Friday, January 10, 2014

The Broken Trumpet

The Broken Trumpet
Bobby Derie

The damned sun did not dim in the sky, as the news went out, and the children played in streets that had never seen shot nor shell, not for the whole of the thing. It was with a numb wonderment that neighbor spoke to neighbor, and faster it spread through the invisible channels, so that soon it seemed everyone in the city knew it - and it was not hard to see if one had heard the news, for there was a look in the eyes of those who had heard it, and perhaps a strange but reluctant duty they felt to share it, though it did not lessen what they felt. The children, who knew little of it, did not comprehend the news when they heard it, and played on despite their parents' somber mood.

Some wept, though on reflection they might have wondered at their tears, for the empty statistics in every newspaper had not drawn any moisture from them, unless they saw the name of some friend or loved one. More drank, in quiet, each to their own thoughts, though appreciative of the company of others. The bartenders stood in painful sobriety to keep the flow; for the terribleness of the news was defined by the needs of the universe: the sun still shone, life must continue. Rage there might have been a little, but it was the impotent rage that flared when the time for it was long passed, and the only victims were a few who harmed only themselves - and even then, a few were saved. For most there was no tangible target for their emotion, save in meditation on the symbols of the old republic.

A crowd gathered around the flying flag, whose every wave in the breeze decried the reality of what had happened. Judges and police came out in the street with the common men to see it flap, and there was a grim finality as men with purpose came to slowly and somberly lower it for the final time. It was a respectful ceremony, and the men did it as they always had, perhaps this time with more care. They stood a little straighter, their movements never so crisp, though one's hands did shake as he grasped the rope, and in the end he held the folded flag to his breast. Without a word he took it with him back into the building, and perhaps that broke the spell.

The nights were alive with the sleepless, empty bellies rumbled against those who had forsaken hunger, food tasteless in their mouths - and yet, and yet the ache seemed to heal. Some gave voice to what they felt, and perhaps that helped; others simply lost themselves in the passing days, all work and bustle of life, and the children played.

Then the veterans started to trickle home.

There was an aura about them, almost of embarrassment. No parades, no medals. Some walked, others limped, a poor few rolled along the streets. They had served, it was true, and many with valor shown by scarred bodies and tortured minds; there was a gauntness that spoke of long nights and longer marches, a wild eye that had seen blood and fire, a sad one that had seen friends breathe no more forever. Listless, for the most part, they fell back to their old lives, their profession gone, along with their cause. In a way, they were the lucky ones - the front line, who could show the price they had paid. Yet no army marches forth alone, and there had been engineers and janitors, cooks and mechanics, secretaries and officers who had never heard a shot fired in anger. Harsh words were few, but harsh thoughts clouded them, not least their own. A pall of accusations hung over all but the most self-assured and self-centered - "Did I do enough?" was the terrible question, and it was left to each newborn civilian to measure for themselves.

The officers of the old regime had set themselves apart; they had been the face and body of the thing, but the spirit had fled, the trumpet had sounded and broken, and they were left each on their own to make their way. Some clung to power and position; empty vessels willing to be filled as the new tide came in. Others retreated into private life, for they who had been the face of the thing now found themselves in a strange country, at once familiar but alien to them. The final shot fired came from an old man, draped in the fallen flag.

Life would go on. It was not like the old time, if even the old times had been as they said. No rapine, no pillage; it was all politics and trade agreements, reparations and pardons. Life, industry, continued. There was money to be made, as they won the peace, and there were those there to make it. Yet forever after, while there were old men that recalled the snap of the flag and the strains of the anthem, they would carry with them the knowledge...that they were a defeated people.


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