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I place the pen against my mouth and close my eyes, trying to pull the threads of my emotions into a straight, logical line that I can write about. I find that they’re all connected into a tangled web, not very flattering to my intelligence or my conscience. My lips quiver next to the plastic, and moisture gathers at the corner of my eyes.
It’s my lack of guilt that makes me guilty. We were all stood in a line together, eyes down, whilst they assessed us. I was the person next to you, not the one who chose you. Not the one who dragged you out of the line. Not the one who directly caused those screams that triggered never-melting ice to grow in our spines.
I can’t be dishonest about the sleepless nights in the cells, where I didn’t feel bad for you because I was too busy thanking God it wasn’t me.I don’t kid myself that a lifetime of this is worse than what you went through.
All that’s left of them are bones buried under the battlefield. Those, and the sibilant whispers that echo through the corridors of my home. I washed the blade so carefully, sluicing off the evidence of combat until no sticky, scarlet drops tarnished the steel. I see my face reflected in its surface, and I know that something still contaminates this sword. Something that will not be washed, polished or buffered away. Perhaps the blood penetrated below the surface, and that is from where it speaks.
“You could be us,” they hiss. “You looked into our eyes as you killed us and we saw that you knew. You knew that the sword in our belly could as easily have pierced yours. That Death would have collected you as swiftly, would have opened His arms as wide, and would have swallowed your life as easily as He swallowed ours. From His land we watched you revel in your victory. One day, you will feel our cold hand on your shoulder and you will know that we are equals…”
My name is Paul, and I grew up in Bridlington, in a squalid, one-bedroom apartment. My mother used to tell me, “It’s you and me against the world, Paul, it’s you and me.” It never felt that way. No, I was on my own and I knew it. Throughout my childhood, I wasted hours on the beach, walking along the litter strewn front. The foil of empty crisp packets reflected stony clouds. During the peak season, I stayed away from the smells of waffles and the sight of children with their ice cream cones, or the jealousy would crush me.
I went into the army when I left school, made a few friends who still visit me now and then. When I returned, I had enough money to buy the cart. I painted it up, bought stock, and I somehow made enough profit to survive. Sometimes, when cycling around, I see a lonely looking child. I give them an ice cream, and hope it’s enough to get them through the day.