Friday, 19 February 2010

The Soldier (1)

The soldier sits with his back against the bole of a pine tree. He wears a hat and a thin moustache; epaulets grace the shoulders of his coat. His legs are stretched before him, his hands are folded neatly in his lap. He appears calm, a smile tickling the corners of his pale lips.

The soldier is dead.

Daniel, running giggling into the clearing, had found the soldier there, watching. Daniel mumbled hello, moved closer, then realised the soldier's eyes were fixed, unblinking. The soldier had a dusky, sepia quality, as if surreptitiously slipped into the present through a scissored slit in the forest floor. Daniel suppressed a cry and ran to find the others.

Now they are gathered around the soldier, seven children armed with impromptu weapons, sticks and bits of shale, in anticipation of the soldier's sudden and presumably blood-thirsty resurrection. Lee pokes with his bit of pine; the soldier's body offers little give or spring. "Dead," Lee announces, and one of the younger children begins to cry.

Daniel has never seen a dead person before. When he imagines corpses - which he does sometimes, usually Christ's but often his own - they retain a certain vitality. The dead in Daniel's conception are not dissimilar to the sleeping: they are kinetic, poised to waken. The soldier, however, is not poised to do anything except remain dead. The starkness of this fact opens a vertiginous space in Daniel's mind.

Beth asks the pressing question:

"What will we do with him?"

As she speaks her waving stick grazes the soldier's boot. Beth buries the stick's tip in the soil as if to purify it.

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