Tuesday 29 August 2023

Two Poems by Allan Lake

 





Gone Viral


Talk about your desert dry dream or drug-

induced vision loud enough and some fool,

overhearing through ear wax, while minding

everyone else’s beeswax, will retell it

as History or even his own story.

Foxy news. Fills time on the way to there

from here when there’s a lack of smelly

gossip to embellish. Call it X, call it Y

or Yknot but, nonetheless, salesman lame,

sales pitch same.



Batshit crazy Abraham and his three

stoogettes advertently gave birth to various

prophet plagues on all our houses.

Chinese whispers, circular firing squad

vespers, hissing vipers with messages

that mutate from false to falser, crossing

oceans of spiteful spit on a barque, with

scrounger albatross infecting feverish

world’s breath to hasten Nature’s death.



Besides 1 country’s starry flag and 96 bags

of human faeces, some crusading astronut

with spiritual diarrhoea left a Bible way up

there on our only moon. Jesus Josephson!

Giordano Bruno. Salman Rushdie, almost.

Truth be told, I’m in no rush to die but

viruses vie to take one’s breath away,

to have the poisonous final say.



Your Legacy 


Are you happy, with the empire you built

out of common words. You clawed your way

over corpses of Presidents, Prime Ministers,

prime real estate, marriages and truth.

Courting, closing, disposing –

you foxy, elderly devil, you!

And are the lands of Oz, Uk or Usa

better for your clarion call to self-interest,

for your merde grafitti where power docks?

Is anything better, more united, Mister

Super-influencer, you bringer-together

of those under your invasive-pervasive?

You accomplished so much, too much.

Happy now?

 

For this self-appointed god so loved

manipulating the world to enrich him-

self that he gave his ill-begotten

shares – Abrahamesque –

to his pick of the litter.

Take that, planet!




Allan Lake, originally from Saskatoon, Canada, has lived in Vancouver, Cape Breton Island, Ibiza, Tasmania, Western Australia and Melbourne. Lake has won Lost Tower Publications (UK) Comp, Melbourne Spoken Word Poetry Festival & publication in NewPhilosopher. Latest poetry chapbook (Ginninderra Press) ‘My Photos of Sicily’. Literary journals in 17 countries have now published his poems. Such journals as The Hong Kong Review, Island Magazine, Cordite Poetry Review, StylusLit, Meniscus, Quadrant, Verandah,  American Writers Review and  The Antigonish Review have accepted his work for publication.

 


Three Poems by Jessica Weyer Bentley

 



The Tender Transformation

 

My little talisman,

my sun god,

offered to me,

rosy and wailing.

transforming my acuity,

cataclysm of truth,

revealing my courage in this brittle state.

You wielded the mirror,

my vision bulbous,

labour bringing me in,

I grazed the grim reaper with my brass neck.

In that moment under the harsh florescence,

the room stood aglow.

I dove into the Heavens through my womb,

grasping my talisman,

my molecules in another form,

yielding wonders,

keeping my life.




The Virtue of Bathsheba

 

May I return to soft ringlets,

gilded,

the air stroke my cheek as the mare raced the fields.

Before the grey,

the mundane day after scathing day,

when the hour stretched,

supple complexion of adolescence free from the scorched sun,

an innocent force shielded from sarcasm and humiliation.

Let me retreat beneath the umber horizon,

where the magician’s hand has yet to disclose the deception,

guarding myself in the beauty of naïveté,

where hope’s chord has yet to fray.

 

 


The Mourning of Fille

 

Oh! Daddy!

There are monsters,

whispering beneath my bed,

darkening a grieving cerebellum.

They lounge in wait,

beneath dark canopies.

Xanax and Fentanyl fail to remove the stain.

You abandoned me,

a barren time.

The longing expands.

Daddy,

the monsters are mine.

They dine on a throbbing aorta.

Shall I be ready?

Lead the calvary!

March with me across the wheat-grass fields.

Check beneath my bed.

Daddy,

read my epitaph.

I peer upon the cyan door.


Jessica Weyer Bentley is an author, poet, and photographer. Her first collection of poetry, Crimson Sunshine, was published in May 2020 by AlyBlue Media. Her chapbook, Down Below Where the Canary Sings, was published May 2, 2023 by Sage Owl Publishing in Massachusetts. She has contributed work to several publications for the Award-Winning Book Series, Grief Diaries, including Poetry and Prose, and Hit by a Drunk Driver. Jessica’s work has been anthologized in Women Speak Vol. 6 (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions), Summer Gallery of Shoes (Highland Park Poetry), Common Threads 2020 and 2022 Editions (Ohio Poetry Association), Pegasus 2022 Journal (Kentucky State Poetry Society) Appalachian Witness Volume 24 and Appalachian Unmasked Volume 25 (Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel) and Made and Dream (Of Rust and Glass) 2021 and 2022. She has been published in several publications by Alien Buddha Press including anthologies and magazines. She has contributed work to online blogs including Global Poemic, Lotherian Journal, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and was a Wolfpack contributor for the online journal, Fevers of the Mind. Jessica currently resides in Northwest Ohio.

 


In Equilibrium - Flash Fiction Story by James Penha

 



In Equilibrium


Flash Fiction Story

by James Penha

 

freely adapted from a North American legend

 

 

Near Pittsfield, Massachusetts a 175-ton boulder maintains its equipoise atop a small rock in a forest littered with stones carried there by ancient glaciers. But it is hardly credible that a sheet of ice moving forth and back could have positioned this great rock with such perfect balance. And so the native American legend we shall recount here, despite its miraculous elements, remains a story human enough for us to embrace and believe.

 

Before colonization, this area of what we know as New England was home to the Oneida people or, as they called themselves, Onyoteʔa∙ká  (People of the Standing Stone).

 

Their Atotarho at the time of our tale, having allied himself with the Evil Spirit of the world, was huge in build and hugely brutal in his desire to conquer tribes desiring to live peacefully in adjacent lands. The Atotarho decorated his longhouse with the scalps and skulls of his victims. When approached with requests of one sort or another from members of his own clan, he wrapped himself in his menagerie of timber rattlesnakes and copperheads and dared the supplicants to plead their cases. The number of petitioners he had to deal with was soon reduced to zero.

 

His son Yuma inherited little of his father’s frame, nature, or bearing. Favored by the Good Spirit of the world, the boy was too beautiful in mien and gentle in mind for his father to accept; the Atotarho treated Yuma as a misfit rather than a prince and banished him from his presence even in the longhouse. Taking their cue from their king, the other youths of the tribe bullied Yuma, pulling on his feathers and loincloth and yelling epithets they invented to question his masculinity.

