Contra Mundum

Updated: Apr 13, 2020


The following is a short Christmas story I wrote in 2015 as part of a collection of stories called The Village. The imaginary village of Wickshaw is a Pollyanna type of place I go to when I need to feel good about the world.


 



Contra Mundum - Against the World


The village was waking

the chimneys began

to breath their warmth

as mothers and fathers

roused their children –

the children slowly

coming alive to discover

what St Nicholas

had done throughout the night.


The air was silent

as it always is when

winter blankets the

ground in white

and frost the trees

with silver.


Thaddeus had awoken before dawn.

He had not slept a full night

in over ten years.

The pain in his legs

always preceding the cockerel.

If it wasn’t the pain

it was the dreams –

Thundering and booming dreams

filled with smoke

and screams and always dying.


Hope was a scarce commodity

and Thaddeus had little.

But whatever shred was left

was enough for him to rouse

himself each morning.


The church bells were tolling

the first Christmas chimes

as Thaddeus closed the door.

He set out for St Luke’s

while the rest of Wickshaw

was still having breakfast

or opening their Christmas stockings.

Getting everywhere took longer

for him than most people.

Even the old ladies passed him

on the path –


Down Abbey Lane and round

the bend on Old Forge Road

and up towards the church.

Slow and dragging footsteps

were quite normal now.

The bullet from the enemy

had taken away his kneecap

and any chance of ever bending

his leg again or

walking without a cane.


He had cursed his foe

many a time

and even cursed his God.

But for King and country

and mother’s love

he never said ill words.

The snow and cold

made it even worse,

but stubborn determination

moved him forward.


The path through the Village Green

was shortest and there were benches

for him to rest

but he sought to make it

to the furthest seat

to spend an hour or so

before the Carol service.


The memorial sat in prominence

towards the north end of the green

Wickshaw had lost its share

to that Great and Terrible War.

More than its share one might say.

And the village was still

recovering

remembering

re-becoming.


To save our country I must go

to far off fields of untold woe


Thaddeus sat and studied

the monolith before him

pulling his coat closer

around him

breathing the crisp air

through his scarf.


The marble came from the quarry

Alabaster white

with rivers of rose and tawny veins.

it shone bright on summer days

and mirrored splendid in springtime rains.

But this winter morning ethereal breath sparkled

to match the snow below.


While a very many did contribute

to the building of the testament

most the resource in fact came

from Lord Clarke and Mrs Bramley

‘tho they were both discrete

and gracious to hide that fact.

Both had lost sons to the earth

to the horrors of battle –

Lord Clarke in fact two.


Victor Clarke lost his life

in the Third Battle of Bastogne

His brother Watson died of fever

in the squalid trenches

when his wound grew septic –

he had only been grazed by a bayonet –

Thaddeus cursed the waste.


To save our lives I must walk

in fields and forests unknown


Alvin Bramley died a hero

in the final days of the fighting

the final push to liberate Europe

Thaddeus remembered them all –

Victor, Watson and Alvin

were his dearest friends.

He sat and stared at their names

inscribed forever in stone.

Sometimes he felt guilty

to still be among the living

He considered himself a coward

despite the Queen's Cross of Valour

and the bullets in his legs


To save our land I must fight

amongst the enemy undaunted


“Doesn’t bravery mean

that I should have given my all?

My all?

My life?

How could I still be here

when mate and friend lie lost?

The battle field has swallowed them

yet I am breathing still.”


To win this fight I must not fail

so children may walk our shores unfettered


Perhaps it was not guilt but just

loneliness that prompted such

desolate and savage thoughts?

After all he was the only one to return.

He did come home to a hero’s welcome.

Real or imagined

he felt their stares

and could not help but

think their gazing eyes

full of contempt.

“Don’t worry my dears

because I have the same question.”

Why am I hear and not your sons?

Why do I stand when your brother can not?”


To carry on we cannot falter

for our liberty our sacred alter


He came upon remembrance day

and paid his due respects.

It had snowed several times since then

and the poppy wreaths still lay

under the layers.


His thoughts continued

in melancholy of rambunctious mates

of battles lost

of mother’s love

and her passing

and Christmas mornings.


He was lonely.

He was afraid of being alone.

He was afraid of not being alone.

For so long his pain and guilt

were all that he had it seemed

pointless to wish any different.


The bells were chiming

to call the Village to Service once more

and people were starting to gather.

He would wait a while longer

until he heard the church door open.


“Good morning Thaddeus”

he turned to see a bundled

but well-dressed woman

“Oh hello Mrs Bramley”

“Merry Christmas to you”

“And to you”


She paused and stared at the stone.

The winter air betrayed a heavy sigh.

She turned with her walking stick

and sat next to Thaddeus.

He suspected she really didn’t need her cane.

They sat in silence contemplating

each other’s presence.

That pang of guilt began to return

“Why Alvin and not me?”

She turned to him suddenly –

Had he said that out loud?


She took hold of his hand

and smiled into his swollen eyes.

She saw his pain and knew his thoughts.


“I miss my Alvin something fierce!

And I would give almost anything to

have him back – to have all of them back.”

He stared into her eyes

and his heart began to burst.

“Only God knows why things

are the way they are Thaddeus.

But do not think for a single moment

that I would trade your life for his”

Her bluntness took him aback.

“I. Um.”

“When you went away

it was four boys

to save the world.

But now –


“I see you. I see your isolation.

You are not alone.

It is not you against the world –

I have been very remiss

I should have” She paused

not really knowing what she should

have done for this boy

but knew

but felt his pain and sadness.

“We should get inside”

she changed the subject

“And I expect you to walk me

home and stay for Christmas dinner”

This woman –

the mother of his fallen comrade

the mother of his childhood friend –

he had known her his entire life

and certainly knew not to contradict her.


The organ began to play

inside the church

They stood and took one last

look at the memorial.

It is just a stone

set in the Village Green

but it does what it is meant to do

Remind the living

of the fallen.


To carry on we cannot falter


“Come, help an old lady to church”

 



Story By Darren Goad © 2015-2019

Photo by Sandwell Council (cropped)

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