Published by Mantle, 5 September 2019
In the end there was one, but there should have been two, dead men laid out amongst the walnut shells, skin already blue. A great rose bloomed over the dead man’s heart, there on his second-best shirt, bright amongst the decay. Those who were left looked away, thinking of the one who should have been there but was not, lungs like wings of ice holding him to the bottom of a river where none of them would have to follow now. Above them birds perched silent amongst the branches. The sky hung grey on the horizon. It was morning. Dawn would be here soon.
In the end they drew lots to decide who would choose first:
A reel of pink cotton.
Before the rest came rummaging, too. Into breast pockets. And hip pockets. And pockets tucked away by the kidneys and the groin. The dead man lay unprotesting as the men dipped their hands in. Everything was sticky. They wiped their palms on damp khaki wool and fingered the rest of the treasure:
That piece of green ribbon;
A canvas pocketbook filled with needles and pins.
They all smelled it. Cordite. And the bullet that was inside the dead man now.
In the end the buried him before they walked away. Not deep, but a dip in the ground scraped out beneath a scattering of walnut shells, like the shallow form of a hare. Their hearts were beating – one two one two – as they scratched at the hole. They didn’t leave a marker; only the mud on their boots told the tale. And the treasure that came last from the dead man’s pockets:
Pawn ticket no.125;
That small square of blue.