 

One day, as Yuma wandered alone toward the field of stones where dozens of Oneida boys clambered, a pebble was hurled at Yuma’s feet. Yuma stumbled a bit not only from the attack but from a sort of cramp he felt in his calves. A spray of pebbles and gravel followed accompanied by verbal taunts implying Yuma lacked this or that male characteristic. As each of the boys’ rocks and words assaulted him, Yuma cramped in arms, legs, chest, even in his neck and head. By the time Yuma reached the field of stones, the onslaught had ceased, and the boys cowered amidst the granite rubble for Yuma now towered over them, tall as an oak tree. Yuma realized that the spasms he had felt resulted from the rapid stretching of his body—growing pains! Huge as he had become, Yuma could have crushed his little antagonists in his fingers. He could have smashed them with boulders that had become for Yuma like acorns. Instead, guided by the grace of the Good Spirit within him, Yuma picked up the largest rock he could find and embedded it forcefully atop a small stone as a permanent reminder of this amazing day and of the blessings of the Good Spirit.

 

As Yuma retreated toward the longhouse, he reverted to his normal size. He would never speak of the miracle—not even to his father. But the boys who, once Yuma had departed, tried but failed to topple Yuma’s massive keepsake, talked of little else for months. Never again did they or anyone, including the Atotarho, dare to belittle Yuma who would, in his turn, become a beneficent king to all his people.




James PenhaExpat New Yorker James Penha  (he/him🌈) has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha

 


Five Poems by Marguerite Doyle

 



Lament for Hy-Breasal

 

Here, the Earth flooded; now the land

has merged with the turquoise sea.

 

Leaves surface, slip and sink like forest

canopies; sea ferns sway with the tides,

 

fires brightly burn, pots sputter

on the boil and spit.

 

In the east, the sun glides crimson

from her seagrass cradle

 

treading cirrus waves and seaweed

in our sky.

 

We answer her calling, falling

in with the rhythm of each ancestral

 

heartbeat, tracing the imprint

of their tumbled walls and stones.

 

Along the sunken land their legacy

lies like the weight of oceans;

 

we are the guardians of Hy-Breasal,

the protectors of our underworld.

 

Every seven years the jealous gods

return to mock our paradise,

 

to draw back the curtain of waters

and leave us naked in the world.

 

We go to meet them with courage,

casting our fishing nets as meagre veils

 

against their power, listening in silence

to their savage cries and the blue whale-song.

 

Hy-Breasal: The legendary sunken island in the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland.

 

 

The Haunting of Loughshinny

 

The clocks are going back tonight,

  Winter rises from her sleep.

Every door is bolted tight

    and Samhain welcomes Halloween.

 

Autumn tempest shakes the trees

    leaves come rushing down the lane.

Whirly gigs climb up the eaves

    and dance along the windowpane.

 

The roads are darker than the night,

    the sea beyond is black as slate.

No soul is seen in step or flight—

    wind sings and plays with churchyard gate.

 

Sickle moon wears solstice crown,

    dying ashes spark and splinter.

Silent sprites watch Autumn’s gown

    brush gently past the coming Winter.

 

 

Snow Globe          After James Joyce

 

On Usher’s Island every door

is a house of the dead.

 

Each a gravestone, shrinking

from the Liffey’s dark mantle,

 

snow-capped, like the statues

in the park of the Phoenix.

 

The river rises and flows

in reverse, an umbilical

 

cord feeding the abdomen

of its origins,

 

chained to the waterwheel

of ages. The tide breaches

 

the banks, flooding the streets,

casting pale wreaths

 

in every dark window. For

a lament someone is singing

 

The Lass of Aughrim over

the petrified metropolis.

 

 

Grandmother’s Alternative Bedtime Tale

 

Once I had a dream of walking in the woods

along a path of fallen fruits of summer.

Early evening, black branches, the moon

a sharp-toothed sickle among the stars

and the air chilled, so I wore my shawl

about my shoulders. I heard voices carried

on the wind; goblins perhaps or a crone

trying to bewitch me but I paid no heed to them.

Suddenly, a wolf across my path, gasping

for breath and wild-eyed; a woodcutter

plunging through the thicket behind her. 

I hid her among the roots of a great oak tree

and fed her apples so she in turn could

feed her young. So it was that I was not eaten

by the mother-wolf; instead I grew up

and she bore the faint memory, or dream

of a girl long ago in the woods with a red cloak.

 

 

Demon Cream             After Bulgakov

 

On Walpurgis Night, over green linden trees

and the bright metropolis,

 

she flies invisible, casting no shadow

on glass or moonbeams.

 

Trams pass below, sparking their light

in windows while figures

slide off bridges into mirrors.

 

The cream smells of mimosa,

pine needles, seaweed.

 

Her sledge is swift and shears hoar frost

from pinhead stars

that crackle like ice on fire.

 

Cities spiral into galaxies and lakes

slip into mysteries.

 

Deep in the forest, fires burn, nymphs

dance in a sylvan universe.

 

In her wake she leaves a torrid scene,

a burned book, a pot of invisible cream.


 




Marguerite Doyle holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Dublin City University. Her publishing credits include Vallum, Reliquiae Journal, Carousel, The Galway Review, The New Welsh Review, and Dreich. Marguerite’s poetry also appears in the Dedalus Anthology, Local Wonders: Poems of Our Immediate Surrounds and The Ireland Chair of Poetry Commemorative Anthology, Hold Open the Door. Her work is published in The Poetry Collective’s Fear Less in aid of Jigsaw and Art in Mind and in the Dedalus anthology Local Wonders. In 2022 Marguerite was one of the winning poets selected to participate in the Bard of Ballymun Project run by the Axis Theatre in Dublin. Her work was also recently performed as part of a collaboration between Pens of the Earth and the Bench Theatre in the UK.  In 2022 Marguerite was Winner in Category for the Trócaire / Poetry Ireland Competition and she has been shortlisted and highly commended for the Anthology Poetry Award.


Six Poems by Nolo Segundo

 



Wrestling With God

 

For over half a century

I have wrestled with God.

Our unseen match is daily,

in my bed before I sleep,

at the table after a meal,

sometimes while driving

along a lonely, desolate road

and always while watching

the evening news with its

graphic proof of humanity’s

stupidity and wickedness,

over and over and over….

 

I try to pin Him,

to keep Him in one place,

to hold Him just long enough

to see, to know, to understand.

 

Sometimes I think I almost have Him,

but no, He always, always slips away.

 

Of course it is not a fair match--

my little brain that can hold but

one lonely thought at a time;

my hands, once powerful,

now arthritic, crooked fingers

still trying to grasp at divinity…

but even when young and strong

I could not hold Him-- still,

we wrestle, God and me, and

sometimes I suspect He wants me

to win, but mostly, no: I know

I’ll never pin Him down--

not in this life, not in this world,

yet He lets me try….

 

I think He likes it when I try.

 


The Gifts Of God

 

Those whose minds see only matter as real

will never see their gifts from God and

so will take for granted the beauty of

dogwoods in early spring and not marvel

at the cacophony released by a forest of

birds in the endless concert we call life….

 

The stars at night may seem awesome but

will not pull up their minds into the depths

of the Universe, for they are fastened hard

to earth’s dirt, like walking, talking corpses.

 

 

When I Pray

 

When I pray,

I pray for my body,

for its sporadic attacks

of arthritis to cease

and desist—or at

least lessen so I

don’t feel like I

am back in time

at the Inquisition….

 

I pray for my mind,

that it stays sharp,

sharp enough to be

able to think and

write and listen

and question and

hope...but also

that God takes

away my mean

thoughts,  and

the petty dreams

of my ego, the

soul’s enemy….

