"Jagged Edge, Blind Heart" -- A Short Story By Daniel Crockett
A blind man rocked on his heels as the market traffic diverted about him. His cap, made of metal cooking foil and wretched, sat empty of alms or promise. Just another roadside nothing.
The little girl woke up beneath a stall by his side, her feet lined with road dust and aching. She didn’t know where she was and the language she heard was not her own. Her face was blackened by what she had seen and though she knew it followed her, life here continued as normal. Her whole body was sore and she wished at once to find somewhere else to sleep more, away from this flood of people.
Old women loomed over the stalls and croaked out haggles to the world-weary orators who droned their wares over and over, each calling above and betwixt the other, until the sounds of the market became a cacophony. The girl came out from beneath her stall and was confronted at once by a frail couple who vended nothing but a cluster of yellowed cigarettes from a timber booth, the weatherbeaten boards of which were marked with ancient graffiti. Grey cats hung about the fish stalls and chewed on anonymous green guts and mewled to each other and the market and the world. Live chickens tied by the feet with rough twine dangled in acceptance of their fate and were calm as martyrs but for one who yammered and squawked for freedom. The girl gave a laugh at this, and walked on through the market.
The ringing in her ears was starting to diminish and she could now hear the market. In her nose the acrid tang of chemical fire. She entered the walk of the butchers. The meat on the counter sat sweaty and perspired in the throb of the heat, releasing a wormy odour as the cleaver flashed about it. A foot left unskinned the barren identity tag for the small, naked cadavers whose sinewy corpses were soon bought and wrapped and smuggled away. There was none fresh and none to come and the opportunity would soon be gone, the butchers said, for something was coming from the west and their suppliers had fallen silent. But the people continued on as normal and the girl wanted to scream out to them but she had lost her voice. She walked within the confines of a dream.
The movements of the butchers were studied from a lifetime of this work and they wheeled and turned as they held up multiple conversations. Spattered with gore they looked like a line of battle in bloody engagement.
Their language was alien but they were love songs all the same
The girl had seen enough blood in recent days and so she moved away from the stench of the meat and out into the open-air palladium. A man with tanned skin rested in one corner like a leathery caryatid and about his feet were a crèche of small dead creatures. His jacket from some war long gone was hung with skulls laced through tiny eyeholes, snakeskin draped about his shoulders, he giving up a scent of musk and flesh and dirt. As the girl came closer he peered out at her through whiskers and an unkempt beard, his eyes beady as a beast. He was the forest-man and said to be invisible amongst the silva, one that preferred the company of the deepest thicket to that of his fellow man. He demonstrated the use of a snare on his fingers and mimicked the animal caught and struggling, the wire ever tightening. The forest-man dealt in death, but he dealt in life also. He sold some herbal powder from his pocket to a shuffling consumptive. The girl watched as a gang of children approached him and poked at the coypu and squirrels.
There was a stall selling spices, another stall selling unguents and salves, mercurial ointments and balsams promising cures for every trouble. A stall with relics and holy vestments and crosses of many forms. Some were just sticks crude lashed together, others ornamental and glittering with the kiss of the light. There were phials of chrism oil and a cowled thief snatched one and spitefully dashed the consecrated contents upon the ground before dancing off into the maze of stalls and people. The girl gave a yell of delight as he danced away and she followed him in a rush of other people, some intent on blood and other simply caught up in the madness. Ahead, in the main market square, there was some entertainment.
A band of dark-eyed mingrel musicians gazed at local girls and hissed love songs amongst the outdoor scaffold of the market. Their language was alien but they were love songs all the same and the girls made a show of hurrying past and looked sidelong at the tattooed minstrels who called for their hearts. One stood forward and blew some forgotten arpeggio on a flute fashioned from a tibia, scouring the notes from that flimsy bone until a crowd gathered about him. A man with a white dog began to dance and the little girl laughed as the dog took to its forelegs and seemed to also gamble and wag to the beat. Faces shiny with lanolin grease, two whores careened a harum-scarum Waltz and it seemed the whole market was possessed by this new rhythm.
A cadre of travelling foreigners was abroad. There stood a man with a cloven hoof in place of a hand and none could tell if it were real or made, and a man with fingers too numerous to count, a man with stumps, all drawn together by their deformities. These gimcrack bedfellows wove stories and drank thick black liquor from a bottle imploring the passersby to stop and listen to their gonzo tales but none did. Sellers of strong mountain opiates stuck to the shadows where the addicted and desperate sought them out and a secret second network of trade went on in these craven caves just feet from the roll and sway of the market. Amongst the shadows too were the sick, the lazars and the forsaken and their unseen eyes followed the little girl. A drunk stumbled about the place, empty bottle in his hand, clutching and scratching at himself and wielding the glass like a club against some unseen attacker. He cursed the town and the day and any other words his lips could frame and then someone tripped him and he crawled from the floor to a stairwell and collapsed into sleep.
“He knows, he knows the truth. All of this will become death.”
The everyday crowd were the greatest spectacle of all. They were Ghalgai, Batsbi, Georgians, Ossetians. The Abkhaz, the Yazidi, the Kists, the Laz, Dagestinians, Mingrels, Svans, Gurians and small bands of Kakhetians, Ajarians, Imeretians and Ingili. These people and their progeny thronged through the market stalls and their polyglot clamour married into a roar.
Then a young subversive called out anarchy: Soon! Soon! He started each sentence. See the changes? See the lack of meat and the changing prices? See the failure of business and the failure of government? We are shades away from anarchy. A disaster is coming, see it now. Act! The girl spoke back at him quietly through charred lips: “It is true, what he says is true”. But in the roaring of the market no one heard her.
The people skirted around the speaker and averted their eyes. No acolyte stepped forward to conjoin the man in his recreant perfidy, nor to challenge him. Instead, some reacted with mirth, others ennui, still more called out scorn with smug purpose, yet he continued unabashed, spreading his flimsy pamphlets amongst the stalls. The heat held many in torpor and they waved away the young radical. Then an authority stooge led a squad of policemen to the spot and they swarmed towards the young man. He danced away and leapt a stall to the delighted gasps of the crowd and the remonstrations of the proprietor. The police charged after him like bulls, wielding their sticks to carve a path through the crowd, some of whom may or may not have tried to shield the passage of the dissenter.
The girl, left behind amongst the chaos, said again out loud. “He knows, he knows the truth. All of this will become death.” But again no one heard her.
She stole enough for a paltry meal, filled her pockets with fruit and nuts, found a plastic bag and took with her a hunk of stale bread and a dented tin of tomatoes she could not open. She found a box of matches in a gutter and took this also, for she understood this power. Then she walked away on aching feat. In the coming of the night, from a hillside far above the town, she washed herself in a stream and watched as the screaming began. She thought of the blind man in the market, believed she may have caught the reflection of his hat in the flames. To die blind, she shivered.
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