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Authors: Lauren B. Davis

The Radiant City

BOOK: The Radiant City
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THE RADIANT CITY

 

by Lauren B. Davis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech,

For I dwell among the tents of Kedar!

Too long has my soul had its dwelling

With those who hate peace.

I am for peace, but when I speak,

They are for war.

•  Psalm 120

 

What we call fundamental truths are

simply the ones we discover after all the others.

• 
Albert Camus, THE FALL

 

 

Cynicism is the last refuge of the broken-hearted.

• 
The Right Reverend Ernest Hunt, Rector, The American Cathedral of Paris
Chapter One
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night is the wrong colour.

 

The first sound he heard was the horses. They sounded like eagles torn apart, like metal gears stripping, like speared whales. Matthew ran to the window. The barn was firelit from within, and orange tongues flickered up almost gently from the roof. His parents and his brother were already in the yard. His father strained to keep his mother from running headlong into the inferno. She twisted and turned in her husband’s grip and Matthew knew there would be bruises up and down her arms tomorrow. Her cries mingled with the horses’ shrieks. Ashes rose and swirled in the heated air. Hellish snowflakes. If he had wanted to, Matthew could have caught them on his tongue.

 

Everything made sense then—the kerosene can, the rags, his father’s flustered irritation, his sharp, “Nothing, you hear! I’m doing nothing!” when Matthew asked him what he was up to yesterday in the tack room.

 

Matthew ran down the stairs and out the door to his mother’s side and saw what she saw inside that burning barn. The horses’ manes flashed and shrivelled, their teeth bared, their hooves flailed at the flames, the skin crisped, going black along their backs, chained in their stalls while the hay went up all around them, so hot they burned, denied even the cruel blessing of suffocation. Matthew stood his ground, faced his father and pointed his finger. He said what he knew.

 

Matthew’s mother broke away from her husband and turned to her son. She slapped him in the face, so hard he fell to the ground. She had never hit him before and his shock left him speechless.

 

“Shut your mouth,” she said. “You’re lying. Don’t ever say that again! You’re lying.”

 

Matthew looked up from the ground at her tear-streaked face, the skin so bright in the fire spray that she might have been burning. In her scalded eyes he saw she knew the truth, and that it made no difference, and that she would not forgive him for it. She would never forgive his father, either, but she would stay nonetheless, even if it killed her, which it would.

 

His father stood, fierce in his power, fierce in his victory. He did not smile. There was no need to hide anything behind smiles.

 

His brother took their mother by the arm and led her into the house. “We’ll call the fire department,” he said.

 

His father stared into the collapsing barn. “Go telling tales on me, will you, you little shit. All right, then. Let’s see where that gets you.”

 

Matthew pressed his face into the dust and begged the dust to swallow him, the ash to bury him.

 

And nothing was the same after that.

 
Chapter Two
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He wakes up in a hospital. There is pain, a lot of it, but it is over there, in the corner somewhere. It crouches and readies itself to spring into his gut. Someone is moaning. Ah, yes.
He
is moaning. A nurse’s face appears, her skin like dusty paper, and then a warm liquid spreading, full of happy little massaging fingers. Good drugs, he thinks as he slips away from the crouching pain. Missed me, he thinks. But there is something to be remembered. Something worse even than this pain. But he can remember later. There will be all the time in the world for remembering.

 

Oblivion cannot last. Refuses to last. The doctors insist the morphine be tapered off. Matthew hates these doctors. And it is good to hate them, for it gives him something to hate other than himself.

 

His spleen is gone, the doctors tell him. He is a lucky man, they tell him. Another inch or so and the spine might have been severed.

 

Yes. Lucky. Lucky, Matthew.

 

The man in the square was not lucky. His daughter was not lucky.

 

Josh was not lucky.

 

More drugs please.
Heads shake. So he begins screaming, and keeps on screaming, until they give him something and the black curtain tumbles over his eyes.

 

There are some people. Asking questions. Taking notes. There is a camera. A bright light. More questions. Then nurses are shooing people out. Raised voices. He wonders what he said. He screamed Josh’s name. He knows that much.

 

Kate is here. Kate with her dark hair, and her vanilla and sandalwood scent, her long-fingered hands, her steel-and-sapphire eyes. Kate at the foot of his hospital bed, her white-knuckled fingers clutching the footboard.

 

“Hello,” he says.

 

“I thought you were dead,” she says and it is clear she has done much crying.

 

“I don’t think so. I’m trying . . .”

 

She moves to the bedside to kiss him. Her lips feel chapped on his. Her hands are cold on his face.
How can anyone be cold in this country?

 

“How long have you been here?” Time is an impenetrable grey cloud.

 

“Couple of days. It took a day for them to notify me. Planes, travel, you know.”

 

“Such a long way to come.”

 

Kate looks puzzled. “What did you expect?”

 

“I don’t know.” He fumbles with the sheet. Turns it back, pulls at it.

 

Looking at her is painful. Being seen by her is worse.