 

Most important, as

I learned as a very

careless young man,

are my relentless

prayers for that

endless part of me,

my soul… for

what else will see

the eye of Eternity?

 


Does God Get Lonely?

 

Does God get lonely?

Does He miss you

when you don’t call on Him?

Does He feel neglected

when you try to navigate

alone this world of

shadow and substance,

shallowness and depth?

Are His feelings hurt

when you decide He,

the Lord of all the Worlds,

does not exist, He cannot be

real?

 

Does He ever yearn to shout

‘You are not God! You are

only my faint image and

know not your limits.

You have learned some, just

a few really of my secrets and

now you have the power of a

god to destroy your world as

you have always had the power

to lose your soul, yet what

but fear can keep you from

making your own hell?

 

I’ll tell you what:

the love I gave you--

that singular love when I

took the animal out of you

and gave you choice instead

of instinct--

but you choose to feed

fear and hate and

not love and hope.

 

And that is why I miss you... ‘

 


WHERE THE SOUL HIDES

 

Not behind a face, nor eyes

Can a soul hide for it seeks

Always to escape the body

Which holds it fast to earth

And keeps the soul from

Flying to heaven or even

Just to travel a vast and

Wondrous universe….

 

For soul knows--  knows

The good it has done and

Suffers for the harm.

And soul longs, longs

Fiercely for God--  to swim in

The great ocean of light

And hear the beating

Of the Eternal Heart.

 

 

ONCE, ONE CELL

 

I was once a single cell,

made when my mother’s egg

swallowed my father’s sperm

(the lucky one that won the race).

 

I was once a newborn,

coming into the world uninvited

though not unwelcome.

 

I was once a toddler,

shuffling from room to room

in a house partly recalled,

mostly forgotten.

 

I was once a young child

who believed in Santa until

reason became cruel and

chased the magic away.

 

I was once a teen

beset by the sudden plague

of desire, pulling and pushing

me every waking moment,

the freedom of childhood

now gone forever.

 

I was once a young man

of good stature and passable

looks who learned how to talk

to women and how to make

them laugh, and they would

fall into my arms but my

heart was frozen, afraid it

would break I suppose,

 

I was once a suicide falling

into a vast darkness

until God returned me back

to the world for another try.

 

I was once a newlywed,

a survivor of myself, and

now half of a new being.

 

I was once a working man

who drove a 100 miles a day

selling this or that and

was happy to do it.

 

I am now an old man

edging ever closer, not

to that final illusion,

death, but...Eternity


Nolo Segundo, pen name of L.J.Carber, became a widely published poet in his mid-70's in over 140 literary journals/anthologies in America, Canada, England, Romania, Scotland, Portugal, Australia, Sweden, India and Turkey. A trade publisher has released 3 book length collections: The Enormity of Existence [2020], Of Ether and Earth [2021], and Soul Songs [2022]. These titles like much of his work reflect the awareness he's had since having an NDE when as a 24 year old agnostic-materialist, believing only matter was real and so death meant extinction, he lept into a Vermont river in an attempt to end the suffering of a major clinical depression. He learned that day the utter reality that poets, Plato, and Jesus have spoken of for millennia: that every sentient human has a consciousness that predates birth and survives death--a soul. A retired teacher [America, Japan, Taiwan, and Cambodia in the mid-70's] he's been married 43 years to a smart and beautiful Taiwanese woman.


 

DOUBLE BIND - Short Story by Dr. Emily Bilman

 


 


 

DOUBLE BIND


Short Story

by Dr. Emily Bilman

 

 

Part One

 

   War-Glyphs

 

Chimpanzees in the canopy hunting

The galago with wooden spears no longer

forage fruits and deciduous leaves. Predators

shred their sylvan fields, dislodging them

to the plain where they play with water, cool,

and groom their bodies free from parasites.

 

Flesh-eaters move closer to each other.

With less day-chores, lactating females

save their energy for accrued immunity.

 

Some fight for space, some carry viral pests,

some compete with boulders thrown on trees,

others mob each other and wage war to keep

their primal territories, portending war-glyphs. 

 

Rowan walked along the oak forest immersed in a conscientious dilemma. He could not decide whether he should enlist in the army to counteract war casualties in Praetorium. He had a conflict between his conscience and his ego. His ego spurred him towards self-preservation whereas his conscience urged him to enlist in the armed forces.

 

Rowan was a geographer and writer who lived alone in a restored stone cottage in the countryside of Nova Brescia.  That year, spring was deployed like an air-inflated parachute on the countryside. On bright days when the mist lifted from the valley and the fields, he could hear the stream flowing along the cottage. Then, he would stop writing to listen to the stream skipping on the grit of the riverbed. The sound of the stream soothed him.

 

The entrance of the cottage and the living room were strewn with irregular brick walls that maintained the heat in winter and cooled down the house in hot days. The white-washed ceiling was supported by wooden beams. The chamois of the antique bellows by the granite fireside was nailed with pewter thumbtacks.

 

That day he decided to speak to his friend Frank who was on leave from the army. Frank said he would be at his place as soon as he could depending on the density of the urban traffic. Frank rang the bell before an hour. Like old chums, Rowan and Frank, greeted each other warmly. Rowan poured the single-malt Laphroaig he had bought in Islay to his glass and started the conversation:

 

“I am facing a dilemma. I cannot decide whether to join the army or not.”

Frank looked at him closely, then retorted: “I left Praetorium a week ago. The area where I was stationed is devastated by the enemy. Soldiers sleep in trenches, they are starved. There are artillery duels at every turn. And many deserters.”

“What about the civilians?”

“There are civilians, mothers, and children, too, who have been trapped inside a steel factory for more than a month with very little food and water. The streets are open fields of violence.”

Rowan sipped his Laphroaig like a portion of consolation and said: “I hesitate to join for moral reasons.”

Frank gazed at him in a comprehensive manner, saying: “Despite the grenades, and artillery attacks, and civilian hostage-taking, the camaraderie on the front is great! We get together in the evenings for drinks and the soldiers join us. We hope to start a new day despite the fighting.”

As the evening flowed into the night Rowan felt the whisky began to affect his consciousness and he stopped speaking. Frank said: “I know a journalist couple. He is covering the war. They coordinate the refugee centres in town. They are looking for teachers. I could speak to them on your behalf.” Rowan agreed to meet them both.

 

 

Rowan and Dr. Frazer

 

The next day, Rowan contacted the army headquarters and fixed an appointment with Dr. Fraser, the military psychiatrist. Dr. Fraser was a middle-aged man with a prominent forehead. Rowan noticed his wall-to-wall library reflected on his eyeglasses. Aware that the psychiatrist was scrutinizing him, Rowan said: “I hesitate being drafted because I think this war is amoral”.

“Please explain your motives in more detail.”

“Civilians are being targeted, intellectuals coerced to combat, and voluntary soldiers are being mistreated. It is war of perversity. Soldiers are recruited from minority groups within the country and coerced to fight against an enemy that shares the same essential culture while intellectuals suffer burnouts and are left to die.”

