I can’t let him go on alone to gather the dead. His leg is withered as one weakened by plague. It would be hard work even for a strong man to dig the graves and to bring the bodies of the dead to the hill for the burials. I demand to help.
The flat winter sky is laid above as a cold wall ‘round heaven and below us the haze over the valley is of lingering flat gray smoke pretending sky over the village. We descend into that band of chimney ash wafting noxious with stench of plague and failed rosemary down on into the valley of Saumur. Bodies enough to fill the cart are laid out on the street under the watch of the village priest and the few still live for grieving. He is signing the cross with gesture and praying the souls off to whatever place has room for more souls this particular afternoon.
I could see the bag for remedies I had brought to him earlier is empty now, folded and tucked into his cincture.
No word is spoken among the mourners as death is best kept in silence. The other of us who digs the grave and I place the bodies one by one onto the cart and we start a slow trudge back up the hill. The few who follow after us are the dark silhouettes of nameless grief. Silently they follow. So too must we be silent now.
This is the particular allotment of time the world gives each person for grief – this momentary stand by the naked hole of grave. But we all know grief is much wider and longer and louder and further reaching than these few quiet sobs offered up from the living in place of the familiar touches and caresses of everyday good-byes. They come. They go. We replace the soil and it is done. The huge hole pierced into earth is hardly seen now because we have done this work well. We can all pretend to forget.
The man whom I believe I know well tells me again he fears for me because I have no scars but he also mentions he is grateful for my help.
“So who would send you up here like this when you have no scars from plague?” And one more thing he asks. “And my man, by what name are your called?”
(Story continues Tuesday, October 29)