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Edju - 30 and 31


by RW Spryszak


30.

They sliced the solemn pastures of the fascist countryside into square blocks. It seemed a pointless order. Right angles. No curves. Nothing round. Hard shapes. Green crop here. Yellow crop there. The birds flew in rigid dementia. I watched the maze growing by the day. It separated property and cut through roads. It forced people to go miles out of their way to get across a street. But there was music and everybody ate.

We ate powder and beans. Beans and rinds. Gristle bones. Half fruits. Stoic vegetables poured from square buckets, as all the round ones disappeared.

I settled into my work and tried to ignore Alice's complaints. Oh I'm sure I was the only one who heard them, but they were real. This is what you wanted, I told her. You said — I'll show that Edju for tossing me aside. And you said whatever I believed you would hate. And you embraced my enemies because of how I treated you. Now here they are. They rule and you complain. There were bitter arguments that lasted long into the night. I knew I couldn't win. They would always end in her recriminations and my guilt. If I hadn't told her she could not come on the starship she would have never taken the path she did. I always felt the fool. So I consigned myself to drinking the red water that seemed to permeate the countryside.

I cannot explain how I knew it was the top of the hour. It had something to do with that terrible machine I saw when I first arrived. I never saw it again, but from the day it came and went I always seemed to know the time. Either that or I invented the time and when I struck the hour on my bell that was the hour the rest of the country accepted. But I can't be sure.

I tolled my bell from nine in the morning to seven at night. One strike for every hour. In the time between there was one strike for the half hour during that stretch. And at seven-thirty I tolled one last time and that was my work for the day.

There was a high-backed chair and a small table in the tower where I lived and worked. The rope hung down from the bell high above and dangled in the middle of the room. At first I kept walking into it, but I got used to it after a few weeks. There was not much else to do and little room to do it in. Rare were the occasions when I could leave the tower. But I had a ring of keys that worked on every door and every hatch. Strange, as it was though, there were never any services inside the church. And the sanctuary was devoid of statues. I never saw a priest. Nor did I ever see the man who led me in when I first arrived. My food was always left outside my narrow door on a landing. Below the landing there was a long narrow, wooden staircase. This descended into the vestibule where there were founts of holy water that never dried up. I never knew who brought my food there. There was a knock, and no matter how fast I opened the door there was always food but no one in sight.

It was a meager existence. Bread and rice. Water and sometimes coffee. Pickled beets. Flower petals. An occasional chocolate. Grease. I had a narrow bed to one side of the tower and a toilet too. But beyond my small table and my high-backed chair where I waited for every hour to come, there was nothing. Alice, in her sack, brooded by the north window. She said she was no longer interested in feeling the sun.

I would sit in my chair for hours, waiting to make the next tolling, and invent scenes of life with Alice still alive. In these inventions I'd never chased her away when we were young. She never had the life she led. We stayed together, as we intended, from that time to this. Safe in a house with a kitchen garden. The young men never rediscovered the ancient ruins. They never rubbed themselves against the stones. There was never a civil war.

We had no children but we remained slim and agile and were passionate lovers. We hunted mushrooms and read poetry. Life was an idyll on a sea of glass. Forever polished with the whetstones of peace and tranquility. If I had never sent her away, I came to understand, none of this would have happened.

This was all my fault. All this madness that engulfed our poor little island nation, lost in the North Sea by the Dogger Bank as we were. I did it. My actions caused this. I observed the particle, and so the particle changed its shape. There is a rumor that is how the world works. But every time I think I understand it, it gets pulled away from me. So that I cannot even observe what I do observe that forces the world to change its shape. The power inflicted on the smallest of things by the force of one's eyes.

And I do not remember how long I stayed in that tower. But I do remember my last day there.

 

31.

My fingers rub along the smooth wood frame around the open window. I think of my old rooms and wish I was there instead. One Thursday a large red marble appeared on the road in front of the church. It was perfect. Thirty feet across at every point. The music it played was much like violins. It was there for days. Then it was gone. We are building fantastic machines. Men in iron masks dance around the fire and the hammers pound the anvil. The winter was coming. What, I wondered, do I do to stay warm in my belltower when the weather changes. There is no glass in the four windows. There is no fireplace. No radiator. The covers on the bed will be inadequate. I tap my fingers on the sill. A series of numbers, starting on a different finger each time. Ending on the pointing finger is the key.

There is a new device in front of the church every other day. In the days between these arrivals I can see the yellow flowers in the field across the way. But when the squat monsters are here I can see them no more. And anyway, the countryside is fading to white and black and shades of gray. Just like the faces of the workers and the trees.

One morning metallic scraping woke me from my sleep. There was a series of orange ladders connected at odd angles, spinning like a gyroscope. Three men in white coats stood before it with clipboards. Every once in a while one of them would point at the contraption. The others would nod and everyone wrote something down. But as hard as I tried I couldn't discern what they were noticing. The ladders just kept going around and around without any difference in motion or speed. Whatever it was doing it filled the air with static electricity. Touching anything metal inside my tower caused a painful spark.

Another morning there was a vehicle that seemed to be a kind of truck with a long flat bed behind it. But it wasn't a flat bed on twelve wheels at all. It was a floor made from doors that opened of their own power. Each time they opened someone yelled ah-hah and a stout man with a cane ran over to shit the door again. The action became a sick game the doors were playing on the man, who was crying and exhausted. I couldn't continue watching because not stopping his torture seemed like complicity to me. If I didn't see it, I reasoned, it wouldn't upset me.

But after all what could I have done? The young men who once rubbed themselves against the old stones never seemed to be that dangerous. But now that they were in command I didn't recognize anything. My country got itself ripped away and replaced with blue marbles the size of tractors.

And then it happened.

I suppose I should have guessed it was coming. Life was too quiet. Too sedate in my tower. I rang the bells and ate food. When not engaged with my duties I sat staring out the windows. I could see the maze growing at every view. I'd grown accustomed to my routine. Even Alice's silence no longer bothered me. She could do what she wants, I told myself. I've been thinking of her all along and this is the thanks I get. I even got to the point where I didn't miss going to the cathedral. I no longer thought about lining up the candles in the red sand. No longer frustrated that I was never able to place them in a perfect line. It didn't matter anymore. My job as the bellringer took all my time and energy. What more, I asked, could I want?

This is the condition of complacency that the gods watch for.  The minute you get calm you doom all hope of peace. 

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