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Edju - 35 and 36


by RW Spryszak


35.

Our flag is red with a golden maze emblazoned across it's entire field. They have come a long way from the days when it was just a little black maze in a white circle.

After days of silence and no motion, I often hear shooting from the cluster of houses that make up the town. But it is not the usual firing squads we've all become used to. This is an exchange of fire. You can tell by the anger. People are setting traps for each other out there. Ambushes. I keep my Nagant close. No work was being done on the maze at all. Not for days.

And the stairway changed since I first arrived. In the beginning I thought nothing of the warping. A natural thing, I said. Who knows how old this place is, so anything is possible. But the laminates began to separate and buckle. And small shoots of woody growth began to fire out from the broken seams. These spawned tiny leaves. The tiny leaves grew into large leaves.

The railing shrank in diameter and began to twist into itself. Soon it was nothing more than a few thick vines twisted together. Small flowers, colored yellow and periwinkle, grew out. They were pretty and smelled like wine. But their stems brandished deep red thorns and the railing became impossible to use.

Every day when I opened my door to retrieve my meals there was something different. I decided to stay where I was and never risk using the staircase again. But I was not the only one who must have thought this, because every once in a while my meals did not arrive. I grew hungry. And there was shooting every night.

And when, at last, I counted three days without food I knew I had to chance it. I stood in my doorway and studied the overgrown tangle the stairs had become. I would have to climb down backwards in places. Jumping from this height was not an option. The growth, whatever it was, would need careful negotiation. It swayed in the wind, though I couldn't tell where the wind was coming from as it was inside the tower with me. But it swayed. Or maybe it was breathing. I heard a kind of moan and was sure it was alive. But the moan turned into my name and I recognized the voice coming from beneath one of my windows. It was Jacinto.

Edju sir, he was calling. Oh mister oh sir.

I closed my door and ran to the window that faced the road as that was his usual place. He held an egg to the sky in his left hand and the red plastic bowl with more eggs against his chest with the right.

I can't get up there anymore Mr. Edju sir. The stairs are overgrown and I'm sure they won't support me. I'm almost seven feet tall, you know. And I'm too heavy for it anymore. Would you like me to throw you an egg or two?

You mean you've been the one feeding me all this time?

Why yes sir. Of course. Who else?

I had at lest a dozen questions to ask him. Who was it that employed him? How has he been able to avoid me seeing him inside the tower when I tried to catch him? What is all the gunfire in the town about? And more. But none of that mattered. I stuck two hands out the window and down toward him and said, yes please throw me an egg. I'm hungry.

He didn't have to toss it far because he was so tall and I caught it with ease.

Do you want a pick to make a hole?

I shouted no it's alright as I pulled back inside to get a cup. I cracked the egg against the rim and let the gelatinous insides pour into it. I don't recall where I put the empty shell pieces, but I had two hands on the cup and poured it down my throat in seconds.

He called up and said, do you want another?

I caught a second one and repeated the process while he went on talking.

I don't know what will become of this job of mine now. There's never anyone in the commissary to make anybody's food. I can't find my boss anymore, and I haven't gotten a paycheck in three weeks. I'm thinking of starting a bicycle shop with the money I inherited from my Uncle James. He had powder manufacturing plant before he got killed. So I don't know what will happen to you. Has anybody talked to you about your job?

I wiped a bit of uncooked clear egg white from my face with an oily rag as I stood in the window listening. No. You're the only one I've spoken with since they brought me here, I said.

Well have they paid you in the last three weeks?

I shrugged my shoulders. I've never gotten a paycheck. Ever.

Oh, he said. He said it as if he'd stumbled onto a secret he wasn't supposed to know. he shook his head and set his red bowl on the ground. So I guess if I leave you'll just starve or something?

I didn't have an answer.

He rubbed his chin and shook his head. I don't know Mr. Edju. Were I you I'd get out now while no one is looking. There is no telling when the fighting's going to stop. And me and my mother are sure that's why everything has gone to rags around here. Were I you, I'd get out of there.

And such is the world. I may tell my neighbor he is a Great Man. I may offer him a stick of gum, and praise him for being that Great Man. But it will do no good. He forgets my praise and my gum and dumps his garbage on me all the same. No one can see the future. Who would have guessed that I would yearn for the return of those days of monstrous devices on the road?

 

36.

I lower the sack of Alice, slow and careful, from the window. Jacinto's arms are long and it is easy for him to take her and set her on the ground. Gentle and kind. I make a good search around my quarters to see if there is anything else I need to take. But I forgot, I am a simple man and have few possessions. So the time has come to leave. I have even missed the last few hours and have not tolled the bell in all that time. And no one has come to complain. The countryside is solemn and blue.

I have developed sores. Jacinto says they are the kind of sores undertakers get from handling the dead. I have never heard of them, but he says a name for the disease. I do not recognize it. Jacinto says there is no known cure. That they are not a threat to my life but once you have them they are permanent. Jacinto says he knows about this because his father had them. I am left to wonder if putting Alice's arm back in the sack so many weeks ago began the incubation. I have only touched her twice since I found her dead. Jacinto says they may go away if I get enough sun. It is yet another reason to leave the tower.

Jacinto says there is fighting everywhere. The new government is under attack from rebels who don't like the fascists anymore. But Jacinto says the rebels can't win. Every time they are on the verge of a victory the fascists rub their bodies up against the old stones. Doing this gives them superhuman strength. Bullets do no harm. They get brilliant ideas and no longer need to eat for days. The power of the rubble only works for them. Jacinto says it is all in the head, though. Jacinto says there is no special power in the stones. Jacinto says it is all sympathetic magic.

I am weary of all the things Jacinto says.

He keeps talking and I don't listen anymore. I must negotiate my way down the staircase that has turned into a twisted vine. It connects the landing at more door with the floor of the tower below. It is breathing, and has grown pustules that spawn spiders. As I put my foot out on it to begin my descent, it complains about my dirty shoes.

I can't help it, I say, I have to get down. All the while Jacinto is outside the tower going on about the politics. I am not interested in the politics. I am a simple man and have few possessions.

I tell the vine I must grab a branch now and then so I don't fall. What do I care if you fall. You are nothing to me, it moans. I'm not responsible for anybody but me.

That's all well and good, I answer as I slide down the thick central trunk. But that's why you'll never be President.

The young spiders stop scrambling and look at me when I say this. They have never heard the vine chastised in such a manner before. I begin to wonder if I've made a mistake. Perhaps, I think, I shouldn't get the vine angry with me lest it does me some kind of harm.

As I inch down I feel it vibrate and rumble. Do you put too much cream in your coffee? Answer with care, it warns.

Answer with care indeed. No matter if I answer yes or no, how do I know what is the right answer? So I tell the truth. I don't drink coffee.

Good answer, it chuckles. The only possible answer. The best answer. Alright. You may pass. Continue on.

I complete the rest of my descent in peace and quiet. Except for Jacinto saying this and that outside the tower. Now that I am nearer the door below than the window above, his voice comes through the keyhole.

In a matter of seconds I am on the floor. Untroubled and unhurt but for a few thorns in my hands. But I brush them out and they leave no telltale sign. There is no need to take one last look at my bell tower. I am glad to be free of the work and I am more a cautious than a sentimental man. I am simple, and do not own much.

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