“I understand that your motives are humanitarian.”

“Yes. I think the perverse effects of this war will continue to affect us long after the war is finished. Like the cold war.”

“You have the option of joining the civil service in Praetorium itself.”

“I have taken the decision to teach refugees here in Nova Brescia. I can, hence, compensate for my guilt in deflecting. I feel well with my decision to teach those who escaped the war rather than fight in this absurd war.”

“If you decide to join forces with those who serve in the civil sector in Praetorium you would, perhaps, fear less being considered a deserter but if you refuse to fight you will still be a deserter.”

“No, not at all. On the contrary, I would be avoiding being trapped in a vicissitude of hatred as all wars inevitably exert an extreme pressure on soldiers and induce hatred for the enemy.”

“On both accounts you woiuld be facing a double bind.”

“I visited Praetorium long before the war started. There was unrest in town hidden as a subtle complaint against the Western world. The social unrest was partly evident but also compensated for by subtle gestures of sympathy. Some married couples lived separately: the husband would study architecture in Italy while the economist wife would work in Nova Brescia. Families were broken.”

“Your observations would justify joining either the army or the civil service in Praetorium knowing that in boith cases you woiuld be facing ambiguity.”

“When I visited Praetorium the people I met there were tentatively trying to discover the hidden aspects of their history and their place in the world.  Warily, curiously, slightly suspiciously, too. We had the project of bringing out a book with the authors of our respective cities, but the project fell apart like a broken stack of cards. They, then, cancelled their participation due to the political sanctions against Praetorium. Perhaps, they perceived that neutrality and the ensuing sanctions, on our side, would mean yet another war on theirs.” 

Dr. Fraser gazed upon him surreptitiously and closed the conversation.

 

Rowan had spoken of his state of mind candidly. For Rowan, cowardice was a prejudice that society imparted upon you, Janus-like, if you refused to conform to its binary rules. And the thought of being considered a coward did not disturb him because his moral duty justified his deflection. At least, he would not be used as an instrument of evil to kill and maim and carry out blind double orders like an automat. The irony of war and the trauma they entailed were absurd.

 

He felt light-hearted but, strangely enough, as he left the office, an event dating back to his adolescence haunted him. Rowan remembered how, when he was fifteen, he had wandered upon an open field and encountered a horse. He had stared hard at the horse. When he went around the horse, the animal had lifted its hind hooves and kicked his nose with a blow so sudden that, at first, he did not feel the pain but felt his blood’s warmth as it flowed in his hands. He had neglected the magnetism that linked horse to man inextricably. When he had woken up at the dispensary with the large, gauzed bandage around his nose, he knew that his well-shaped straight nose that resembled that of a warrior was gone.



Teaching Refugees

 

In the spring, Rowan worked as a social worker to place the homeless, some of whom were refugees, in near-by shelters. He also raised funds to augment the shelters’ capacity for opening in-house restaurants. Due to his initiative more than six restaurants were opened in the urban shelters in Nova Brescia. But his most important contribution was the relocation of the homeless in shelters supervised by volunteers. 

 

In October, he started teaching in the special gymnasium opened for war refugees in town. He taught teen-agers. Oreste had escaped the ransack of his city by escaping in a bus filled with others. At checkpoint, he had been led to another bus by the border guards. He was an asocial boy yet would always smile when Rowan said “of course” when he relativized his students’ mistakes. Oreste later joined a gang of looters who ransacked a bar in town by taking the barman hostage. He had to be discharged from school and ended up in the city prison for three months; then returned to school.

 

Another of Rowan’s students, Ilya, suffered from PTSD. The trauma he underwent was evident through his resigned disposition and especially, in lapses of lax detachment and inattention in the classroom. In his moments of absence, he would be completely disconnected and drift back to the fragmented traumatic scene.

 

Rowan recommended him to Brenda, the gymnasium’s psychologist. He even attended some sessions with him. Time and again, he would notice the change in Ilya’s distant gaze as his denial turned into a paradoxical escape from their conversation back to the flashback of the bombing. Ilya would, then, lower his eyes.  He said he went back to the scene when grit blown off from the railway tracks hit his head. He had hidden his head with both hands and ran for his life. He had lost consciousness and was hospitalised.

 

Ilya said to Brenda that after the blast, as he recuperated in the hospital, he felt he had been ripped off his essence. He had been cut from the surrounding world. He said he thought he had almost turned into a carcass like a desiccated crab-shell abandoned on a low-tide strand.

 

Yet, as Ilya spoke of his troubles to Brenda, she realized Ilya had traversed the stream of the repressed like an undertow that had deposed a mixed silt-seam and grit on the riverbed of his youth. Ilya said he often thought of his mother and sister who were left desolate in the village; the more so because his father had abandoned them at a young age. He said he felt guilty. He did not see them again after he left the country and sought asylum in Nova Brescia. But he never, in fact, abandoned them. Ilya also said to Brenda that his father had fought in the war and was slain at the front. He would never see him again. Within a few months Ilya, too, would be called to the army to fight on the borderlands.

 

Later in the month, Rowan called Ian Thorpe, an investigative journalist whom Frank had contacted on his behalf. Rowan wanted to set up an interview with him for the local paper. Ian Thorpe was a hawk-eyed handsome man in his thirties who had travelled the world and reported on the war. Rowan met him at the entrance of the school and they both entered the long hall that led to Rowan’s office. Rowan said that his students were well-integrated within their classes and to their lives outside and continued:

 

“They are all refugees from Praetorium. I teach quite a homogeneous class. Students interact well with each other except for two students who were war victims.”

“Were there any students who were affected directly by violence?” he was asked.

“One of my students suffered from PTSD. He is under psychological treatment.

He is making progress in remembering the circumstances that led to his disconnection. The more he can remember the more he can reconnect with reality. His reactions to war scenes are being analysed. Through digital war games he can externalize his negative emotions and increase his concentration.”

“What is his family context?”

“Trauma almost made an orphan out of him. He has difficulty reconnecting with his nuclear family, with his mother and sister.”

“And his father?”

“He lost his father at the front. He came from a broken family. His father had strayed from home during his marriage, then volunteered for the war.”

“Let me note any other observations concerning your students that might be interesting for local people.”

“I think we will have difficulty keeping the affected ones like Ilya in place. I think they will either stray again or be driven back to the war.”

“Is there any way this can be stopped?”

“Since most of the students come from an agricultural background, re-introducing them to the land would be an efficient way of preventing them from roaming away.”

“But that means re-locating them in other countries where agricultural land is available.”

“I believe it is one way; unless they would volunteer to fight.”

“Do you think they would be liable to fight in their war despite their trauma?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“They are prone to mixed feelings: they project their nostalgia for their native land into the army which gives them the impetus to fight as an unconscious order coming from their commander.”

“But it should be the exact opposite.”

“Teenagers suffering from PTSD become like drones or robots and can be manipulated at will.”

“That is the real danger.”

“The aggressive war situation is reversed and can even become attractive since the traumatized person, according to Ilya’s testimony, is emptied of his very essence.”

“And is ready to follow orders.”

