Skin And Bone by Mark McConville

Skin And Bone.

The skin draped over me, itches from the dust of this room. Picture frames hang sideways, and flakes of dry, old, white paint covers the carpet. I have been sitting here in old clothes, admiring the photographs of a woman of wonderment. A woman who chronicled through poems of love, our times together. She was a teacher to me, a spreader of truth and sincerity, who carried me through the debris of war. I have these poems in my aging hands. I read them, and I cry tears of sorrow, flipping notebook over to see the back. It reads:

‘’Follow your heart and the escape the pain of losing me, I am the angel in your dreams, the sun in your sky, the protagonist in every love story you read’’

This little note resonates with me profoundly as I wipe away the tears. I know she’s with me, in my dramatic dreams, on my shoulder fighting away the intrusive devil that tries to impose himself. I know my heart isn’t as strong as it once was, but inside it, there will be a place for her. Some hearts aren’t idyllic or full of love. I know a few people with hearts of stone. Some alive, some dead.

I stand and wobble a little. I haven’t been safe on my feet for years. Age has slowed me down, a curse in its process and progress. It has progressively pulverized all of my senses, my desires, and my thoughts. I have bad eyesight, my bones feel brittle, and the whole room doesn’t have padding to keep me from breaking into small parts. Dislodging myself from this room takes courage, as I usually sit around all day daydreaming and plotting. The plots in my head sound audacious and dangerous, but I used to be amid danger. Way back then, I thrived and fought for miracles and redemption. In this old shell, I’m waiting on the day that all pain fades.

I crave a resurgence occasionally, a new body, and a mechanical arm to lift my tea properly in the morning. This dreaming has been a mainstay since she departed this brutal world. Trying to think coherently, often muddles me up, like I’m on a landslide cascading into the mouth of a shark.

I sit back down and unravel a picture I haven’t seen in years. A blotted, stained photograph of me in my uniform. A uniform of grace and compassion. My smile masks the pain that we all endured in those days. A smile that fabricated the agony, the repent, the hazards. As I look at it, the whole story comes back into fruition. Those days I tried to mirror the best. I tried to become a leader. Be a behemoth amongst men. This photo has brought it all back. I still can hear bombs and lashings of rain, the thick accents of the enemy, and the cries from the dreamers.

And we scratched and shot guns, we scurried through fields of dirt and shells. The smell of blood on our uniforms made us heave, and we were chased through thorn bushes and tall grass. I can remember the sting from the thorns, the blood trickling down my arm, and all the raucous screams from the mouths of youthful men who had their lives cut prematurely.

We were stationed in blood. We were mismatched. Not all of us had the courage to dampen the war. Some men cried, others held their tears in. Some were heavily sick. It was chaotic, and it was vivid, but we aided each other in a pursuit for freedom. It wasn’t all for glory, it was for our homeland. And these flashes come fast. They’re swift and my mind is a book, a slideshow showcasing bloodshed and memories. It all comes to me. The day I was captured, thrown into a cage.

Inside the bowels of desperation, I sat for days crying and turning into skin and bone. Outside they smirked and laughed, their lives like heaven, mine like the depths of oblivion. I would stand up and feel dizzy as all my energy was sapped from me. All I had was cloudy water to drink.

Memories flooded my head in those days. I could also smell the distinctive scent of kerosene. A smell which ingrained my pores as a boy when my father used it to burn away the old wood in the backyard. I loved its potency and the way it would tear it all apart, the flames a show. I don’t know why I had those memories take hold of me, it might have been because my demise was near and I was reminiscing over the past.

And being stuck in that small compartment made me hallucinate. They were vivid delusions and visions. Rats bigger than people scurrying around, their teeth sharper than serrated knives, their eyes bold and black. I’d try to ward them off. I’d also see angels flurry through with their white wings and beautiful faces. I’d see blood surge up the walls, and entrails of fallen men.

The days had gone on slowly. I knew this, as there was a glint of light shining through the roof. When it dimmed, I knew night had fallen. And often, I would think why they were keeping me alive? What was their purpose in making me feel this overwhelming pain of being barely alive?

Their point in all of that I will never know? But, all I know, is I was saved by a soldier who ranked lower than me. A youthful fighter with tired eyes. His heroic hand pulled me out of this camp and my demonic dreams. When I departed, there was a release, a pulsation, a chance to live again. Skin and bone I may have been, but the freedom felt like a kiss from one of those angels that descended into my hallucinations.

When we walked that day through debris and bird picked bones, I knew I had a second chance. I knew my days of fighting were over. The kingdom of war had seen my best days, battling and prodding the under-skin of cruelty and insincerity.

Back in this room, I’m older than most. My eyes are tired, and my head is muddled. Through this aging process, I’ve learnt that the mind can dispossess its functions, but I will never, never forget her, and now I’ll never forget the days of darkness.