A shaft of light

 

The prisoner walked along the narrow corridor towards the place of execution. Many others had gone before her and the concrete floor was covered in blood, and worse. The floor – a path as terminal as the route taken by a falling star – was slick beneath her feet, and she struggled to keep her balance. The inmate was used to such conditions for her cell was rarely cleaned, and even then only by the indiscriminate jet of a hose pipe; such cleansing – with their opportunities for humiliation and punishment – always seemed to delight her captors.

She was not tied or bound for the possibility of escape simply did not exist; since birth her body had been constrained by invisible chains, her life and eventual death as predetermined and predictable as the orbit of a star. The narrow pathway reeked of death and excrement and cold metal. The heavy air felt charged with the static of imminent bloodshed, an electrical precipitation that pulsed beneath her skin.

Her last meal already lay half-digested in her gut, and she knew there would never be another. Hours ago an abiding chill had entered her body, seeping into her bones, which would never be warm again. She glanced up at the celling hoping for a final glimpse of the sky but there were no windows that might have offered such a view. Even that last comfort had been taken from her.

Only once in her adult life had she felt sunlight on her face; that stray beam, which had reached her through the bars of her narrow cell, had contained all that might have been: warmth from a summer sun; the scent of new mown hay; motes that danced like pollen in the breeze, spinning like miniature worlds; and the hint of a nearby brook, a stream where she might have banished her incessant thirst. 

For years her guards had taken pleasure in her torments: the punches, the kicks, the blows delivered by foot and by fist, by rod and by chain. Her very bulk seemed to entice and encourage them. The kicks, often impacting on her stomach, were the worse. Boots and gloves and all the many instruments of compliance, both blunt and sharp edged, had left too many bruises to number. Now she knew there would be no more for the final blow awaited her.

She progressed towards the moment of extinction as utterly alone as any living creature can be. Her children had been taken from her long ago, snatched away almost as soon as they’d been born. Those who had performed the act had done so with the zeal of grave robbers. That agony had been worse, far worse, than any of the blows she had suffered, the unbridgeable gulf of absence and loss creating a hollow space inside her, a place that should have been filled with love and companionship. The cancer of prolonged bereavement had eaten away at her very substance, leaving her pale and cadaverous. 

At length she stepped from the corridor into the killing space. Three of her tormentors awaited her, gathered in a semi-circle, each dressed in grubby coveralls and white gum boots stained black with blood and dried offal. Already skinned and eviscerated, the bodies of those who had preceded her hung from a rack at the edge of the room. One of her dispatchers walked idly over to the rack, selected a corpse, and pretended for a moment to conduct a waltz with his lifeless partner, much to the hilarity of his companions.

Slowly she walked forward. If this was all the world had to offer then she wanted no part of it. Her executioners barely glanced at her as they went about their daily business, finding laughter in their mechanical task and in each other’s company. 

There was no solemnity, no dignity to the proceedings; no sense of reverence. She raised her head to meet the muzzle of the gun, thinking in that final instant of the sunlight she had known in that singular moment, and of her absent children. She hoped they were in a better place. The she hoped no more as her torturers delivered their judgement. 

Her only crime: to be a member of the bovine family.

Mark Stewart
July 2015

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Artist oil painting and sketch by kind permission of Alexandra Klimas: www.klimas.nl