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Edju - 24 and 25


by RW Spryszak


24.

Glass breaks. Wooden boards float by like swans. Men curse. Even women are wrestling each other to the ground. Someone runs past with a knife, stabbing anyone without cause or discrimination. Discrimination would make it alright, I suppose. This way is just murder.

There are whistles in the night. Where are the police? Where are the firefighters? I struggle down the alley to a side street and he is there.

He is there. Standing in the back of an open air automobile pointing and waving. Shouting orders and conferring with men in military garb seated all around him. Answering questions. Pointing up and down the street again. Crossing his arms and watching it all. A pillar of fire still as a tall rock while the wind whips around him in every direction. He is calm.

The scarecrow.

The man they brought into my rooms that night, running from the police. The funny little man who seemed ready to end it all for himself that night. He spat. He wanted to surrender. He thought his life was over. No one obeyed him. He sat on my couch waiting for a car. His arm in a sling. Now here he was. Ordering his men to attack the ones who broke up the holy procession. The savior of Our Lady.

It is a full scale war. The fighting is so fast. Arms and fists like windmills. Clubs and sticks again and again and again and again on the same part of the same head, turning bone into mush. Kicking. Merciless damage to one another. Furious. I had toy soldiers once. They were toys and I was a boy.

I played with them every day I could. The toys were men. The men had names. They had personalities. My toy soldiers. Once day I lined them up across the linoleum and, when they were set up, I demanded they speak. I ordered them to come alive. Right then. Come alive or I would brake and burn and tear them apart. I screamed into their toy faces. I pounded the floor and cried. I demanded. I ordered. Speak or die. Come alive now. This instant. They did nothing. They were toys. And I took them out into the alley. I took them and made a pile and put lighter fluid and burned them all. There was a puddle of melted plastic on the cinders. I remember breathing in the fumes and wondering if the smoke was poison. I wondered if the plastic would reconstitute once it was in my lungs. Harden there and kill me. I was in such fear of death from it I ran back to the house and never spoke of it to anyone. Now the men who rub their bodies against the remnants of the ancient maze are killing the men who broke up the march.

I don't remember where I went. I didn't recognize the streets. There was maybe a familiar face here and there but no one whose name I knew. Maybe someone I saw in my building. I don't know. I didn't recognize the storefronts or the voices all around me. Before us, a vacant lot. And in that lot, atop a pile of old chairs and branches and other things I couldn't make out, sat an effigy of a witch.

And the things she sat atop were on fire. And the flames were approaching her. It was not a live person so the children were laughing. If it had been a real person the adults would have been laughing. I know enough to know my  people. So the flames ate the old chairs and swallowed the wood. They chewed up whatever else was in the pile and soon enough they ate the witch too. There was a lot of shouting one way or another. I didn't wait to see her burning body come crashing down into the vacant lot. I turned and went down a street I didn't remember, past houses I'd never seen before.

It was the stuff of miracles. The cathedral was at the end of the street I didn't know. Above the great holy doors, on a balcony just below the bell towers, two men stood together. Spotlights washed across the edifice of the old cathedral. One of them was the high holy pastor of the cathedral and all its environs. Dressed in red robes, soon to be white. Giving a blessing to another man, whose head bowed but only for a moment. With the magic signs by the grand cleric completed, the man turned and waved to the crowd. A thousand people below.

It was the scarecrow. The speaker. The one from my rooms ready to kill himself. The man Alice turned to because she hated me so much. And all around me cheered until they were hoarse with laughter and glee. The savior of the procession, they called him. All hail. All.

Hail.

 

 

25.

I wake on the steps of the cathedral a few years later. It is snowing. The whole world is gray. A man in a pink sombrero hands me a ticket and points to the line of blue men in the yellow shade of the trees.

I don't remember how it happened, but it was soon after the explosion in the rain that sunny day. A little while after the march. The procession. Things started to turn. The scarecrow became The Scarecrow. And his minions became the captains of industry. All with the backing of the church.

I remember genuflecting before the statue of Our Lady That Didn't Tumble and Break. I in a long row of mourners for ourselves. Self-pitying wretches of the universe. Down on our luck. I don't remember if I had Alice there or not.

But all the talk was of the brave young men in brown short pants and high blonde hair who saved Our Blessed Lady. Or the statue, at least. For as the world knows, as the statue goes, so goeth the Actual Lady of Ours.

We watched as the wine turned into direct blood. And though we celebrated it, we were never allowed to drink it. We sat in awe as the little wafer grew a beard and bones and we ate him and he squealed like a rat as he slithered down us all. This is the magic of the hour. Why we repent. The reason for punching ourselves in the heart. The ransom of our unclean souls.

