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Edju - the 13th stave (new barrel)


by RW Spryszak


13.

It is so dark I can see the future again. Thirty seven years from now my winter coat hangs all the way to my ankles. My hands clenched behind my back as I walk, crooked, along the sidewalk. The boys are throwing snowballs again. All the snow is pushed aside so old men may walk. But young boys take advantage of the piles. I should have never gone out. I have this memory of the future under the cathedral trying to find Alice. But I can't help myself. What good seeing the future then? The boys make snowballs and the snowballs hit my back. They puff into powder when they hit me. They leave a white mark. The snow is soft but it hurts me. It hurts my sense of self. My structure. My dignity. They laugh.

I turn. The blood is up. It occupies the small rooms behind my face. My red face only highlights the deep lines time gave me. My face has grown square in my old age. Angular. Like a body sewn together from rotting parts. Someone's forehead. Someone's lips. Like a block of stone on my shoulders. A gray flat cap. My hands shoot into the air at either side of my square head. I turn green with anger and move my hands in small, rough circles and I growl.

When they see this they scream and run away. Edju, they scream. Edju is chasing us. One is sobbing. Another feels his heart in his throat. Frightened to the end of their wits, they run, and I am ashamed. I am ashamed for them. Thirty seven years after this attack one of them will remember what he did and grow sad over it. I wish I could spare him the anxiety but I can't. It will be too late. Thirty seven years after their attack will be seventy four years from now. Seventy four years after crawling through this dark tunnel I will be dead. I will be dead and no one will remember I was here. No one will think about how I opened the angled cellar doors. No one will recall my name. And no one will give a thought to Alice resting in my bag. Either gray or brown. I can't remember.

Do we remember the men who built the great cathedrals? Do we think about the faceless people who worked in factories a hundred years ago? Do we know the names of the people who lived next door to our great grandfathers? All these forgotten names and faces. Forgotten like my trek through this darkness, if ever it becomes known. No. We forget everything for the better of it all. Death is the same sleep there was before we were born.

But one of the boys will recall the time he threw a snowball at Edju and laughed at the feeble, halting old man. The one everyone in the neighborhood said was not all there. Off in the head. The boy will be a man and it will hurt to remember what he did to me. To remember a time when he could be so cruel.

Just as it happens to me, whenever I think about how cruel I was to Alice. My beloved fascist once curled up in a bag by the radiator, now lost.

There is a scent of salt in the air. Salt and sweat and unwashed clothes. A blast of warm air comes at me from deep inside the darkness. My hands are on either side, running along the hard walls. The space I am moving through is getting narrow. Narrower and closer with each step. I am sloshing in a thin pool of water, no deeper than the souls of my shoes. But my feet are cold. I feel I must be walking in a stream of mercury. 

My search lead me through a deep tunnel. Damp and clever. At this point, I imagined, I am under the sanctuary. I believe it will take days to get the smell of fetid water and centuries of wet stone out of my head. 

But there was a little yellow light in the not too distant future. Grateful, I crawled where I had to. Sloshed in ankle deep liquid when there was no other way. But, in time, I got there. It was not as bad as the river crossing.

It hurt my eyes to enter into that light. That room. I'd grown so used to the dark. It took a while for my full sight to restore itself. But when I could see, I saw the floor strewn with treasures. Shelving overloaded with strange and wonderful things. Boxes atop boxes of ancient items. Here was a cloth with the imprint of someone's face in blood. Dozens of old gold glass tubes with red liquid almost solidified inside. It took a while longer until I realized what I was in the midst of.

Here was the sword of Joan of Arc. There was a living salamander with the bearded face of Jesus, just swallowing a fly. A holy parakeet. The staff of St. Christopher. The ring finger of St. Edward. And so much more. Hundreds of relics. Maybe thousands. 

I heard a commotion somewhere beyond the crates and boxes. There was a blue door on the far wall. The one wall the yellow light did not illuminate. It was knocking. Someone was knocking on the blue door. It turned green. Greener with every knock. I took my pistol in my hand and walked toward this door, which was angry red by the time I arrived. 

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