Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Tale Of Men

I looked up from the ashes I was dutifully raking over and shot a quizzical glance at my companion, who was pointing southwest.
‘Smoke over there.’
‘That’s another one gone then.’ I sighed and raked some more ashes. The wind, once arrived, would blow the ashes away, as per the agreement, but for now it was very important to rake them into piles. The piles were very important. But still, my back was starting to ache. I had not been warned about this. I wished I had chosen a lighter rake.
My companion was putting on a hat. For the sun, he said, although privately I thought it was just to make him look pretty. He was not pretty. He had a long nose and his chin was too bony. The hat didn’t help. It made him look like a cow.
I hated him sometimes. But he was my friend, so I kept it hidden.
I sighed, again. ‘It’s always them that blow the cities up,’ I said, ‘and us that have to clean up.’
‘Yes,’ said my friend. I hated how he said that. I raked another pile and wondered where the wind was. The wind was always late. Someone should write a letter.
‘What will they do with the city now?’ he asked. ‘Rebuild it again?’
‘Probably,’ I said, kicking the ashes playfully.
‘That’s what they did last year.’
We were silent for a while, enjoying the sunlight and the view of the explosions. He was first to speak.
‘They caught him, you know.’
‘Caught who?’ I was so startled by the sudden speech that I kicked over one of my ash-piles, and inside I cursed the knowledge that I would now have to work overtime.
‘The fellow who did it.’
‘Who was he?’ I tried to sound disinterested, as I didn’t want him to know that his information was important.
‘I’m not sure. A mad bomber I expect. They tend to be.’
‘Well, why would you do it if you weren’t?’
‘Unless it was a sane bomber.’
‘Hm. That’s a scary thought.’
Once again silence as we contemplated the horror of a sane bomber. Eventually I decided that some things are best unthought of, and returned to the issue at hand.
‘Where is he?’ I asked my companion, who had just changed hats. This one softened his chin but made his eyes stick out. I looked at him with undisguised loathing. He blushed prettily.
‘It was a present from Graham,’ he explained. I waved impatiently. I didn’t care.
‘Where is he?’ I shouted, all pretence dissolved.
He pointed wordlessly, with what looked like a finger.
Upon the blasted landscape, I saw a courthouse. A squat brown box, distinguished only by the huge aluminium scales atop it. They were in perfect balance, the iron dagger of justice weighed evenly against the wooden owl of truth. The scales were blindfolded, and I myself could not believe my eyes.
‘How in the world did that survive the explosion?’ I asked in tones of incredulity and anger, mingled with sugared persuasion, for I knew my companion to have little patience for aggression.
‘It didn’t.’
‘What?’ this was beyond all reasonable bounds.
‘It didn’t survive. It was flown in specially.’
‘Well I’ll be damned.’ I was stunned enough to lean on my rake for a full five seconds so as to catch my breath.
‘The wonder of modern science!’
‘Indeed. When I was a boy courthouses had to be taken to pieces and transported brick by brick in vans. They had to be reassembled at the other end.’
We stood in nostalgia for a moment.
‘Shall we go?’ My companion was giving me a roguish grin. He had another hat on, a huge one with a leather brim. It was absolutely revolting.
I decided to play dumb. Pulling a moronic face I slurred, ‘Go where?’
‘To the courthouse,’ he replied, winking.
I had had enough. ‘We have ashes to rake!’ I yelled. ‘Don’t you even care?’
‘Let the wind take care of them,’ he replied. ‘This is a chance for adventure. I’ve never been in a courthouse before. Besides, I’m hungry.’
I considered. He had a point. He was hungry. A man needed food, did he not? And the wind was sure to be along. I looked at my feet, struggling with the moral choice: go and have adventures at the courthouse bistro, or stay and attend to duty, and let my partner starve to death? The latter option was tempting, not least because I hated my friend as much as it is possible for one man to hate another without somewhat disliking him. I stared at my feet a while longer, enjoying the patterned suede, but my shoes held no real answers.
‘Very well,’ I said at last. ‘We will go. But first let me do something.’
I gathered all my ash-piles up and poured them into my apron. If I was caught out, I planned to produce them as evidence.
Overhead a helicopter whirred. It was dumping water on the remaining fires left over from the bomb. The pilot looked down on us through huge goggles and waved cheerfully, before releasing several tons of water onto our heads.
‘Do you have a towel?’ I asked my partner, heaving myself back to my feet. ‘I’m wet.’
‘I’m wet too,’ he replied, sobbing quietly to himself. ‘And hungry.’
“You poor thing,’ I said, faking concern, and yawning. ‘We’d better get to the Courthouse. They have automatic hand driers in the bathrooms. We’ll put you under one of those, and buy you some sandwiches. All right sweetie?’
‘Yes,’ he sniffled, miserably, like a filthy drooling coward.
And so we walked to the courthouse, ash in our pockets and water in our hair. And as we walked, the courthouse moved away, and as we walked faster, it moved further, and as we ran, it took flight, and as we cried out for it to stop, we saw that the helicopter had picked it up, and it was flying away again. The trial was over, the bomber had been sentenced, and the courthouse was going home for a well-earned rest.
But my companion and I were lost in the wasteland, and we sat, weeping onto our rakes, eating ashes and mourning what might have been. 

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