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Barbed Wire Birdsong
This is the long, slow slide to death.
But if anything the air grows warmer, sweeter. The snow is not biting, and smothering, as before, in fact it seems to waver, smudges of green visible as tiny grass shoots wriggle out and stretch skyward. The light, too, is changing, gradually transforming, slipping through the spectrum from dull grey to a shy, watery blue.
And no more is it the rattling tangle of gunfire in the distance; rather, I hear the swoop and chatter of birdsong thrown from tree to tree, trees that are growing around me, the old oak trunks twisting and moulding as clay, the hues of rich chestnut sweeping from the ground like a glaze of inky watercolour on canvas, pouring life between the scarce pencil guidelines.
The branches are barbed wire, bones crawling from rotted flesh.
The branches are the outlines of faces loved and lost.
The grass stems reach higher now, and higher. Boot-black bugs hop and dart and release shivers of motion.
See now the flowers blooming? I would dearly love to stretch my arm, to raise my hand, snake-like, and pluck one tall, sleepy flower for my own. But I am less than human form, less than the eyes I gaze out of, someone has led me away and placed all responsibilities elsewhere, folded them up, tucked them out of sight. For now I am the follower and believer of all that is placed before me.
The scarlet flowers are a gushing torrent of blood.
The scarlet flowers are a shimmering tumble of strawberries, fresh and sweet.
And again the sky is changing, deepening to gold, as the world lowers itself into autumnal slumber. The leaves are falling, descending alongside gentle rainfall, spinning and twirling like ribbons round a maypole.
I am aware of every pore and fibre of my being, every eyelash, every inch of skin. I can feel the black shadows of grime under my fingernails, not the spilt blood of my friends, not the caking, clutching mud, not now. Now it is soil, turned and nurtured by these strong hands, rich and good, the foundations of a world I once knew.
And yet, though it is pleasing and very beautiful, I know that the world is dying, and I know it will not act out the frantic exertions of a caged animal, aware and prepared for slaughter; there will be no battle for life, there will be no laboured breaths for survival.
We, the world and I, we shall slide and tumble and fall and roll into the Nothing.
We, the world and I, are sliding, tumbling, falling, rolling. Into the Nothing.
But it is lonely here! Where are the ones I knew before? Not the young boys, with the dirt smeared so thickly they seemed other-worldly, from a nightmare, not the men who showed the whites of their eyes too soon, no.
The ones who bore me here, the care-worn faces, the soft hands, the hair in loose-bunched, blonde ponytails, I remember them, seen as though through a magnifying glass held too close to the eyes.
They are absent, that much is clear, but I don’t mind too much. All ties are severed, all the bindings and wrappers stripped away.
Is this the long, slow slide to death?
No, herein is the struggle to life, the crawl, the climb, the ascent. Cold hands are grabbing at me, scrabbling and pulling me back, I would push them away had I the strength. I am a hooked fish to them, wrenching and twisting on the line, let me back to the darkening waters, let me escape! But they are merciless, they strain, tug, reel me in.
These are not tree branches, these are lines and lines of barbed wire, strung with tattered strips of material. And this is not birdsong, I have never heard birds sing the staccato notes of rifle fire.
The sky is cold again, bleak and foreboding, listless grey. My head is heavy, and weary. My body is sluggish, a rag doll full of stones.
And here are the ones who dragged me back, not smiling and relieved, but frantic, panic-stricken, already heaving me to my feet, guiding me out, replacing me with the moaning and screaming, the ones putting up a fight, the ones who will die.
I put up no fight, I had dared to hope that at last it had come.
The long, slow slide to death.