In the end there was one, but there should have been two, dead men laid out amongst the walnut shells, skin already blue. A great rose bloomed over the dead man’s heart, there on his second-best shirt, bright amongst the decay. Those who were left looked away, thinking of the one who should have been there but was not, lungs like wings of ice holding him to the bottom of a river where none of them would have to follow now. Above them birds perched silent amongst the branches. The sky hung grey on the horizon. It was morning. Dawn would be here soon.
In the end they drew lots to decide who would choose first:
A reel of pink cotton.
Before the rest came rummaging, too. Into breast pockets. And hip pockets. And pockets tucked away by the kidneys and the groin. The dead man lay unprotesting as the men dipped their hands in. Everything was sticky. They wiped their palms on damp khaki wool and fingered the rest of the treasure:
That piece of green ribbon;
A canvas pocketbook filled with needles and pins.
They all smelled it. Cordite. And the bullet that was inside the dead man now.
In the end the buried him before they walked away. Not deep, but a dip in the ground scraped out beneath a scattering of walnut shells, like the shallow form of a hare. Their hearts were beating – one two one two – as they scratched at the hole. They didn’t leave a marker; only the mud on their boots told the tale. And the treasure that came last from the dead man’s pockets:
Pawn ticket no.125;
That small square of blue.
In the end the men who were left went ahead, single file across the fields, no sound but the clink and jink of weaponry as they walked. None of them looked back to see where they had come from. None of them looked ahead to see where they might go. Only one of them stayed behind to pray.
A thread of pink stained the sky as he closed his eyes, standing once more in the shadow of that rubbish dump, remembering fields of buttercups and two kinds of clover. Of air flowing pure as the river at the bottom of the hill. Then there were the whispers of the men as they drew from their pockets – a dice, a penny, a thick stub of pencil. The card in his wallet, I am quite well the only words not yet crossed out.
He wondered then what the card would say once it was done. Who it would be sent to. And opened his eyes as light touched his skin. Dawn was spreading low on the horizon. It was November. The end would be here soon.