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 wishbone; A tanner; 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: Two dice; 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.
© Mary Paulson-Ellis