‘Youth’

Written in response to inspiration provided by Louise (call for inspiration 3):

The bird circles high above, its silhouette moving over the flat orange rock and sending ripples of agitation and concern rushing through the two young blue tongues who have stopped to sun themselves.

Not far past reaching maturity, their scales have been hardened as far as time out of the egg would harden them. They had yet to be tested, and the young cold bloods, though they could not articulate it, knew this instinctively. They curve in towards each other, as far as their inflexible bodies allow, their armour stopping them from forming a proper half circle each. But between them they circle the wagons as best they can, and settle in with reptilian patience.

The rock beneath them bleeds heat upwards into their soft bellies and the blue tongues feel themselves pulled downwards lethargically. Their heads droop. The sun is singing to them. Eyes squint.

The shadow passes, bigger now, draining the heat. The blue tongues raise their heads and offer up their disjointed madmen smiles and stained tongues.

***

The steel skeleton stretches skyward. Concrete creeping slowly up the structure, fixes it in place. It is both impressive and entirely boring. The grey creep of concrete raised in religious fervour; the beautiful play equipment wrapped in a shroud.

One day soon it would house office space; the men who were building the thing had been told that much. But it was hard for them to imagine that men – other men, men in suits – would lock themselves in the sky in such a way. The workers of course, felt that they were entitled to the sky. After all, they climbed it with courage, accepted it on its own terms, dancing over the structure like acrobats, running along exposed beams and adjusting for the shifting winds while balancing their lunchboxes.

They were young and clever. They would never die.

***

He sits with his back to the wall, sand trickling down from above. He brushed it off his shoulder, took his helmet off and reached for the thin bundle of creased paper held in place with tape. Tearing it away gently, he folded the tape carefully so it didn’t catch. The letter, freed of the tape, began to unfurl. The paper was still stubbornly trying to return to its natural shape, it hadn’t yet had its folds pressed into permanence. It had only arrived yesterday.

He reads the gently sloping script within; the schoolgirl pride still evident in his young wife’s hand. He wondered if she imagined that the neat, ordered handwriting would please him. It did, he realised.

He placed the letter beside him and stared at the photo she had included. She seemed exactly as he remembered her, the news she had shared with him not evident yet. Was that a secretive smile on her face? He couldn’t be sure.

Three of his mates pushed past him, muttering about going over the trenches in the morning. He looked up. The sky was still dark. He still had time. He picked up the letter once more.

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