Heaven On Earth
Something stuck in her teeth again, between the two that reminded her of an old couple, leaning on each other. Nothing should come between them, particularly not old vegetable gristle trying to resist its final journey. She teased it out with a silver toothpick and the bleeding started. Everything was on its final journey now, even her teeth.
She swallowed, savouring the tang of iron, such flavour. Each day she was more aware how much of her was water but it smelt and tasted so strong. Outside the wind berated the windows so she couldn’t hear the fighting. Most days the metallic sounds of war dominated, words spelt out by bullets now the dialogue's stopped.
The walls of her room groaned as if tortured while her building struggled to pull itself out of the ground, free itself from this cursed street. The sign above the apartment entrance crashed to the ground, half-buried by rubble. Just the last three letters of Olympus showed. She laughed at her own stupidity believing she might find her paradise here.
Yet it was once Heaven on earth. Not this cringing apartment building with its grandiose name but only a few streets away. A street-level house, a garden full of fig trees and flowers. Scent, colour and personalities too large to remain earthbound long. They’d risen like balloons, off on their journeys somewhere better but were the trees still there? Who'd hurt a tree?
Did she still believe the other side wouldn't, out of spite? She wasn’t sure. So many of the stories had worn too thin for purpose. She could see right through most of them. You get what you deserve, expect rewards if you work hard and don’t complain. Lives were torn as easily as tissue paper. As pointlessly, there was no overall plan. People were no better than wasps in a jam-jar, stomping the weaker down so they didn’t drown.
Yet that was how her enemies wanted her to feel – trapped in a tiny jar - about to go under their feet. If she believed that they’d won. She raised her chin and pulled the blind back from the window. The silence was so unusual she wondered if her hearing had gone. The wind had dropped and taken all the clamour with it, the shooting and the shouting. Her city was still and it was still her city. All of it not just these few streets.
She put her creaky boots on forcing her feet inside. Her outdoor shawl fastened she clutched her purse and her stick. For once the lift responded to her request. She hesitated before entering it but she had to die somewhere of something. To her surprise she was outside the apartment block before she’d realised she was going straight out. She was in the quiet street, blinking at the sun, thrown by the absolute silence.
She started walking fast, small steps that propelled her forwards with each touch on the ground. she didn’t slow even as she crossed an invisible border, the divide between her people’s territory and the enemy’s. Could they tell by looking at her she held different beliefs? Were they using her clothing to sort her, staring down their cold barrels, making up their minds?
She walked faster, almost running now, her breath catching with the shot of pain each step delivered. She stopped, retraced a few steps and swayed in front of a row of houses, a rubble-filled garden, the skeletons of fig trees. One hand covered her throat, the other reached towards the blackened branches. A fierce whine broke the silence and she leapt forward, fire-working blood.
Her last thought was of her childhood, of belonging, of being back in the sanctuary her parents created. Here but not here. Heaven on Earth.
“You are of an age now to be a guardian of a secret. Your mother is gone and I have no son and as much as I grieve for that you have been as loyal and dependable as any boy could have been. We've worked hard the both us keeping the farm going, but I'm tired now and you will be leaving me soon. So listen carefully little one for that is still how I think of you even though you are nearly a grown woman.
There was civil war in the land and your enemies were under your own roof. Neighbour saw neighbour hung without flinching and the church stood by protecting its wealth, doing nothing to save the parishoners who it fleeced week in week out.
One day a monk, close to death who had been beaten and viciously stabbed crawled into a barn on this farm. It was centuries ago and he died the next morning but he told a tale to the farmer – my great grandfather that made his blood run cold.
The devil had come to earth and was changing hearts and instilling hatred into every soul that succumbed to his seductive words and promise of riches. He went in disguise as a juggler travelling around the fairs and bewitching children and adults alike with his quick hands and wonderful showmanship. Only one person recognised him and that was a child. She saw with eyes of truth and clarity. She warned her parents, she warned her friends but no one believed her. What did a girl know? And a blind one at that?
Fair after fair. Village after village and then city after city fell into the hands of the juggler. Whenever he moved on he left men and women who had given him their hearts and souls in charge of ensuring that hatred bewteen neighbours flourished and the civil war claimed more and more lives.
Eventually men and women of prayer in abbeys and convents realised the danger the earth was in and sent monks and nuns around the nation speaking out against the divisiveness of the juggler. Some listened to their message but most did not and many of them were beaten, some killed.