 

“They say you’re going to have to stay in hospital for a few weeks, anyway. Maybe longer. Three bullets, apparently. They did a bit of a dance around inside you.” She wipes something off his face. “It’s all right, baby, it’s all right.”

 

Oh, God, he thinks. I’m crying.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

He shakes his head. Language is helpless and helplessness destroys. A kid with his foot caught in a railway tie screams. The kid screams and tries to get out and the watcher knows he is not going to get out and the train whistle blows and it doesn’t mean anything because that kid’s as good as dead.
The question is, In that equation, which am I? Watcher? The kid caught in the track?
“I think I’m the train,” he says.

 

“We’ll get you back home soon,” Kate murmurs as he cries. “I promise. Into a hospital in the U.S. and then home as soon as possible.”

 

He cannot smell her scent, only disinfectant, bleach. Her hands feel like silken ice. He shivers. Sleeps. Dreams of Hebron. Bullets. Josh. Father and child. Sand between his teeth, coating his tongue.

 

Every time he wakes, she is there. Sitting in a grey plastic chair against the pale yellow wall, which makes her skin look like mustard. Talking with the nurses. Drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Petting him. Sometimes she clasps her hands under her chin and he thinks she might be praying. They do not talk about what happened. He’s grateful for that. Talking is exhausting. Breathing is exhausting, but try as he might, he cannot get himself to stop. He cannot keep track of such things as days and nights. Everything is measured out in nightmares.

 

The phone rings. Far too often. People want to talk to him, interview him.

 

“Vivisectionists!” he yells.

 

They take the phone out of his room. There is some sort of a ruckus in the hall. Men with cameras. A security guard is posted at the door for a while. A big fellow who wears a skullcap. When he looks in on Matthew, he sneers as though he needs to spit.

 

From time to time, the older nurse, the one with the broken blood vessels in her cheeks, brings a plug-in phone into his room. Colleagues ask how he is. They say they are sorry, but it is clear they want to get off the phone. Events like these make everyone uncomfortable. He pictures the way they take a deep breath before they call him. The way they gird themselves with concern. They are afraid of him. He can hear it in their voices. Then one evening the nurse comes in with the phone and says, “This is your father calling.”

 

“Tell him I’m not here.” He turns to the wall and pokes at a patch of peeling paint.

 

The nurse puts the phone on the bed and rests the handset on his ear. Matthew shrugs it off.

 

“Matthew! Goddamn it! Matthew Bowles!” His father was always loud.

 

Even at thirty-nine, his father’s voice still makes him feel like a defenceless boy. Matthew lets him yell for a few more seconds. Then sighs and picks up the phone. “Hello, Dad.”

 

“That you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I heard,” the old man says.

 

“Oh? How?”

 

“You kidding? You’re all over the news.”

 

Matthew’s gut churns, as though another bullet slices through him.

 

“Sure, you’re on CNN, CBC, ATV, even seeing you up here in Truro.

 

People in town are all talking about it.”

 

“I see.”

 

“I had a hell of a time tracking you down. You’re a big fucking hero, eh?”

 


Hero
?”

 

“‘
Journalist tries to save father and child
.’” His father snorts.

 

“I have to go, Dad.”

 

“Yeah, well. This call’s costing me a fucking fortune anyway. You should have called me. Just wanted to see if you were all right.”

 

“Sure. I’m just great. Thanks for the call.” Matthew hangs up the phone.

 

“You want me to see if we can get a television in here, so you can see?” says the nurse.

 

“Hell, no!” He wonders if he can manage to swallow his pillowcase and choke to death before anyone gets to him.

 

Bandages are changed. Drainage tubes are adjusted. Urine and fecal output is monitored. Pain medication is still administered, but they are stingy, and so pain, of all kinds, in unimaginable doses, reappears. It takes root. It grows.

 

An army man visits. He is a slight, stiff man, younger than Matthew, maybe thirty, but very full of his authority; razor creases on trouser legs and sleeves. Matthew tries to keep track of things like name and rank, but gives up. It takes too much energy. The army is angry with him, this much he gleans. He is responsible for events. As if he didn’t know that. As if he didn’t know his own damnation. They understand, says the army man, that he has had some sort of a breakdown. They sympathise. Of course, even so, even so, even in his damaged mental state, he must see that the Israeli army is in no way culpable. Does he see that?
He does. Certainly. Whatever.
No. Not whatever. It must be crystal clear.
Fine. Crystal clear
. They also feel it would be best if he did not stay in Israel longer than is necessary.

 

“He’ll be leaving as soon as he can. And don’t worry. He won’t be coming back.” Kate’s voice, and her conclusions, surprise him.

 

The army man leaves. Matthew regards Kate. He will not be working as a journalist any time in the near future, at least not as he has been. Not in the conflict zones. That requires being trustworthy. It is a job best done at least in pairs. You go somewhere ‘hot’. You find someone you know, or arrange it in advance. Someone you trust. You stick together. Better that way. Unless, of course, you cannot be trusted. Then no one will work with you. Too dangerous. I would not work with me, he thinks
.

BOOK: The Radiant City
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