( Published in the anthology ‘Inside These Tangles, Beauty Lies’ )
Who are these people and when are they going home?
They say they are friends or relations of my father, that he invited them to visit. I don’t know when that could have been, though, since the last time I saw him, his boots were dancing on thin air, and I was only big enough to see him sat on someone’s shoulders above the crowd.
My brother and I fled the city and his name, and after weeks of half-starved wandering found this farmhouse, remote, abandoned, on the edge of a stubbled field. We learned to forage in the woods, catch occasional fish from streams, avoid the things that made us vomit from both ends. We are neither of us the plumpest of lads but the Lord provides, if you are open to receive his lessons.
These have been terrible times, but we each must steer our souls through this world as best we can. Uncomfortable as it is for my brother and me, sleeping under the kitchen table, I have tried to keep a welcome in my heart for our visitors, though I fear they do not respect us. Every day they do violence to my charity.
Weeks ago, a cow was brought into the house and led upstairs to much hilarity. It was soon discovered that the cow was unwilling or able to come back down and had to stay. Alas, it quickly ceased to amuse as a pet. When finally it starved, they tore the floorboards up for kindle and roasted the carcass, there in the dung-deep middle of what once had been my room. I offered to be responsible for future fires, while the house still stood.
It is in this pursuit that I am outside now, log chopping. The woods beyond darken by the moment, and the temperature is falling fast. My pile is still small.
A piss-pot was flung through an unopened window yesterday, and I can hear their carousing from within. As my hatchet drops into the damp green wood, I try not to distinguish my brother’s voice amongst them.
I stand with my back to the house as I swing, the raw evening air rushing at me from across the fields. My feet stamp the ground, though for warmth or readying, reminding my head that I could run, I cannot tell.
Another log cleaves in half for me.
My brother is the only blood I have left not bottled in my veins and this has been a fine and quiet house until now.
I shall not run nor leave him to their spoiling.
I feel the weight in my hand, and wonder if it is my father or my Father who has put it there.