a war of hope...continued

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
a short chapter to end this story for the time being

Submitted: August 11, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 11, 2015



Matting the Square
My obsession didn’t go unchecked.
I lost the ability to think simply, since I had met Mary.
I couldn’t count, write, think, see clearly.
All things became impossibilities, like my knowledge of her beauty, and yet not at all like the other obstacles that I had overcome.  When I was with her the world felt complete, poetic – like I understood all things without doubt, and words and actions came freely and without compromise.  And yet in her absence – all things fell apart, and in light of this ineptitude on my part came matting the square, a 60 pound rucksack, the one I always wore harnessed across my shoulders attached to a wet mattress dragged for five hours along the pea shingle of our parade arena, a levelling punishment of aching proportions, for feet to stamp against in an irrelevant abandonment of empathy – like a man-horse whipped across the dirt of all our inabilities to keep pace with the changes taking place – with no time to stop and pause, to contemplate the increasing weight I was forced to learn to carry.
I stood there day after day, for five hours after parade, like a dog or worse, with only Mary’s image in my mind. And it was enough.
To think of someone else’ suffering instead of my own, and to see only her worth, if like me she had lost all interpretation of herself where hope could fade.
It rained a lot, the mattress wet and heavy, and when I rested only by candlelight, dimly lit, waiting for more bombs to fall.  And I didn’t see Mary at all, for those few weeks, although I heard from her from time to time, in messages and calls, and her blog, which showed me how her family were developing, a treasured document to rest my eyes and thoughts within.
I rarely responded for self-confidence had left me at the start, and my large muscle and mass now seemed to serve no other purpose than to constantly ache.  My dreams filled with nightmarish loneliness – violent sounds, crashing through the night and my waking life a daydream, numb enough to let the light through that shone on Mary’s idol.
I lay out tables in the officers halls, scrubbed and cleaned, forgot myself in excesses of drink, when my self- esteem was low and raised myself again through the hot thick mist of it all.
And my feet went left right left right left right left.
And my arms stabbed sacks and shot at targets.
And my eyes cried for love and fear
And my body ached and my heart longed
And my mind couldn’t care.
And that is this shabby soldier half way along the road.
For life is like a strand of cotton thread, and the closer you get to the end of the thread, the more you begin to heal, for the hope is almost gone and life is almost real.
And yet at the other end of the thread, where the hope is so fresh and so strong
Where the hope is so great it were as if anything were possible.
The matt I had to carry was frayed and worn, and countless times raised onto my shoulders, only to fall again into the dirt.  I was carrying it now in rows in a clearing in the wood, carving a square ring into the leaf litter and bark shards, where fires simmered into ashes and around us four torches marked in the dusk some orchestration of a tribal commune, and the steam burst through the nostrils of tied horses.
A fist cut through the flesh of my jaw, my eyelid bulged inflamed bursting with pain.
And for a moment I became disenchanted, captured by a green and grey light, the feint sweetness of the chilled breeze, and an ornate perfume on the air, and then recovering my senses with the reminder of a second fist, I fought back, the retaliation fierce and final, where my mattress clad companion now laid in the fresh cleared dirt, of a malicious game we’d created, a more violent version of matting the square, in this garden of companies new sport, a form of boxing come humiliation, called “beating the square.”
In the morning I met Mary, she was glad of the company, still searching for Larry her husband, amidst the fresh news of overseas disaster, the tough wind devastated where the war wouldn’t, where super-powers exist in the shield of their immense armament – here only the elements can carve through the invisible barrier and destroy on the scale of which only men and women can – and under the weight of this many cried the name of God – for mercy – but like the murderous hands of humanity he didn’t listen that day, for they took his name in vain.
I got sick again, placed on a tablet called Olanzapine, on 25 mg I couldn’t move forwards nor backwards, the chatter of voices from the past immobilised me, or sent me spastically wandering unable to decide where they led me.  At 20 mg they dimmed, and at 15 the past just seemed unpleasant until after several weeks I was kept at just a maintenance dose of 2 mg a day, and was Edward Void again.
Upon my recovery…
We had all started drinking at a local pub called the Enoch arms.  The RSM, me and Mary, who came out of disregard to simmer and stew for a while, and there soon was to be news of her injured husband’s homecoming.
“Muslim cunts” retorted the RSM, when the topic of conversation turned to the news.
“We’ve been fighting them since the crusades, they ought to be shot”
The rest of us were silent, to his dismay, as he continued that day to talk of Cane and Abel.
And the sound of bar games and white noise conversations slowly returned from his bulletins live silence.
We talked Mary and I, she was the first person I felt I could confide in. since Lily left.  I told her that I heard voices, that, they grated on my conscience, calling me names, in mute directionless despair.  Prick, cunt, jumbled sentences of hate, and of the dreams I would have, vivid dreams in which I wore a mask.
At first she thought that I was mad, I’d thought that too, but with my ignorance I was coping, then she told me she understood and reassured me that I should take the pills which the company psychologist had prescribed me, I found it hard to realise this until the words came from Mary.
She was a blessing to me, and in the Enoch arms I drank only juice, not alcohol, for the symptoms became confused under its influence.
At first the hard drinking RSM called me a pussy, but from the fragments of mine and Mary’s confidences he too began to understand, and like a father figure he began to look out for me, and my matting the square punishment became more like a course of therapy – to reach out further from the plateau blues and into Mary’s and life’s dry exercise.

