They did dark work. Heavy work. Barbaric work, some people said – but never for long and never too loudly. ‘Who cared?’ was his reply. At the slaughter house his father did dark work, heavy work, even barbaric work as he buried his arms in blood and swung his blade to hack away at flesh. That was how they ate, that was how they lived and they did it without questions or accusations. They were happy not to see and not to know as long as food was on their table when the day ended. Only hypocrites cast scorn with full bellies and comfortably heavy eyelids. And when they did he lashed out, knocking into them, he thought, a measure of respect for the work that sustained them. Silencing the jibes and insults about the stench of death that covered his father and, by proxy, himself.
The soldiers were the same, not that they needed him to fight for them. Their work roused the hypocrites too though. Warm and safe in their rural security they whispered insults at the ‘murderers’ who descended from the army camp to buy their food and their drink. Always eager to condemn the job the soldiers were bound to do and always quick to take their money and sleep soundly in the peace the soldiers brought them. Those who judged never had a right to. It was always the ones who dodged and denied, evading the truth of the enemies who were out to kill them and theirs. Give in to their way of thinking and the village would be gone, the country would be gone. That’s what you got if you let the cowards take over, the weak who shied away from the abattoir at the first metallic scent of blood.
He would be different though. The slaughterhouse worker’s son. No cowardice. No shying away from the dark, heavy and barbaric work of keeping them all safe and secure. He too would bury his arms in blood, far deeper than even his father did, letting deeper shades of crimson taint his skin. He would stand with the soldiers. Join them when he could, steep himself in the effluence of their oppressive labour amidst the human cattle they corralled. Do the work they had to to keep the hypocrites alive, in mockery of their disdain.
And when they stared at him in the street, when they mumbled their insults in shameful corners he’d know that he had beaten them. He’d know he could feel proud.
This is from No Cure for Shell Shock, a collection of short stories and poetry. It’s available as an eBook or paperback here.