“Or defend another frontier or far-away outpost. Or fight.”

“Either be integrated, kill or die.”


 

Mid-term Break

 

At the mid-term break, Rowan took his students to Transvaldia, in the south of Nova Brescia, an agricultural territory producing olives, apples, cereals, and kernel nuts. Transvaldia’s large, terraced oak and pine forests were encircled by a river that ran all the way to the sea near the port. Upon reaching Transvaldia by train, the youngsters started climbing the stony hills like a spartan army in convoy. They reached the rustic wooden huts dispersed among millennium-old oak trees, vying on the way with sprinting mountain goats. Each day, they hiked, skied cross-country on higher ground, and swam in cold mountain lakes. Evenings were spent camping in tents around a fire for meals.

 

One day Rowan took them to a cattle fair in town where small stature red cows with full udders were paraded like trophy figures by their owners on the marketplace. There was a horse stall that kept thoroughbred races from all over the country. Then again, chimpanzees imported from the Far East jumped from tree to tree and were being fed with peanuts and banana bits by passers-by. They watched a farmer shear one of his black sheep with a special inox razor and blade. While the razor severed the fur’s heft gradually, the farmer would lift the heavy fur from the sheep’s skin, exposing the animal’s shorn skin covered with a thin layer of sweater-like black fur to the elements. While watching the shearing, Rowan enthused with elysian contentment.  He almost identified with these bucolic days drifting by in harmony that endorsed the accomplishment of seasonal pastoral duties. He would be glad to move to the countryside.

 

On a halcyon day when the sun played hide-and-seek with Transvaldia’s plains as if they were grasslands, Rowan suspected trouble brewing among his students. Like fluvial undertows, rumours had been circulating among the students about Ilya’s romance with Olenka. Their arms intertwined, the two would often leave the group to wander down by the river and would re-join the hike later.

 

Some students had reported to him that they saw others prying into their intimacy in their hut at night. When Rowan gathered them to disclose the despicable situation, they turned pale and began sneering, bringing their hands close to their mouths to disguise their guilt.  Rowan understood that the rumours might have been grounded. But, for lack of evidence, he felt incapable of punishing the trespassers.

 

Towards the end of their sojourn, Rowan walked along the riverbank. Blasé and alone. He began to realize the imminent, divisive, unstoppable potential of the war. He began to envisage how Nova Brescia would be cleft between the have and have nots, the honest upright citizens, and the corrupt greed-ridden outsiders, some bought by bureaucrats. How the future politicians who would replace Nova Brescia’s despot would raise the civic and economic stakes at whatever cost.  The civil strife would break him, too, if he continued to restrain from joining. But, then again, it would break him at all cost. 


 

In Love

 

Back in Nova Brescia, Ian Thorpe invited Rowan for supper one evening. After the interview for the local paper, the two men were linked to each other with the intangible bond of comprehension like the combination of bow and arrow. Ian and Ruth lived on a hill on the western suburbs of Nova Brescia. In early evening Rowan parked his car at the entrance of the house and rang. Ruth opened the door to let him in. On the living room library, Rowan could recognize the literature and geography books on the shelves and the memorabilia from different parts of the world.

 

As he sat down, he noticed the autumn sunlight playing on the brick walls. The light drew chiaroscuro patterns of laced laurel leaves intermeshed with the balcony’s iron-wrought semi-circles. Shadow-patterns had always fascinated him.

Rowan offered Ruth a bottle of Bordeaux wine. Ruth read the label and thanked him. Ruth came back with three glasses of red wine and Ian joined the conversation. Ian said: “Thieves broke into our flat and tore and scattered the manuscript Ruth was working on.”

“Do you have any idea who they were?” Rowan asked.

“We think they were protesters against the multinationals.” Ruth said:

“I was away on a conference; I got back one morning and found the front door had been forced. The flat had been invaded by thieves. Like lost epistles, some pages were dispersed on the wooden floor, others behind the door. Some had been trampled upon, others torn.”  Ian retorted:

“The war is at three hours from Nova Brescia. It’s a war of ideology between borders. The delinquents might have been spurred on by their allied factions. They are cyber-criminals who send the money to their allies. We are having a cold war in town with all its perverse effects. In the streets and on the radio, too, rumours of crime are circulating.”

Ruth looked away and out of the window with nostalgia: “The borders will, one day, be set by the natural patterns of rivers and mountains instead of being split by ideologies, cultural differences, and intolerant retaliations.”

 

As she served him another glass of wine, Rowan looked at her with awe. Ruth did not return his gaze and pretended she did not notice him. He thought she was quite naïve in thinking that the war would end soon without any loss. He felt that Ruth was a romantic woman who had a high self-esteem. She was extremely poised, and a poet like him. He felt an irresistible affinity towards her. An introspective mood rendered him silent and reserved during dinner. He felt troubled. Rowan felt romantic feelings for Ruth resembling the fulfilled feeling of sustenance.   

 

He became passive at the dinner table and started thinking about his female relationships. He usually felt shy and reserved with women. He would usually let a woman take the first step and try to understand their psychology before having a relationship with them. He intuited that it might be related to his early relation with his mother who was an attentive, good, and kind mother. But Ruth was married to the man with whom he felt a strong bond that could spill the beer with the foam from the glass containing it. 


 

Rowan & Ruth

 

After dinner, Ruth asked him whether he wanted to see her reportage on the conflict in Preatrium. Rowan agreed. The door to Ruth’s home office was half-open. The manuscript with its typed-up chapters which she had meticulously filed on her desk had been opened to a section concerning the refugees. She had re-arranged the pages, one by one, in their appropriate chapters, adding the necessary notes to the blank ones with abbreviations. Ruth wanted to show him what she had saved from the violated manuscript.

 

Then, she opened a drawer in her large mahogany desk and carefully brought out the folder containing the war reportage. Rowan sat down with Ruth to read certain sections. Rowan felt the imminence of the conflict intensely as they read about the prisoners coerced to forced labour in the outposts, the displaced people, and the split families – the civilian strife, the hidden unburied dead, the fire, the fervour, the smoke, the stench, the death pits, the torture cells, reports of tortured dissents, the perversion of war carried out by soldiers who, like chain workers in a metal factory of spare parts, were driven to fight for a territory that would serve to open up new territories for their opponents and their former allies.

 

But neither the fighters nor their allies believed in the future of their states. In the nihilistic context which reigned both in Praetorium and Nova Brescia where values failed to sustain both the people and the intellectuals, the imminent expansion of war outside of Praetorium was inevitable. Albeit absurd.

 

Their dictator’s power was also paradoxical. He continued to send hundreds of untrained poor soldiers to the front to fight and keep the territorial unity of the lost empire so that Praetorium, like the other states, would not obtain their independence and continue to maintain their cultural dependence on Novo Brezice. He would continue to exploit the conquered territories’ natural resources which would bring about another type of war since democratic countries are determined to regulate the use and misuse of its sparse finite resources.

