Thursday, October 27, 2011

The pig finds the boy sleeping in a pew and wakes him. It buries its snout in his shirt, pinning him in and standing on its hind legs for leverage. It searches for that which brought it here: the smell of food emanating from the boy’s rags of clothing. It finds the bread in his shirt, but he grabs it and gives half to the pig and eats the rest himself. It searches out his open shirt for crumbs and sniffs his face and licks his lips and chin. He pushed himself up and looked around for any belongings. The pig sniffing about the altar. He bundled up and tucked his rags and walked to the back of the church where there is a door. The burst of cold wind not the least bit startling. It was always winter for all he remembered. The cold froze his snot and dried his throat and burned his cheeks as he trudged to a crowd in the street.
              A gallows set up in the street. It was built for six but there were only two. A tall man nearest to the boy. A woman between two older men standing arm in arm. Three young men on horses near the gallows. The boy tugged on the man’s shirt. He asked the man if he had anything to spare. It’s the man’s sons with the rope around their necks and he watched them closely. His shoulders were wide and so was his stance, his long legs braced hard against the ground behind him as if prepared to bare a heavy load. His face bespoke a career of meanness. A fat man in a fur-collared coat and a bow tie had read aloud their crimes and now asked if the boys had any last words to speak. They declined to do so. The fat man took his time to adjust the rope and put black sacks over their heads. He did one and then the other stopped him. He could be seen to breathe heavily. The man paused beside the boy with the sack in his hand. The other boy fidgeted in the already tightening noose and the stuffy burlap sack and the man tried again and the boy didn’t object this time. The executioner made his way to the far left end of the platform and the man closed his eyes and dropped his chin against his chest. The sound of the trap doors in the gallows falling open and the ropes snapping and the counterweights hitting the ground. The wooden frame straining under the sudden weight.
              The man stayed like this for a long time. He didn’t heed or see the boy who was tugging at his coat. He opened his eyes and lifted his head and turned to walk back to the hotel like a statue come to life to the boy, like an all-powerful God compelled to awaken from a great slumber. He walked with a long gait. He did not change his course to accommodate others in the street. They watched his pale figure through the falling snow- something wicked, something that was not like them. Their fear made them think foolish things as they scurried out of his way.
              In a back room of the hotel a young woman in labor. Her screams were horrific. Her bare legs writhed in the stained sheets in a way that excited the doctor. Sweat dripping from his beard, his tired eyes. The nurses circled about them working in shifts. They covered her breasts when they shown through her torn blouse and gave her water to drink. They moved about her like diligent workers accustomed to scenes of horror and agony. Their unflinching eyes set upon the ground or on their task at hand, on you the horrified observer. In the thick of it the doctor and his dainty fingers doing his grotesque and necessary duty. She was unreachable in her agony. Inconsolable to the world as if possessed, as if put in a trance by the black magic of an old world shaman. The young woman’s voice became hoarse and it was a relief to stop screaming. She was in labor from the morning of the day before to just before sunrise. It was a long time before they let her see the baby. She knew something was wrong with it. The doctor presented it laying stiffly in a blanket in his arms. The infant’s color was a deep red unlike the color of a newborn. Two prominent ridges above its brow. A tail could be seen between its legs struggling to point upward like an earthworm in the sun. His mother was hysterical. She rejected him outright and wept hoarsely into the pillow.
              The doctor stole away with the baby. The man passed the doctor in the lobby. His face did not reveal his intentions or the extent of his knowledge. He went to his horse to the bag of provisions behind the saddle with coffee in hand. He put a foot in the stirrup and drank the coffee and watched the doctor step into his carriage parked directly in front of the hotel. It was just light enough to ride. He could make out the driver’s silhouette stretching and yawning himself awake. He reached into a pocket on his saddle and took out the revolver and checked the cylinder and placed it in his belt and walked over to the carriage.