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Short Fiction                                                About the Author | Spanish Translation |

Elevation of the Prison Bed
Ben Marcus

Drawings: Dani, age 7

Picture      It is of the prison I must speak, albeit, something seems wrong. The wood is gone and the twigs are too damp to burn. A cup of food rests on the stump. There has been a shackle thrown clear of the grounds, as too some chain and a wedge of prison documents. Does not the tower feel large thismorning? The shadow exaggerated? But perhaps the gentleman will be led infrom the rear this time, past the young boy, thus the need for a wall to shield him. A formation of gray-coated associates, no doubt, to accompany his entrance.

      One can speculate about the sun and the ringing of the bell, the cow or possibly the goat with a stain of blood on the belly, an inmate's shoe buried in a heap of grass at the gate. So much of what I have seen can be easily explained.

      There is a theory I favor that the ground is beaten in the morning. The children allow for some ascension or ebbing of shadow before effecting a slight switching with brushrope of the soil. To explain the pattering at dawn? A slight drumming or the chatter? One cannot be too careful. The light swivels north of the third prison container, which is constructed of small bricks. I believe the women are housed there, for the birds rush off the turret at noon and there is a moment each day when the shadow is severe.

      There have been ropes and a bag of nails here, you see, although nothing is certain. Please listen--a call in the morning by the long bird gliding up the mountain, to suggest, perhaps, a scheduled appearance of animal lifein the clearing below. Does the bird not chew on scraps of string or somefine white articles, explaining the residue on the trees? It could be tha tpines are burning somewhere lower down on the cliff, then. But I cannot be sure about this either. Such a crackling, though. The smell, too. There is, I believe, yes, the burning of bark or a small foot of clay smoldering. It is here near me I propose, or rather a condition in the soil, which isnecessarily closer than one would normally allow. The heat from the brush,the sky, a golden wire hidden in the mound, although, still, to sleep is rather frightening.

Picture      For, then, what of the shouting? I have seen a boy led to a hill. I have seen him fall there. There is a further disappearance in the afternoon. In the morning, a small realm of blood. They throw cloth about the pole,and this too seems sad. Where from the trucks? What little road left is fairly corrupt with the passage of the evening frog. I assume a small trail to exist. How else the food, the children's trousers, expulsion of the dead? Indeed, perhaps the fires are thus explained. Boys carry sleds through the woods. A horse is used. Although--why kill the animal? I do not understand.

      It matters not that a blanket has been left here, nor the glass, thesheet, the string of beads. One might easily form a bed in the leaves, but to close one's eyes seems somewhat foolish. The footprint, though--will it not soon be gone? I trust that visitors wait in the ring, if they can withstand the presence of the fire. There is such weeping always, but isit not perhaps that of a single gentleman? I have heard water, perhaps beneath me. I have been somewhat less vigilant than I would care to admit. For something could be said of the exercise in the field--the arms swishing just through the tall grass from here--although one risks imprecision. Small hooks clumped in the ditch-- the glint thrown east onto the insects, which transfer the light by dying against the wall. Is this not a rather strong example? Their breathing, the measured motion socutting. Or, indeed, it may be a regulated activity in the air, and, as such, something I do not choose to describe fully, owing to fatigue.

      There is the rotation, too; the schedule, and the voices, although may beinstead it is the motor of the kitchen machine after being wheeled into theclearing, as previously mentioned. It makes no sense, then, that the group of women would seem pleased while dispensing lashes onto the children. It is perhaps conducted to appear not as punishment but as a game. But the blood? Wherefore, too, the exhaustion afterward of the women? They appear tired, as if they had actually beaten the children, although the melody during the whipping is rather extraordinary. One must believe that the weather has allowed for a great deal of outdoor life as a result, or else something forbidding is contained in the house that must be eluded.

      A procession of gentlemen carrying bags of cloth to the river certainly does occur in the sunshine--the associates in the carriage throwing salt on the grass. But the ringing of the bell is rather uncalculated; or perhaps I am wrong. The bell is struck when the dog catches the escapee, maybe,thus explaining the inappropriate ringing in the evening accompanied by the rather complicated yells, and too the long silences marred by the sloshing of water against stone, the burning of the prisoner's wig.

      I am happy to consider the Saturday cooking. Chickens basted in strong herbs and great clumps of garlic blackened on a stick. The lemon and the button tomatoes soaking in sweet oil. A line of salmon, boiled and salted,covered in hair-thin sheets of tender, black bread. But one might easily consider these events occurring on another day, as in Tuesday, given the rigorous schedule of the prison, and the fullness of activity on the days remaining. It does not matter, although, well, this is perhaps something I am remembering from a different time, for it no longer soothes me. It is clear that within these events a small gentleman is bothered by a bird--something persistent to the bird, as the gentleman must be protected with a coat. Well, this cannot happen as frequently as I would like, for the gentleman dies, I believe. Or, if not, he sets out alone on what would appear to be a difficult journey that everyone understands will result in his death. One would prefer the assault to occur more often, to further believe it, or, more importantly, to arrive at a closer inspection of thebird, which has apparently survived the conflict, and will not easily die.

