After The War

During the last days of the war there came to be a general feeling of anxiety Nothing now appeared certain. Even the nightly bombings had brought with them a certain sense of security. Death arrived regularly and in a designated fashion. The long mechanical wail of the siren, beginning somewhere in the head as if it were no more than an hallucination and then steadily increasing in volume and intensity until it filled the whole of the night sky; the scurrying to find a place of safety - cellars and the underground passageways that criss-crossed beneath much of the city were most people's preferred option - and then as if to give reason for all this madness, the low desperate growl of the approaching aircraft. The enemy had never understood the comfort to be abstracted from such a regular occurrence. I held my mother's hand - that, too, was as significant an action as the arrival of the aircraft themselves - and felt myself loved.

But now? The attacks were infrequent and unpredictable. And some nights they failed to materialise at all. We had no way of judging our own importance, our need for each other or even the passing of time.

I was allowed to play out, searching the broken buildings for booty - scraps of metal torn and twisted that were as alien to me as if they had come from another planet. I treasured them all, carrying them back to my room and displaying them importantly on my one remaining shelf. No one saw them for no one ever came to visit. That, too, had become a part of our daily routine. We lived alone, secure in our ability to limit our pain only to ourselves.

I wandered the night city at will, unthought of. Above me there were only stars - unnamed. Other terrors had replaced the calculated horror of the enemy. Closer. Less understood. Now the whole world stood at odds to my existence. Nothing was safe and nothing was predictable.

A rustling in the darkness. A sudden shifting of dust and rubble. A shadow too substantial to be the mere play of light and dark. A sigh. A breath. The touch of something cold against my skin. I longed to be underground, to be clasped in my mother's arms. But with the promise of peace had come an independence barely understood and much less looked for. I was alone, and any celebration of my continued existence and good fortune could only be expressed by my nightly wanderings through a landscape that rejected me as if I were a virus. I was a hero. Courageous not despite my fear but because of it. I forced myself to enter the most dangerous of places - the most antipathetic to my nature. Loving the clarity of light and the simplicity of the natural world, I sought out those regions most obscured by the works of man. I entered like a Christian Saint or a pilgrim knowing that beyond the darkness there lay a brilliance powerful enough to illuminate the whole world. And once in my grasp, who could fail to love me.

I found nothing. Only the remains of last night's destruction. No silver in the dust. No light behind the mirror. Alone I wandered and alone I returned to my mother - already a mere shadow in her memory. I placed my tarnished metal on the bookshelf. I rearranged it to its best advantage. I admired it. I loved it. I became its twisted edges, its scorched surface, its heat and its longing for completion. I remained where it had landed, legs drawn up, hands clasped about my knees. No longer of use I could only wait while the dust gathered about my body and I fell quietly and exquisitely into decay.

Stephen Clayton 1999

Steve Clayton also paints, draws, writes poetry, screenplays and novels - for more information contact Tractor/OZIT.