth. Their target was mines. Very soon the detectors began to bleep wildly. Cautiously pits were dug, only to find numerous flattened, tarnished metal button-like objects. All mixed in with seemingly crushed, off-white clay shards. Some looked familiar, like bones, even the remains of skulls. Shocked, the men realised they had found the evidence of a possible mass grave.
Entering the water I realised the shape was no rock.
Dawning of the day
stark lantern-festooned branches
eclipsed in moon glow