      The prison is situated near a house, though, raising a different complication. Or the house is an annex to the prison, as in a shed or storage arena. But the lines are not telephone lines, or else they are heavy, to accomplish another function, as that of an anchor, or to clarifythe view from above, which is often the most embarrassingly accurate perspective, I find. The claim of a single prisoner is useful here,although one is shy to mention it. The animal, too, that assembles apresence nearby, is valuable--thus the scratches on the stairway, the droplets of hair, a weeping arising from the grassy weeds. I must admit to being somewhat unsure now. Indeed, one wants to assert the existence of a window, which seems so very improbable and almost absurd. Has there beenan alteration in what was previously decided? My legs, for example,somewhat heavier than I had hoped. The more or less lethargic wind so filled with grain. The door down the hill apparently vigorously slammed--yet one perceives that it must still be ajar. Why else the song and the gentle metal rumble? Can there have been a directional shift ofthe structure? Or the explanation is much more simple and easy going. In which the women bind the children with rope and the gentlemen prisoners are forced into holes, I believe. There are forty holes in the field, and the fire approaches somehow from the north, arriving always just before dusk.But this does not account for their exclamations of surprise just before they are burned. Perhaps the sound is instead the breaking of slate on the stoop? Nor is one too eager to ascribe the heap of rope with excess importance, yet, still, there is undeniable interest from the wildlife,suggesting the presence of an important odor, and, possibly, an earlier struggle.

      One must be careful not to be alarmed at what would appear to be a darkening. The insect life alone augments the weather, as per usual for this location, yes, although one might just as easily claim that a dust has arisen from the cinders of the prison yard. Any other thought on this score must be vanquished. A pause occurs in the air when the bell is rung,that is certain, or else a respectful stillness is observed by the birds,creating the appearance of slower air. In this sense, then, the noises are the simplest details, although it is clear that one cannot exactly trust the noise of fire.

      It is no longer a comfort to think of the man hauling a prisoner on aboard to the river. It fairly upsets me now--the girl pushing his headwith her hand, the gentlemen on the shore assessing the position of the sun while the prisoner is drowned. That the forest may soon be leveled is perhaps the only conclusion, although, well, the window is somewhat shattered, or will be soon, if not today, showing perhaps that a different destruction is scheduled, or, more precisely, that the house is indeed much more distant than was earlier allowed.

      The weeping, however, is quite more than curious to me. One can account for the animal scratching on the board after the prisoner is removed, and the presence of certain fish fairly suffocating on the rocks nearby--explaining the gasping, produced at such impressive volume--but where of the slight sobbing moderately to the north? It is not beyond me to consider that it is a noise arising somehow from myself. I must be rigorous in assigning origins, even if it entails deciding something horrible about my own condition. But one has not exactly just cause to weep, which thereby confuses the issue, although, well, perhaps the weeping is an expression of joy, indicating a happiness on my part, or an exhilaration even, as in a man crying out of respect for an animal that isproud and independent and strong.

      In any case. I have seen a woman attend me. There is a yellow bowl,chipped at the foot, that is associated with this vision. Berries and coins and a man's glove sit on the table near the bed. This is not my bed I speak of but a bed I feel familiar with, as in a bed in a house that one has visited or possibly lived in. Again I am not sure. The house is perhaps a house described to me as a child. Indeed it would be helpful if the house existed more clearly now, for to question the woman in the doorway would be useful, and food is most likely stored therein, althoughit would not be so readily available if I were to seek it out, as is often the difficulty with these visions.

      At four, though, a small fire on the hill is honored with a song--of this I am certain. Children march in a line through the woods, which from above proves to be a rather revealing escape--somewhat obvious and desperate, yet also fairly dear and amusing. It is very clever, I believe, to build an airy prison with colorfully gray webs on the walls and large platform beds hoisted into the courtyard. A certain genius is no doubt required to invent a system of elevated beds--I would never have guessed this on my own, attributing probably the sensation of swinging and sudden drops to some slight bluster or prisoner's fan. It is remarkable and truly admirable. One can almost justify the slaughtering of the child. As, too,the crushing of the fruit with the men's feet, even though the men, who giggle and act fairly young, will soon be killed also.

      One is almost eager to drink water. Although the sound of the running faucet is easily explained as the woman scolding her sister, beating her hands with the wire tool. And what of the chain hanging from the gate, so like the rope used to pull a horse into the crevice? The nails, shaken in the bag, as in the hooks which cut the dog hiding in the grass? There are many ways to think of it, and I may say that I will think of it another way soon, when I am able.

      But first, no, this silence, that I might now consider the young boy who has died, although one would find it easier to do this if he would sit again near the bed and sing his name in his sweet watery tone that I am so fond of, so like the warden who stands strongly with me when I am tired--this man rather large and very like myself in stock and skin, with eyes as beautiful and clear as mine, holding my hand in his, pointing at the bird and smiling.

 ©1997 Ben Marcus                            About the Author | Spanish Translation
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