 

After their discussion, Ruth got up and opened the window and breathed in deeply. Sylvan effluvia from the forest stimulated her awareness. Then, she sat on the sofa next to Rowan. Ruth’s melancholy had created a frightened other-ego, a persona that would protect her against all odds. Ruth had internalized her other-ego as that of her mother as if she were carrying her mother inside her.  She had developed an other-ego as a defence against her maternal unconscious fear that helped her survive through tough situations as if she were a little girl continuously protected by her internalized mother figure. Through her internalized mother figure Ruth was able to protect the internalized child and her creativity.

 

Her mother had been afraid of animals, a fear inculcated to her by her authoritarian father. But Ruth was not afraid of animals. She had fed foxes at the threshold of her summer house. She had saved a baby bat who had fallen prisoner inside a window-ledge. She had given water to an ailing pigeon that landed on her window. She was glad when she heard it fly away from her nocturnal window the night before she flew out of a country where she reported on the effects the cold war.

 

Now, her sentiments towards Rowan were beginning to be stirred up like enzymes inside her belly. Rowan approached her and held her in his arms. She trembled with emotion. He took his hand in hers and smiled. He bent over her and kissed her. She felt a tingling sensation that reached her throat and all the way to her breasts. He kissed her lips inside her soft mouth. She felt her erect nipples inside her blouse.

 

Rowan looked at her tenderly. They went out into the garden through the back door. Ruth observed a sepia caterpillar with light green shades with its three tiny velvet-legs and soft appendages as it slid and fed on an elm leaf on the grass. She picked up the caterpillar carefully with the leaf and took it into Rowan’s shed. He followed her into the shed. There they embraced passionately as if they had been lovers for years. Then, he unbuttoned her satin shirt.

 

 

In late spring pollen filled the air like plankton at sea. When Rowan and his students returned to Nova Brescia, Rowan his repressed guilt as a total objector re-surfaced at the same time as his love for Ruth. Did this mean that he would join the army? He did not know. His new relationship with Ruth opened a wider yet unsusceptible space within him and spurred him to re-consider his decision to deflect.

 

Towards the end of term and the beginning of summer, Rowan noticed rebelliousness among his students. He noticed that some students were acting more aggressively towards him while others showed less respect or grown indifferent to his teaching. Others shifted between lethargy, rebellion, and anger. Olenka had spoken to her father who refused to let her know where he was or what he was doing in the army or whether he was on a special mission somewhere on the front. Ilya said he had not spoken to his mother and sister for a long while. Olenka felt distressed. They both felt confused. Some students began to have mixed feelings about their identities. Brenda concluded that, at the end of term, the students’ projections towards Rowan were becoming distorted due to their reconsidered identity problems.

 

Rowan felt quite restless and called Ruth. Ruth was happy to hear about his holiday with the students and said she would come to visit him if he wished. Rowan said he would be delighted to see her again. When Ruth reached Rowan’s cottage, she stopped by the river and looked into the water that cannot flow twice identically. Her face was fleeting along with the fleeting water. She thought about her narcissistic problems.

 

She knew that most artists were narcissistic because they created partially through their egos and the egos’ energy was disseminated in their creations. What could she be repressing that kept her bound to herself? Perhaps, she loved and was revulsed by her erotic self ambiguously. She would confide to Rowan. Ian was her partner but she felt more relaxed with Rowan. She depended too much on Ian as if he were her manager; yet she felt close to him at the same time. Perhaps, her profound problem was a lack of self-confidence that prevented her from building stable, mature relations. Or maybe she was evading a deeper inner problem.

 

Part Two

Corruption in Nova Brescia

 

Ian Thorpe met the Civil Officer to discuss health insurance and accommodation for the new refugees who had arrived in Nova Brescia. They sat around a table on which he placed a folder containing their names, ages, familial and financial situations. It would be hard to discern the difference between the critical refugees fleeing the war zones from those seeking political or economic asylum. Some refugees were used as a human shield and as war instruments to colonize the host countries.

 

Ian had placed his large leather satchel bag on the floor under the table that he shared with the officer who said that right now, five hundred new refugees had to be accommodated in Nova Brescia. Right then, a beggar, a short man with dirty features dressed in a tattered black suit, approached their table, begging for money. They handed a few coins to the man who rapidly disappeared from sight. When Ian Thorpe reached out to his satchel bag to take out a document, the bag had disappeared. The beggar had stolen it.

 

Ian Thorpe, then, addressed the Civil Officer:

 

“I feel like a refugee in my hometown and my proper country where there are as many beggars as thieves. My newspaper reports, my laptop, and check book are gone. If more crooks flock into Nova Brescia, they will soon outnumber the local inhabitants and will begin to gain power through thieving, and corruption. There are serious emerging problems in Nova Brescia like human trafficking and hard drugs which augment criminality to a higher degree. Attempts to invest in cultural institutions like theatres and concert halls in the city are being counterbalanced by acts of prostitution, both male and female. Competing gang leaders act like pimps to protect the prostitutes and terrorize the population in bars in town. Gangs are like refugees since they flock in from different cities in Nova Brescia. The money that’s made from drugs and prostitution is exported to countries which are being liberated by terrorist organisations. Denunciation means death. Money is the common denominator between those countries and our country Nova Brescia. Money serves to cover up crime. Crime is hidden behind lies and crookery. I have met some people who lie as they breathe and justify their lies to hide their destructive inner motives as if everything that we give them were due to them. We are far from any civilisation in these cases.

 

The war occurring in Praetorium is almost a civil war. Mercenary soldiers are recruited from far-off villages. They are young, jobless, and uneducated. They obey orders without questioning their validity. If they survive the war, they will form a less cultured albeit a uneducated stratum of society. And that is as dangerous as the war, even more so, since it is based on ignorance. As a result, dictatorship is likely to be strengthened.

 

In the future, another problem with the incoming refugees will be their double, or even, triple allegiance to their countries of origin, to their cultural identities, and to Nova Brescia. There are already heavy cases of mobbing in public spaces and the workplace. The person who is a victim of this type of exclusion enters a state of regression and reacts unconsciously as a regressed person. This widens the vicious circle until, denounced, the person is, finally, ejected from his position which he has taken years to build. I have, thus, witnessed heavy cases of mobbing. Commonplace mobbing starts by placing oneself in the proximity to the person to be mobbed; then, closer, and closer until proximity becomes almost promiscuity. People start to meddle in another person’s life. Then, promiscuity cedes to violence unless the person reacts either with verbal force or excludes himself or both. That is how some people take other people’s places.

 

On the other hand, people harass each other by verbal violence which takes the form of incessant verbiage which the interlocutor must endure to maintain the semblance of a civilized response. In fact, it is a hypocrisy based double standards. Not only do people hide behind a group of people to usurp an individual’s place but they do so out of an instinct of segregation hidden behind cowardice. The tattered beggar made me feel like a refugee in my own city due to the war. Will there ever be a way out of this flux of corruption?


 

Thorpe’s Dilemma

 

Ian Thorpe knew deep down inside that Ruth was having an affair with Rowan. He would have to have a man-to-man talk with him. After the theft he experienced, he called him up and set up an appointment in his office in town. Rowan walked into Ian’s office with a pale face and started to speak:

“I know you would like to know about my relationship with Ruth”.