I couldn’t rationalise the body count of missing persons at the museum where you paid a penny to peer between the bricks of the boundary wall, such a sad voyeuristic tourism, to peer into the wasteland of a battlefield.  Back at the barracks my thoughts turned to politics... The red labour government of my adolescence had promised me so much, sold me an education I never thought I would achieve, and yet as I emerged from education, that government folded, leaving the economy weak and myself and others like me without work, it taking me several years to find work at the matchstick factory.  And now as I write with the right wing blue in charge, and a growing independence party, growing fat on the news of the invasion of our foreign enemies, it seemed that on the verge of war, of knowledge and books, that that pit of my childhood ambitions would become my grave.And the graves of those co-opertatives born to be my brothers; that day the words allah ackbar rang out on the intense news broadcasts, as the bomb-hot grass on the hilltops burned.

And further off... the ballot boxes of Iran started greedy - the first of the voters - the leaders themselves -  perhaps the only, and further still those armoured Americans armed again their enemies with their rusting gun barrels bent backwards...

It was Springtime when the General told me I would have to train another year before being sent to battle, my fifteen months would become twenty seven, and my downcast morning more sombre when he anounced the death of another of our soldiers, taken again by suicide.

“Found hung dead in the barracks shed” the RSM said, his wife and children left a sombre note of grave refrain, Danny wore a grimmace grin that day, of disbelief from an optimistic friend.

That shed was a darker shade of green, hidden more amongst the foliage of springtime, the darkened door, a note pinned to the frame with tape - a dark expanse inside, frayed rope eyes ducked down, beneath long eyelashes and summer skin, the hint of death still fresh where the RSM stood guard in full military garb - with a white light in his eyes and the look of disgust beneath his moustache.  A wreath now laid upon the pebbled floor, the door and window smashed by the military police, under the direction of the General.

And that green shed, white rope, blackened corpse a cave amidst the blue sky, red roses, marigolds and lavender bushes - seemed to us all then just an excuse and a dishonour..  The act itself far worse than any deed that could lead the self to such dispair, for every breath of life is a testament to savour and a pleasure to breath.

Later the RSM spoke of sectarian murders and of all the deaths he had witnessed in his lifetime.

“Pussy” he said

“The worse death you’ll ever face in your life is your own”

“Best to make it a bloody noble one then!”

And in the Enoch arms Mary said

“In a week maybe two he will be buried and forgotten, his wife will grieve for one or two years, his children will alway miss their father, but they will move on and she will find another man, who wouldn’t hang himself or let her down.”

I agreed with them both though my thoughts were still elsewhere.


The General complained for several weeks after that his shed was ruinedf and that in future it would be out of bounds.  He barred the door having first filled it tightly with golfing equipment, so much so that a fly couldn’t hang itself in there let alone another soldier.  And in time his wife, complaining of the smell, convinced him to let her have the shed.

“Take the bloody shed” he finally said

And she did, adorning it with artefacts, net curtains and deck chairs.  And this sad shed became a summer house with frilly pelmets and hems filled with ladies that lunched and scowled at soldiers.

© Copyright 2020 jimharrod. All rights reserved.

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