the stone cutter

     Sister Somna was waiting for him at the gate. Even though agitated, she said nothing, never did, and flapped her hands for him to follow her to the stables. Jones leaned out of his stall with his ears laid back and lip curling at the sight of the man. Any man.  A black, cross-eyed goat sat on its haunches, leaning against the stall door. It hissed at him. Then, from all corners of the yard, Coupe and the little nun were ambushed by a large flock of chickens demanding to be fed.

The quarry had delivered the stone that morning. The driver was a superstitious lout and couldn't stop gawking at the black nuns robed in white. It astonished him that the black coffee of their skin didn't seep into the stark white wraps they favored. His father had told him that Catholics were devil worshipers in disguise and he had once been a policeman, so there. The goat clinched it for him. He hastily rolled and shoved the blocks of marble down the wooded ramp that was padded in layers of burlap and left the stones right in the middle of the stable yard.

Coupe folded his long legs down, elbows near his knees, and embraced the block of white marble as one would a beloved. Two feet on the sides and four tall. A monument in waiting. He'd have to rig a block and tackle to get it up where he could work on it. Then he laughed. "Why? I'll work like this, ass first." He unfolded his legs and rested his strong hands on his knees. "Make the way it will be seen forever."

Sister Somna returned from feeding the chickens and tapped him on the top of his head. Stretched out, he was six feet long to her four and change tall. She threw her hands wide in a beseeching gesture, her bright eyes tilted in a clear query.

"Yeah, yeah." How he understood her so easily no one knew. She was all and only nods and hands flying. "I'll get some help and we'll tuck them in whatever corner you say." He pulled himself up onto a block of sugar-white stone and let his legs dangle around it patting the cool stone between his thighs like he was inviting her to sit in his stone lap.

"What do you think? A big fat sheep? Sister clapped her hands over her ears. She wasn't having any sheep, no farm animals, but let him know, with a sweep of eloquent gestures, that she knew he was joking. She flew her hands in a way he knew to mean 'tomorrow' and clapped him dismissed over her shoulder.

Coupe watched her flit away and turned to the angry mule and the drooling goat. "Did that little hussy swing her hips at me?" Jones also dismissed him with a wet snort and the goat dropped a pound of shiny goat shit pills in the straw. "Oh yeah, I'm hell-bound, no doubt. Axe me do I care?" 

With a flip and roll, he brought himself back to where he'd left his chair braked in the shade, and clambered aboard smoothly. Hell would be a cakewalk compared to what he'd been through overseas. In three months, he'd been shanghaied, conscripted, trained for a week, and on a troop ship before being marched to a particular hell somewhere up the ass of France. 

 He was already lying in the back of an ambulance when one of the high-stepping carriage horses that the Army had liberated to haul it stepped on a landmine. The matched Chestnut mares with white socks became dinner for half the village they were passing through. Coupe and three other men were piled in the upside-down ambulance that had been thrown clear of the blast that had torn apart both horses and their driver. He was the sole survivor.

 A bearded man who seemed to be in charge peered into the back of the wagon. He hefted a white stockinged haunch over one shoulder and shouted at two teenage girls in an unknown language. Coupe was dragged from under the dead and into the barn. The wagon and bodies were stripped of everything and set ablaze. The youngest girl wrapped a bandage around his head and face even though there was no blood or apparent injury. He had been in the ambulance because a world of shrapnel wounds climbed the ladder of his spine, deep and dark. Dirty. She set about cleaning him as one would sheer a sheep. Never speaking a word. Thus began his lessons in eloquent silence.

excerpt from the Monkeytown Murders, work in progress


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