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October 2013, vol 8, no 3

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Steven Carter

Winter in the Blood

Like devotions, evening shadows drift skyward. Pines, tamaracks, and birches etched in a strange blue radiance, its source a mystery. As I make my way through these dream-woods, rare red mushrooms sprout on both sides of the path, glimmering jewels in the dark; I don't want to pick them.

Ahead of me, softened by snow-laden pine boughs, I hear sounds of weeping.

. . . In a clearing an old woman sits on a rock, black and yellow shawl pulled tightly over her shoulders: both hands cover her face.

Sensing my presence, she says,

"They've taken my son. They've taken my son."

I want to comfort her but something—a rising March wind in my blood—tells me not to. But I think: If she were weeping alone in a church, rather than here, it would be more difficult to render comfort. Why?

I ask,

"Who's taken your son?" She doesn't reply, and there's nothing for it but to move on.

In the distance, a fruity voice, entangled in wind, lake-waves and silver-yellow moonlight.

Another clearing: ranks of nineteen or twenty-year-old boys in uniform stand at rapt attention. Which is which? Their faces are exactly the same—identical twins, except there are so many. They're listening to an older man in formal civilian dress, speaking quietly behind a podium. Most of what he says is lost on me, except the words sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. . . .

Now I know who the old woman is.

dark ripples in the air
sounds of a bell—
but where?