When you genuflect before the Lady, Our Lady of The Snow, an all-white thing with no cheeks, you become holy. The universe of spirits arrives in a dog cart. It shuttles you into the primroses where men with hanging dicks spit water on you as if you were a marigold on fire. Once or twice and there you are.

And I genuflected before the great statue in the Hall and something changed. The world went darker and there were dead soldiers on the lawn. Sometimes, for a little while, the power went out and we sat in the dark. There were always gunshots. Men passing through on commandeered buses. The Provisional Government wrote orders and posted them on the sides of candy stores. The Provisional Government directs all citizens to obey the Provisional Government. There was word of assassination and decay. Someone painted all the steps orange. Then someone else covered the orange with blue. These were the colors of the armbands on the men who killed each other in the street.

The post office and the library taken over by somebody's militia. There was occasional mail and no books at all for weeks. Then the water turned off and we dropped our shit into buckets and out the window. Alice complained every day over the lack of order.

There's nothing I can do, I'd tell her. Something is going on but I can't tell what it is.

What is the Church saying, she would ask. But I didn't know how to answer.

What is the Church saying? Every day she asked me this question. Every day I had no answer. I had no answer but she kept insisting I find out. So one day I ran into the street and darted through the rubble caused by the artillery. I stepped over the bodies of children cracked open by the shelling. I stepped as careful as I could over shells that sat unexploded in the dust. Within sight of the cathedral I stepped on one and it began to tick. A timing fuse. I ran from it and stumbled on the steps of the Cathedral, falling once or twice on my face. Looking back, a school bus drove by the ticking just at the moment the bomb went off.

The bomb went off and ripped through the yellow bus. But instead of bloody children, armed soldiers poured out. Seventeen, eighteen, twenty-six soldiers. Many were casualties but the ones who were unhurt drew their weapons and scanned the rooftops. It was too late.

Snipers from above pumped bullets at them like little silver vultures. They were helpless in the open there. I covered my head with my hands and, as if a miracle, the bullets bounced off my fingers. I knew I couldn't stay in that place or I would get killed for sure. So up I went, weaving as I ran, into the cathedral and out of the fray.

Once inside the father pastor gave me a bowl of rice and told me all I needed to know.

What does the Church say, I asked.

Holy, Holy, Holy, he said. The Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and Earth Fill With Your Glory.

But what does the Church say, I persisted.

Nothing, he replied. It is a building.

No. About all this. I stopped eating and stood up. I stretched both arms out and began pointing in seven hundred directions. To the bombs. To the soldiers. The air. The Police. Dead birds. All this, I said. What does the Church say about all this?

I pointed at different things I imagined were outside the walls. And I kept doing this until he understood my meaning.  

The Church says we are praying for our Protectors. But that is all he said and soon left me to finish my meal. It was a long day.

I waited for the shooting to stop and then ran back to my rooms to tell Alice what I learned but she was asleep when I got there.

She was asleep or angry with me and sulking, for she did not respond in any way. And it stayed this way for a long while. Life went back to normal. The shooting stopped. The blood dried up.

But Alice stayed silent.

I haven't yet said what it's like in the morning without her. The men on either side of me, whose names I can't recall, judge each other by the sound of their machines. A constant rhythm is fine and gets no attention. This is how it is to be. But sporadic feeding, resulting in a scattered release and no rhythm at all draws their scorn.

They will then gather in a dirty corner and criticize me as a bad operator. A useless fellow worker. Stupid. Misguided. Undereducated. No expert. No man. A murderer of innocent children on gleeful summer swings. A baby killer. Less than human. No smarter than the common stone. All because I  cannot get my machine to run right. To feed it unsteady. Bothersome. Staccato. Amateur. I hated my job.

I hated my job until it ended. And the men in brown uniforms and short pants, broke up the equipment and threw us by the hair into the street.

We will assign your jobs. Line up. They whipped those who did not respond fast enough, even if they had been their supporters as this time. Men with coffee breath, whispering, just you wait. The fascists will have this country running like a clock. This is the toughness we've needed for a long time. Now we will be just as illogical as the rest of the world, which is what they understand.

They get out of bed and the springs twang. We eat from bags and return to work and they wink. Now the right people are in charge. You'll see.

These are the first to get beaten or whipped if they aren't fast enough to move to the orders of the men in brown pants. Don't worry, they wave their hands as they bleed from their heads. They know what they're doing.

Seven green wooden tables are set up and the soldiers push us into alphabetized lines.

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