There’s a group on the Internet called the Mash Club. They promote flash fiction competitions based on the inclusion of three keywords. I wrote a few submissions, that I always meant to post on here… so better late than never.
The keywords were Carpenter, Taxes and Vinegar. I posted one up about the Titanic a while ago… Read it Here… but these were the other two I put in. Got shortlisted, which I thought was fair enough 🙂
It all got out of hand. Now, with blood seeping into my eyes and my Mother’s suppressed sobs filling my ears, I have to think it was all my fault.
I could have stayed home. Worked with my father. There’s no shame in being a carpenter. But I had to do what I thought was right. I had to protest. Our people were downtrodden, oppressed, invaded, occupied. Our land taken, our rights denied. The world ignorant to our plight. I couldn’t stand by and let others protest for me. I couldn’t watch my friends go, while I cowered in my workshop. I just couldn’t.
It was our time. We were young, fit, strong and, if not us, then who? The old men were too feeble, the children too small. It had to be us.
I knew my voice was strong. I knew I had a way with words. I was happy to talk at the meetings, but I did not see it. Still do not see it. Cannot pinpoint the moment when I went from speaking to leading. It just happened. People began to seek me out, ask my opinion, more and more. Listened to me, believed in me, my message, my call to action. However, I can see, with sad hindsight, times when I could have turned back. Could have turned everyone back, but the momentum was undeniable. Like great conversations when bedtime is long past, yet no one wants to break the spell. The smiles and laughter, camaraderie and emotion binding all together into a new dawn. That was our journey, but multiplied in intensity a thousandfold. I really believed we would change things. Not by overthrowing the Government, it was madness to think like that, faced with an army such as they had. No, our way had to be subtle. Peaceful. The mass of the people, moving in unison. Undeniable.
And then my mistake. The whole thing torn asunder, by my temper. I had seen starvation throughout the countryside. Dire need that could have been assuaged by those in power, with a single stroke of their pens, yet they did nothing. I thought perhaps they didn’t realise the severity of our need, but I was wrong. They understood and they dismissed me with disdain. The traders, the money changers, the tax collectors. In that holy place. Paying to Caesar his due. Paying us nothing. I could stand it no longer. That one day’s worth of taxes could have fed whole villages. So I struck out and finally my voice was heard. Heard as a trumpet blast against their economic status quo and they decided, enough was enough.
It took days, not weeks. Their speed was frightening to behold. Friends scattered, all
pursued. I was arrested, tried, condemned. Now, I die and the movement will die with me.
There is no reprieve, no kindness. Even their water, offered to my parched lips, is vinegar. To mock my thirst and my naivety. It is finished.
A Jury of My Peers
“I felt the blast before I saw the flash. I know. I know, all my professors will tell me that I’m wrong. But I know what I felt. I know what I saw.”
“Your tense is wrong. You can’t know.”
“You can’t know anything now.”
I turn around quickly, but there is no one.
The silence of the whiteness surrounding me is deafening. It hurts my eyes, my ears. My mind is splintering into emotionless shards. I try again, “Hello?”
“Hello.” A woman’s voice. Much gentler. Soothing. The whiteness lessening. A little. The noise of the silence lessening. A little.
“Where are you? I can’t see you”
“I am here.”
“I can’t see you,” I pirouette around. Or I think I do. Thought I did. The whiteness is total.
“Yes you can. Shut your eyes and concentrate.”
“You’re my Grandmother!” I gasp as the vision of her, so young and vibrant, sweeps through my closed eyes, enters my brain, nestles as a comfort. I feel her lips on my forehead. “Cool,” I raise my hand to their softness. My hand goes straight through. My fingers touch brain.
Screaming. I can hear screaming.
“Ssshh now,” my Grandmother soothes.
“Who are you talking to?” I ask. The screaming stops.
“You. You’re screaming taxes my nerves.”
“Was that me?”
“Well, it was. But you can’t be expected to hear yourself.”
“Because of the way it happened.”
“What happened Grandmother?”
“Oh, I expect you will remember soon. It’s not for me to tell you. That’s his job.”
“I must go now child. To join the rest.”
“What rest Grandmother?”
“The rest.” Her voice drifts and I gaze after it. Blurry shapes appear and voices sound. Mixed up, layered, indistinguishable yet recognisable. I know all of them and none of them.
“The quiet descends. Or rises. Or seeps into your consciousness.” The man’s voice back again.
“Who are you?”
“I have many names. Each is wrong, all are right.”
“That doesn’t help me.”
“Strictly speaking, nothing is going to help you now. Just your life in evidence. That’s all that’s left.”
“Who are you!”
“I am a barren woman’s husband. A prince accepting milk and rice pudding. A multi-limbed warrior. The son of a carpenter. I am your judge and these are your jury.” The light collapses and row upon row of people, stretching into an infinite distance, appear.
“Who are they?”
“Your ancestors. The only ones allowed to pronounce verdict on you.”
“For your life. Was it sweetness and light or vinegar and darkness? Were you truthful and good or deceitful and evil? Your ancestors, those found worthy, pronounce verdict on all who come after them. All who live in their name. So it has always been.”
“And you will remember now.” He sweeps His hand.
The vision of the explosion, the noise, the people. Me. At the centre. Pressing the button.
A voice from the many, “Why did you do this?”
“I had to do what I thought was right. Our people were downtrodden, oppressed, invaded, occupied. Our land taken, our rights denied. The world ignorant to our plight. I couldn’t stand by and let others protest for me.”
There is a murmuring debate, then crushing silence.
My Grandmother speaks, “We find for the dark.”