“Indeed.”

“We could not fight off being attracted to each other.”

“But you knew we were living together”.

“Mae culpa. Yet I do not feel extremely guilty about our relationship.”

“How can you say that? Ruth did not speak to me about your relationship but I understood it from the way in which you reacted during the dinner.”

“You can blame me for seducing her, but it happened so naturally so that we both did not realise the strength of our bond. The conflict in which we are trapped and our shared interest in it spurred on our connection. And for that neither of us are to blame.”

“I suppose you could say that love is the perfect antidote for war.”

“Could be.”

“We will be separating soon.” Ian said.

“I understand. As for me, I decided to join the armed forces as a military envoy to Praetorium.”

“Have you told Ruth?”

“No. I do not want her to know. I will write to her when I am at the front. I am leaving next week.”

“Don’t you think it would be honest of you to let her know your decision. You letter might shock her.”

“I still think she should not know until I write to her. Paradoxical as it might seem, my love for her prompted me to join. Perhaps, it’s a way of proving to her that I care about others by joining the army in Praetorium where the casualties are most intense.”

“At any rate, now the cyber war is happening there. People must face drone attacks, three, four, and, sometimes, five or more drones flying over their heads and hitting them and destroying whole buildings, new and old ones also”.

“Precisely. Drones are like missile attacks, if not worse since they are set up in advance to attack people who were unaware of the danger.”

“I will make a reportage on the cyber war. Remote control killer drones, imported from countries that ignore moral codes, now open the era of cyber war that could become apocalyptic if used more widely to destroy our cities and their infrastructures”.

“As a military envoy, I will be negotiating an imminent truce to stop the war. But

Ruth must not know until I write to her.”


 

Part Three

 

The Nightmare

 

Like the curt crevice on the potter's

cooled clay, the dreamer’s memory breach

cleaves her mind in the dreamer’s virtual

 

room while the rift between the real woman

and the potter’s threat as a bait-woman

hidden in the shadows breaks her body.

 

The dreamer’s skin distends with sweat.

She shrieks like a vulture spiralling

the blind sulphurous skies of madness.

 

 

Ruth screamed out of her nightmare in the dead of night. She woke up from her nightmare, sweating. She went out to the balcony to breathe. Strangely enough, she could remember every detail of the incubus process as if she were dreaming and living it simultaneously. As if she were possessed by a demon. She was in a strange foreign country among male potters. One of the potters bullied and harassed her as if she were his property. Then, he tried to rape her. Then, she woke up.

 

Upon waking, she remembered defending herself against the demon-potter who thought she would surrender to him without defence. The potter of her nightmare was virtual, but he was the dark shadow of a real man whom she could not reach. He was not with her when she woke up breathing the nocturnal sea breeze. He might have been the dream-man she wished for. Yet, the potter’s incorporated double figure of a man and demon frightened her.

 

Ruth was now living alone. She and Ian separated a few months ago. Their separation had not been an easy one. Ian had asked Ruth to justify her affair with Rowan. She said it happened naturally. Since their separation, she felt guilty and vulnerable. Her separation could have been the cause of her nightmare which she associated with her mother’s virtual self which she assumed when she felt fragile. The most disturbing aspect of her remembrance was the reality of the assault when the assumed virtual dream-self which the potter wrongfully imposed on her seemed real. Upon waking, she, of course, realised that her nightmare self was virtual. But during the process of the incubus, it seemed more than real. Shouting and sweating were her body’s reactions to her distress and disbelief. She had shrieked out the terrible gap between her virtual and real selves.

 

When Rowan visited her during the week, Ruth started the conversation by implying her anxiety:

“I woke up sweating and shrieking last night.”

“Do you think it is related to your recent separation from Ian?”

“I think my deep anxiety could be related to his questions about our relationship. I said it just happened so naturally that I did not ask myself any questions.” Ruth said.

“Funny, but I also said to him that it happened naturally.”

“I feel my separation from Ian, my long-term companion, and my moving into a flat on my own might certainly have triggered my deep anxiety. I think pent-up stress that causes the unconscious lid to break off.”

“What happened?”

“I awoke shouting and sweating from a nightmare as if my body were protesting against the virtual harassment I experienced in the incubus.”

“As if a demon entered your body and induced the frightening dream?”

“As if I were possessed.” Ruth retorted. “I felt trapped in it for a whole week because the experience seemed so real while I was dreaming it. I could hardly distinguish between night and day, dream and reality; so woke up all in sweat and shouted to stop the bitter confusion. Did you ever feel someone treating you as if you were their property?”

“You mean as if you were someone’s slave?”

“Precisely.”

“Your denunciation into modern day slavery in some countries might be related to the dream setting you remember.”

“It might. Shouting was a healthy reaction against all these destructive powers that induce dreadful visions in our unconscious.”

Rowan and Ruth spent the night hugged in each other’s arms until the break of day. They knew they needed each other more than ever. They knew they had each other.

 

 

Rowan’s Mission

 

After the nightmare, Rowan moved in with Ruth. They decided to present a press conference on the violations caused by war and planned to project the videos of Ruth’s reportage in countries where young women were victims of rape and forced marriage. Ruth had been campaigning against such practices before the war. During the press conference, they crowd-funded and collected money to send to the foreign NGO’s.

 

After the international conference, Ruth decided to join the campaign abroad and flew out of Nova Brescia while Rowan contacted the diplomatic mission and volunteered to join as a military envoy. During his interview by the chief military commander, Rowan stressed his experience in supervising the relocation and education of the refugees. His actions depended on the Education Ministry where he had to report the education and the health conditions of his supervisees. The commander registered him as an envoy.

 

His mission consisted in contacting Praetorium’s diplomats to negotiate a truce between the two countries to end the war as soon as possible. Hence, he was driven back and forth between Nova Brescia and Praetorium to speak to the military commanders and convince them to reach peaceful agreements in agricultural civilian territories. He succeeded to demilitarize a rural region where the river and its tributaries were used to irrigate the crops. He was also responsible for the sanitization of drinking water. Negotiations were tough but, in the end, both sides agreed to retreat to let civilians manage their resources.

 

Two months into his mission, Rowan knew the war terrain quite well. The main fighting took place on the plateau above the valley where the winding river surrounded the stub fields. In autumn rain drenched the roads. Driving was difficult. One day when Rowan’s vehicle stopped at a rest point, the lieutenant began speaking to Rowan about their chances of winning the war.

On a pessimistic note, he said: “The enemy is using drones and artillery fired with the latest technology. They also have reinforcement from their allies. If we do not have help from our allies, we will probably lose this war.”

“Corrupt as they are, if they win, they will corrupt us even more.”

“And if we lose, we will lose become more and more nihilistic as we are now in Nova Brescia.”

“For the moment, I think we should get our soldiers up from the river into the plateau and defend ourselves if the enemy attacks and keep track of the weather before winter turns rain into ice.”

“Some of our soldiers are already fighting there. And we are waiting for more reinforcements. Our soldiers are so courageous that they do not see any danger in attacking the enemy. They live in the present moment of alertness ready to fight.” the lieutenant retorted.

