things worse than war
in which our narrator introduces:
himself – pestilence – a story
First the colors.
Then the humans.
That's usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
You know who I am, I expect. In fact, I'd wager, if such things interested me, that you have seen me or sensed me, a black – and it always is black isn't it? – smudge tiptoeing at the edge of your vision, not yet come for you but always close. You might imagine that I'll appear one day with that delightfully ghastly slice of silver and a skeletal face, or more sedate, a spindly funeral director taking on blacks, and grays, and yellowing whites, as if his job were mine. I assure you, it isn't. But they do try.
Do not worry about offending me. I am quite used to it. Fear me if you like, but please believe me when I say that I am hardly the cause of all of this fuss. I merely possess the unfortunate and quite demanding task of passing you on, handing you off, or crossing you over. Pick your descriptor, I've heard them all, and none quite fit the bill for what it is that I do. Hardly a thing to worry about. I think you get the idea, and yet the sad truth is that you do not believe me. Perhaps you cannot. I have never quite figured it out myself.
Rest assured, that what I'm telling you is the truth, if only from my own perspective. You should not fear me, and while I do not expect love, indeed very few of you come to me gratefully, (though some do which is curious) but I hardly think I should inspire such fear.
I weary of it, in truth.
A man, brilliant in his own way, once asked the question 'Is it better to be loved or feared?' In my vast experience fear is all very well. Fear, however misplaced, I understand. I see it, I hold it in my arms before gentle calm comes to chase it away. Fear is all well and good, but truly it gets old. I might like to try love once or twice. Just to break up the monotony you understand.
* * * A NOTE ON WAR AND PESTILENCE * * *
It is a fact in my experience that no other causes
of death are quite so devastating as these. No, not even
old age. War and pestilence will win out every time.
I ought to know.
As I've already told you, I am hardly responsible for the causes of death. You might as well accuse me of being responsible for the miracle of life. An outrageous statement? Hardly fair of you, I think, to judge. After all, war is entirely a human affair. I merely come to collect. Death and taxes. You know.
No. War, muddy red brown war like soot stained brick, is none of mine except for my endless to a fro through crumbling cities, torn, red, spongy grass, and thundercloud seas. I try to give the respect that each soul is due, but it is easier to see each shade instead and remember the colors. It is better, I think.
Pestilence is worse. Plague like so much mushy gray ash and grease overhead and under my feet as I slog through, never stopping, never ceasing, endlessly falling for me to catch impartially, to hold without regard, and to carry away on a gentle breath of silence.
There's wailing in that silence.
At least with war I've no time to think, to watch, to follow anyone. The sky is always dirtied dusk, smoke and oil scraped across the horizon. I hardly see the familiar splash of scarlet anymore. War is so often the same and it keeps me quite busy indeed.
But a plague is different. Sometimes I misjudge. Nobody is perfect. I come too early. I get interested. Foolish of me really. I of anyone should know what will happen, one way or another. But sometimes I am surprised and they elude The Black Death. I live to be surprised.
* * * A FURTHER NOTE ABOUT PESTILENCE * * *
Ring around the rosey,
A pocketful of posies.
We all fall down.
Contrary to popular belief, this rhyme is not about the Plague.
But it does make one think.
Now, as to why Plague is worse than war? Simple really, but first you must understand that it has very little to do with guilt or innocence, leading a wholesome life, or an immoral one. None of that nonsense. That is trivial. At least, from where I'm standing.
Plague is insidious. It attacks seemingly at random, although I assure you it is not, and while it takes painfully and indiscriminately, it is the ones who are left behind that are the most pitiful indeed. Survivors.
A survivor of war: right place, right time, or wrong place wrong time depending on your perspective.
A survivor of plague: only two questions. Why? And what do I do now?
I've seen this time and time again. It is a wretched existence and I try not to look. I attempt to distract myself, but then I make a mistake.
It is not the first, or the last, and I suppose that is where I begin the story I really want to tell you. It's a story, among other things about:
- A family
- A girl
- The church
- A plague
- A priest
- A prostitute
- The Jews
What it isn't actually about at all:
- The Jews
In the three years that the plague ran its course in England, my face was hardly unseen. I was everywhere.
This story ends like all stories do, in death.
It was night when I slipped into the tiny camp, and when I took the girl, the woman wept.
It's peculiar, but not the first time I've seen a woman or a man weep for someone who is nearly a stranger to them. I cannot say I understand it, but as I held the girl in my arms, I watched the woman for awhile hoping to.
It is beyond me, but I cannot help myself. I cannot turn away. In my place perhaps another could, but even though I try to distract myself, but I cannot.