One Saw Mud


Written for the picfor1000 livejournal challenge. This year, the challenge theme was Elemental; a photograph based on one of the five elements of Chinese philosophy: earth, water, fire, wood or steel. I was assigned earth (the picture is here).

Close. That one'd been close.

He looked up at the towering grey buildings, concrete blocks that somehow managed to look drab even on this bright day. They sucked in the light, pulled the life out of it and spat it back, diminished, just as they did their sorry inhabitants. The limbo people, forever trying to escape, forever pulled back and back, until there was nothing left...

Oh Christ, now he was getting maudlin. But it had been close, and... Bodie shook his head, trying to clear it. Just another day, just another day...

Shame the council didn't keep these places a bit better. He leaned back against the Capri, scuffing at cracked tarmac with the heel of his shoe until a piece broke away, thick and jagged, skidding its way under the car. Nothing around here was whole. No wonder they were sinkholes for the desperate and the drug addicted.

The man's eyes were wild, his body shaking as he stood there, hands wrapped around the grenade, thumb and forefinger playing with the pin.

Stupid bastards. Didn't they know to get out? To go and keep going, just like he had? A long time ago now... Bodie closed his eyes, lifted his face into the sun, to where it still fell, warm and golden and alive, across his skin. He breathed the warm air, felt again other times, other places.

Sitting in the sun in Angola, watching a couple of rhinos wandering around each other, no sound but their solemn huffing, the low chirrup of crickets, and a quiet stirring of the thorn trees... Or in the Jordan highlands, a leopard stalking a pair of ibex as the deep blue of the sky softened into evening, ready for the velvet dark, the star-blanketed night...

Why didn't they just get out?

To the left of the man was a stack of crates, and in every one dozens more grenades, all just waiting for that one big bang to set the lot off. To the right were the guns, Uzis and Ingrams and Skorpions, ammo to match, all destined for desperate men in desperate battles to save the world from each other.

No. He opened his eyes onto brilliant blue. Go back to the sun, back to the sky.

Even better than stopping to feel the sun warm on your face, was flying right in its light, above the clouds, above the world. Nothing but you and the sky and the sun, and the drone of the engine taking you away. The heartbeat thrill of stalling out, the pure silence as the nose drops, the thud of relief as the engines cut back in again. The airy space yours to play in, no one else for miles in any direction.

Shame you always had to come in to land. He tried to think back, to remember why he'd left those worlds of sunshine and warmth, those vastly empty, vastly peaceful swathes of desert and grassland and sky.

"I don't care if I go, you know! I've got nothing to lose. Why don't I just blow you sky high, eh? Finish it!"

"Because you're scared." That was bleeding-heart Doyle. "Because you don't really want to."

"You don't understand! You'll lock me up whatever I do, won't you?"

"We'll help you."

"You'll lock me up!"

"Look where you are, Andy. You set that grenade off here, you'll be taking families with you, mums, children."

"What do I care? They'll be better off too, poor bastards! Won't have to end up alone then, eh?"

"You're not alone, Tommy."

"Nah..." Tommy trailed off, and for a second, just a second, Bodie thought that maybe Doyle had got through after all. "I'll take youse two pigs with us, an' all!"

And then he had pulled the pin.

Bodie remembered another time then, it had flashed across his eyes even as he squeezed the trigger, saw the lad fall, saw Doyle, who was closer, snatch up the grenade as it rolled across the floor, and dash for the open doors onto the concrete balcony, death curling round him in grim desire. In that flash the sky was blue, and the air was thin, and it screamed through his blood like flight, like his first solo, surrounded by cloud, and so scared of falling, and so sure that he would not.

That one pure moment when he had realised it was Doyle for him, and always would be.

The grenade flew out of Doyle's hand, up, up into the blue sky, exploded into nothingness, and fell in a hundred thousand harmless pieces onto the mudded ground below.

There was a shout, and he looked up to see his partner, who had finally escaped the Cow's pedantic clutches. Between Cowley and Capri, Doyle had been distracted by the half-dozen kids who were playing football on the patch of land optimistically called communal space. He had taken possession of the ball, dodging and dribbling amongst them, not so fast that they were left behind, just fast enough to taunt them, to bring them together, an angry horde united. Doyle spun on one heel, twisted impossibly to keep the ball in his own play, miscalculated a ten year old dervish, and ended up flat on his back.

And there he was, lying in the dirt, laughing that laugh right up at the sky, across the desperate straggle of mud and yellowed grass, and then turning to share it all with Bodie. And Bodie didn't fall, but he followed the pull, wandered over to stand above the man who was his.

"Can't take you anywhere," he said, shaking his head and pursing his lips. But he tugged Doyle to his feet, lifted a hand to the small of his back, and gave him a shove towards the car. "Well, maybe twice..."

And Doyle joined in, rolling his eyes, in a sing-song voice, "Second time to apologise..."

Bodie smiled then.

Doyle tossed him the keys, and Bodie slid into the drivers' seat, uncomplaining.


-- THE END --

February 2007

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