A future decided by something
scribbled on a piece of paper
with a pen.
A person’s worth measured
by the length of their words;
and their order.
A soul dissected until
secrets to uncover
do not remain.
A life charted by those
unknowing of circumstances who know
only good or bad.
A spirit shattered by red ink on white
devoid of passion or interest
desperate for its wage.
A being judged by academic skill
with no thought wasted
on kindness of heart.
As I got into the carriage, my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of my application to the House of Lords. Had it been accepted? Refused? I was on my way to find out.
A while into the journey, the carriage master explained that we would have an unexpected delay. Apparently a horse had gone and died in the middle of the road, and we would have to take the route through the Peasant Quarter. As we drove, I started to tuck into the meal that the servants had prepared for me. Cold fillet of lamb, a selection of cheeses from Europe and our finest dairies, and a bottle of brandy to keep me warm, and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the Peasant Quarter. The buildings to either side grew smaller and smaller, wooden beams covered in mould. People crowded together in the streets, and the putrid smell of sewage was accompanied by the unmistakable odour of festering flesh. The cobblestones grew larger and rougher, and could be felt through the voluptuous leather seats of the carriage. Peat fires burned all over the place, its smell wafting in through the driver’s window. By now we had reached the heart of the Peasant Quarter, and nearly all of the buildings had boarded up windows and doors which hung off their hinges. The centre, though decrepit and deserted, was the most crowded area I had seen so far. Merchants hawked their wares, selling the usual scraps of food, ragged clothes and hocus pocus. Rats crawled everywhere, simply everywhere, hindered only by squat old spinsters with brooms. As we pressed deeper and deeper into the fold, the lethargy that held these people was almost tangible. Beggars roamed the streets, banging against the four walls of the carriage and spilling my brandy in the process. The smell of sewage was momentarily replaced by the ever more putrid stench of desperation. Here was a different world, a world that had never heard of Stilton or Champagne, a world apart from mine. Here was a corporeal hell.
As the House of Lords loomed in the distance, I began to realise that my not joining the House was the least of London Town’s problems. That was dangerous thinking, and if I had any hope of becoming something in this world, it had to be squashed. Eliminated. As I climbed the steps to the House those thoughts had already been banished by ambition.
First few paragraphs of a work in progress.
I suppose one could say that I had been blessed with a life of happiness and contentment. My home, Sinom, was a centre of excellence. A place where ceremony was all and work was left to those who refused to abide by the tenets of Sinom. The Cultus, as they were called, lived on the outskirts of Sinom in specially designated areas, emerging only at night to tend to the city and prepare for the next day’s celebrations. I had only seen one once, scarpering towards its home as the sun started to rise. You see, Cultus were forbidden the sun. They could not emerge from their shaded residential and commercial areas during the day. But for me, Sinom’s beauty was astounding. The central tower was plated with copper, reflecting the sun’s rays throughout the city. The tower was surrounded by circular districts, like a great segmented disc, and gardens were set at the cardinal points of the compass, their precisely shaped lakes reflecting the light projected by the tower.
Essay entered for a competition which unfortunately yielded no results.
It has been a while since I slept. The thought of the patient I could not save is embedded in my mind. I lay awake at night, questioning myself and my profession, trying to justify his death before God’s eyes, and before my own.
They brought him to me, after the battle. Nineteen years of age. A stray blade had knocked him off his horse, and the terrified animal trod on him. Gangrene had set in, and he lost both his legs from the knee down. We grew closer and closer together, as time passed and his wounds began to heal. Or so I thought. When we talked, I would sometimes notice a rash around the stumps of his legs, which was normal for his condition. As time passed, it spread, reaching his thighs. I began to worry that the tissue was dying, and sure enough, after a few days, it began to stench as the tissue rotted and the necrosis spread. I tried everything to halt its progress. Herbs, salves, poultices, prayers. Nothing seemed to work. It was too late. The illness had gone too deep. He died a week later. I had failed. I was frustrated with myself; I should have been better than that. I should have saved him.
War is a despicable thing. It robs you of your humanity, makes you question your own existence and doubt your judgement as you become a number, a chess piece on a board, a weapon to be used and discarded. It frustrates you as you see your comrades fall around you, helpless to save them. Because that’s what war does, really. It robs you of the ability to act, to change the situation, and it is the most frustrating thing on the planet. You are helpless to act, just one man on the field of battle, one man against the collective swarm of human hatred and agony, with a heart of lead but fists of putty, unable to do anything to stem the tide. Not having the ability to do something, however, is not absolution, and even if you save a hundred people and lose one, that one will torment you until you come to terms with it.
Now, thinking back, I realise that whatever I could have done, I did. Death is inevitable, and it may decree that we pay our price now rather than later. My patient and I are both victims of war, tormented by our inadequacies and massacred by our fellow human beings, and though my patient died, and I will carry the guilt of his death to my grave, it is something I can deal with. A human failing. I turn over and close my eyes.