The juggler grew more daring and performed in castles and palaces alike before finally arriving at the gates of the great city of London itself.
It was here the devil made his mistake.
He fell in love.
The woman in her early twenties with fair skin and golden hair was already married but the devil didn't care, he was besotted. He stirred up a group of men in a tavern one night and they beat the womans husband to death, falsely believing he had stolen from their purses. Consoling the widow and using his charm and assuring her that he would care for her he smiled and relaxed, thinking the woman his own. She however was truly grieving and despised the juggler though she pretended otherwise. She planned to kill him, take his earnings and move back to her family in the countryside of Kent.
The devil finally saw through the womens false affirmations and a battle boke out as had never broken out before in his own soul. Enraged he provoked more and more riots and yet so in love was he that he couldn't bring himself to kill the woman and desperately tried to convince himself that she would fall for his charms.
The woman fled and travelled back to Kent under the protection of three monks who were returning from a pilgrimage in the capitol, going back to their abbey near sevenoaks.
They almost made it to safety but the devil had stolen a horse and gone after the woman catching up with the quartet just a few miles from her family farm. He unleashed a terible violence and hatred that had never been seen before. He dashed two of the monkks to pieces and tore out the heart of the woman. No one would have it if he couldn't. The third monk had hidden and crawled away to a barn where he later told the tale.
The last bit of which I will now share with you little one. But first I must have a drink for my throat is dry and my eyes`are heavy.”
The girls father drank the mulled wine that she brought him and closed his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. The effort of telling tne story had taken a lot out of him and he had aged.
Finally he opened his eyes, passed the mug back to her and continued the story.
“The devil exhausted by the violence and with the body of the women he loved at his feet, moved under a tree and slept. When he woke he found himself looking into the face of another. He went to lash out but the gaze held him and his arms hung useless at his side.
"It's not too late” her voice said, “not even for you.”
The devil laughed, his cockiness and self assurance instantly returning. So she wanted to save his soul well that was a mistake. He went to stand but his legs gave way.
Why won't you let go?” she asked and in that moment the devil knew he was beaten. He howled and the animals and birds and everyone who heard it cowered in fear. It was a terrible sound. The sound of a thousand men going to their deaths. The sound of pain and longing and hatred. It was a hideous sound that turned the sky black and dried up streams. It was a sound that moved his companion to the marrow of her bones and as the devil looked up he saw tears rolling down the face of a little blind girl. It was more than he could bear and he tried to reach out his hand to dry them.
The blind girl though vanished from his sight and he hung his head in shame.
He buried the bodies of the monks and the woman he loved and untieing the horse shooed it away and went and lived in a little hut on the edge of a field..
He lives there still little one and the blind girl watches over him”
“What is the secret I'm to be guardian of? I don't understand. If the devil is tamed and being watched over there is no danger is there? What has this story to do with us?”
“The hut is on our land little one. It is at the spot where the field becomes wood. It is a spot no-one ever goes to for nothing grows there and no light penetrates the trees that overhang his living space”
The girl got up and walked over to the small window.
“Is that why you always told me to not to play there?”
“Yes. No one knows if the blind girl will die or if the devil will regain his power and no one must ever go to the hut to see.
This farm will be sold soon and you will move to the home of your husband but it is your task to pass on the secret to the next generation who will live here. It is a burden but you must find a way. Then if the terrible things that happened all those years ago begin again they will know that the blind girl has died and they must seach for someone new who can move the devils heart and once again bring peace. For that is heaven on earth little one. You must watch and wait and not leave it too late. Do you understand ?
“Yes father “
The girl said as tears rolled down her face. For news had reached her yesterday that fighting had broken out in the neigbouring village.
Brothers had fallen out with each other and three of them had been brutally beaten and killed.
Seven hundred years since ink bled from vellum
to give continents, warped
like tattoos collapsing on old men.
Its world is bound by wonders.
The Golden Fleece shimmers in the north,
like sunlight off the Avoz Sea,
while the south congeals, thick
England guards the west,
protection from an endless ocean.
Jerusalem holds the centre.
Paradise is to the east.
The Mappa Mundi tells me to walk the breadth of Europe,
to fight through holy lands,
and cross seas as slim as rivers.
It tells me Heaven is here on Earth,
that it never left me,
even though I buried it with you,