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They made themselves dirty, like they were preparing for an honorless war, and laughed again.
They took me down to the place by the gate and they filled my mouth with hot dry earth. They took me out of my clay house built in the bowl of the valley where magistrates leaned over the rooftops and watched me sleep through darkwashed apertures, and the mirrors whimpered like timid rivers, and the gibbous walls of the cellar dripped strong, golden wine. And no one saw me leave, because they were always deep in prayer, and dragonflies circled them like wary soldiers, and they glittered beneath the old turquoise sky. My captors were deep in prayer, too, when they took me to the place by the gate. They made marks on their chests like falling stars, and threw salt on the road before them.
At the place by the gate, they wrote on me with scarab’s ink. Short heresies they had scraped from their memories, and long compounds which meant nothing in themselves, but could filter through the pages of the Law, and write them into nothing, too. They put me on my knees, and put a bar behind my knees, and tied my feet together against my hands, so that I fell forward, and my knees rolled with the earth, and my knees felt what the earth demanded of them. They put a boot on me and pressed me into the shimmering dust. They laughed and smoked long cigarettes and let the ash drop on their shirts, let the butts fall down their throats. They made themselves dirty, like they were preparing for an honorless war, and laughed again. I saw the gate tilted up before me drawing a twice-pierced and graven silhouette against the sky, and the bird that stood in the window at its apex, carved from the ice that had turned to stone, looked down at me and I felt its glare. All my hairs stood up and were frozen. I rubbed my face against the crumbling earth and made a bedraggled sound.
They left me then. They went back to homes where rows of black whips hung on the walls and gears were always turning. They would pass, in their darkened stairwells, paintings of deities they were forbidden to know, and would stop, and laugh quietly, and each put a hand up against the faces in the pigments, and let their dreary heat melt them down a little more. In beds of straw stolen from some father’s fields they would dream of nothing but the chiming of a distant bell, insistent and unreachable, while I was left alone there, before the gate and before all my ugly years. The bird’s eye was turned upon me and no other, but still I could not disappear. The gate fell open, and didn’t make a sound. Ice dripped down and covered me.
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