Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The lost army

It's been raining since morning. The day broke gray and cold, and the overnight mist off the lake, instead of burning off quickly as the sun gained strength, slowly but steadily gathered into a forlorn, gusting, incessant storm. It must be raining high in the mountains too, for the little streams that irrigate the fields on the city's edges, normally placid and clear, are swollen and lead-colored and seem to be straining ahead in their long transit to the sea. You'd think the city itself would break up and melt away, but it won't, and the wooden bridges, built by experienced hands for storms worse than this, arch securely over the swell, bearing pedestrians who cross the solid timbers without delay but with no shiver of fear.

I've been watching the streets from this high window. The inn must be half deserted, tonight; now and then I hear bustling below but no one seems to have taken the other rooms on this floor, and it's late enough that in all likelihood no more travelers are to be expected, unless the odd straggler, perhaps delayed by washouts along the road from the hills, makes it in time to the city gates. There's a faint smell of barley and vinegar coming from the kitchen, but the rain has dampened all of my senses and most of the time I scarcely notice. The ghosts are coming out, and are beginning to flow, unnoticed, into the current of pedestrians, keeping to the edges of the crowd when they can, their heads bowed, though not against the rain like the others, no, it's the shame that keeps their heads cast down, their faces concealed. No one around them sees them but I see them, I know their names, each of their names. They'll wander the streets all night, searching for a destination they won't find, and with the first touch of morning they'll withdraw once more into the crawlspaces below buildings, into the runnels between paving-stones, into stagnant pools left behind by the flood, into the weathered beams of sad houses soaked by the steam of boiling laundry and the sweat of endless, unendurable toil. They'll never emerge to see the stars or the moon that casts its milky light on the lake, no, only when it rains like this and all hope is lost, only when despair walks abroad, will they feel their way, tentatively at first, out of their hiding-places and dare to walk the streets, seen only by their general, their commander in iniquity, in this high room, from this window through which light never shines.

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