Jan/Feb 2002  •   Fiction

A Threnody

by Rohana Reading

Around the world travels a light, a small steel blue, ice blue ball of light. It is not seen by those who inhabit the earth nor any kind of measuring machine. It is erratic, it is random, it has not heard of chaos theory. If it has a cause it is irrelevant—its effect is deadly. Is it evil? If you want it to be. Does it care? What do you think? And which would you prefer? But as it happens it cannot be seen even though we have these thoughts.

Sometimes, the blue ball of light dips viciously towards the earth—it dives and screams as it goes, down, down, down to the heavy earth. And when it gets there it kills. Oh yes, always. Sometimes it's a single hit—a child dies in a womb, or is crushed with a tipper truck, or burnt black and brittle in a careless fire. It does this many many times in a single revolution of the earth. It is faster than imagination can measure and more casual than we can conceive. Because it is truly random it—strangely—dives more often to the continent of, say, Africa, than it does to the continent of Europe. It bounces amongst the children of Brazil more freely than it rolls around the streets of London. Who cares?

And then, for no particular reason it hits ten—two hundred—twenty thousand at a time. Earthquakes, wars, bad storms at sea—who cares? A small graveyard at the bottom of a mountain fills with dead children and a Welsh village becomes famous. So what? It is the hard blue ball that bounces on Omagh, Aberfan, Izmit, New York. It could be anywhere—it doesn't matter.

But then, on the radio, driving along, you hear a woman cry that she could not hold her husbands hand as he lay dying in the rubble. You pull over and you cry too. And like sharks smelling blood the whole world is suddenly clamouring, clawing for your tears. Children, dying on the streets reach for you to save them, tortured men call "feel me, feel my pain," mothers screech at you to feed their children, find a cure. Even piles of burning sheep cry for your blood. But you cannot give all that, and so you drive on, quickly. You cannot see the hard steely light streaking the sky, but one day it will get you. And that won't matter, either.