 

As his vehicle advanced along the road, he noticed a few gunmen halfway up the hill track and asked to stop outside a village. A security patrol had stopped a few armed men thinking they had deserted their regiments and kept them at gunpoint. When a man tried to escape, the lead shot and killed him on the spot. Rowan realized the absurdity of the war in which countrymen shot their countrymen based on the false loyalty to their country and out of anger and frustration at the war situation. Rowan could not imagine holding on to his position for long; yet desertion at this point meant death by a blind bullet.

One day while Rowan was driven to Praetorium, his convoy was assaulted by shell fire. He was badly wounded and taken to the nearest hospital. After being operated for several injuries to remove the metal particles from his body he remained in the hospital. During his recuperation, he could not stop thinking of Ruth but hesitated to write to her by fear of hurting her after the shock of her nightmare.

 

In fact, the shooting of the would-be deserters without any witness that Rowan witnessed the assault resembled Ruth’s nightmare. There the enslaved virtual Ruth of the nightmare seemed more real than the real Ruth while she was dreaming. So was it with war, too. Men who shot their countrymen without verifying the truth of their desertion or their status in the army were, in fact, virtual robots who killed others randomly. Demons enter men and men wage war, he thought.

 

So, the war and nightmare were identical in that both transformed real men into virtual automatons. That’s how Ruth’s virtual double made her shriek with horror when the potter tried to rape her. War was man’s nightmare in which all his impulses were released without any restraint. And that’s how man could kill in cold blood. War was, indeed, a true nightmare. 

 

During the day, the soldier who was driving an ambulance came to visit and offered Rowan a large box of pastries with local fruits. They spoke of the offensive up in the mountains and how the pouring rain was making manoeuvres difficult. Rowan felt gratitude to see and speak to him. And when the nurse came in for his daily care, he thought of Ruth and longed to be near her. He began composing a letter for her.

 

“Dear Ruth,

I joined the army as a military envoy a week after you travelled to the NGOs abroad. I took the decision to do so because I thought I could be more efficient in my service to the civil population in war-ridden Praetorium. Reports of the drone victims who were deprived of the essential basics for living kept flowing in and disturbed me more and more. The military convoy vehicle in which I was travelling was ambushed at a countryside turn a week ago. I am now resting in the military hospital in the suburb of Praetorium after surgery. I long to see you.

Love, Rowan”.

 

Ruth’s Farewell

 

Ruth found Rowan’s letter a week after she returned from her NGO tour overseas. She booked a train ticket for Praetorium and reached the town in the late afternoon. The town with the church and fountain in its centre seemed calm. She left her room situated in the large brick house next to the hospital and went to visit Rowan.

 

He was slumbering in an iron-wrought bed. Ruth approached him silently and kissed him softly. He took her hands in his and kissed her back and felt as if he were being infused with a fresh life-force like the beginning of new life in spring. They looked at each other in silence and mutual understanding when Ruth started the conversation:

 

“I was surprised to know that you were out in the front. I thought that was quite a change in your world-view since we met. You were a conscientious objector.”

“I thought it over and think that I joined to prove my courage to you after I fell in love with you. I wanted to project my feelings of love to the victims of the war atrocities and that is the main reason why I joined.” Rowan answered.

“How long will you be in this hospital?”

“I will start with the walking exercises tomorrow. I’ll move around with crutches for another week. Will you continue with the NGO activities back home?” he asked Ruth.

“I have taken on fund-raising initiatives abroad because that’s where they are needed most due to the energy and water restrictions imposed by the war.”

“Two weeks ago, soldiers were being driven up to the plateau to reinforce the ally positions but today our troops are retreating. The enemy took over the higher positions which we were trying to defend, and withdrawal was the only solution.”

“Do you think this might end the war on both sides?” Ruth asked.

“The purposeless shooting of men on account of false betrayal charges that I witnessed convinced me of the absurdity of this war which, I think, will continue long after the withdrawal of all the troops from their positions. But the war might take another form. It might cause the exploitation of the weak and the poor by the victors who will, probably, become even more corrupt.”

 

Their conversation was interrupted by the nurse who came in to change Rowan’s bandages. During his recuperation in the hospital, Rowan thought of Ruth as the nurse disinfected his wounds and felt he regressed to his adolescence. He was getting better but regretted not being involved in the army. He felt his inaction was a detriment to his masculinity; yet, he had joined the armed forces to prove his courage to Ruth as was expected from him by his patriarchal culture. Now the woman he loved was here and proved that she cared for him as much as he cared for her. But he still felt the lack left by his inaction in the premisses of the hospital and it created a tension in his mind.

 

When Ruth returned to her room, she noticed some children playing behind military silos used as hiding points by the civilians and as defence sites by the military in front of the town hall. Ruth thought the children’s play was an ironic enactment of the fighting factions pursuing each other at war. She thought a terrible nihilism would invade people after the fighting was finished.  Death-like emptiness could replace men’s aggressiveness which would even be more devastating than actual death itself.

In the morning, she met Rowan and the doctor in the hospital’s park. Rowan smiled as he walked towards her on his crutches.

“The doctor thinks I should resign from the army.”

Ruth did not respond.

 

On the weekend, Rowan was handed Ruth’s letter of farewell.  She had taken the decision to leave for overseas without him. Although Rowan was glad that he left the war scene and all the fighting behind him, he still felt the moral wound of Ruth’s desertion, trapped as he was inside  the military vehicle that drove him to Nova Brescia.

 

Yet, he did not even think of desertion or betrayal as he left the hospital and his commitment to the army. He had seen too many horrors and infidelities at the front. He knew the war would go on and take another form in the future. War was the price of the freedom to choose one’s way of life, but even then, life ended by death, albeit self-imposed by war or naturally. Mortality was the human condition in the world and transience its constancy.

 

Rowan could now sense the paradoxical change he had undergone after his self-abandonment to Ruth and his consequent commitment to the army. Joining the army was also a compensation for his guilt towards Ian Thorpe. Yet, commitment to Ruth’s love protected him against the ambient nihilism imposed by war in stark contrast with the warring soldiers’ almost unconscious defiance of danger.

 

After the term of his recuperation in the military hospice in Nova Brescia,  Rowan decided to join the foreign NGO development scheme. He would use the negotiation skills he had acquired as a military envoy to maintain coordination among the different NGOs based on consensus. He would negotiate the sustainable use of the primary resource of water between border-countries on either side of the wide winding river. The river would become the custodian of the demilitarized water-table.


Dr. Emily Bilman is a widely published and anthologized author of poetry, literary essays, and short stories. Her PhD dissertation, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published by Lambert Academic in 2010. Slatkine & Cie published La rivière de soi (2010) in Geneva. Modern Ekphrasis (2013) came out by Peter Lang Academic. Her other poetry books, A Woman by A Well (2015), Resilience (2015), The Threshold of Broken Waters (2018), Apperception (2020), The Undertow (2023) were published by Troubador Books, UK. She won the Polaris Contest with a sonnet entitled “Pathfinder” scheduled to arrive on the moon with NASA time-capsule in 2024. http://www.emiliebilman.wix.com/emily-bilman


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