Friday, 12 October 2012

'The Brightlingsea Boy' by Daniel Jeffreys


It was an in-joke, an archaeologist who was 'good in his field.' He no longer laughed. That had stopped long ago. An instinct for the dead kept him at it and a desire to clean the mud from cowhide faces. All through the winter rains he searched for the remains of The Brightlingsea Boy, the Anglo-saxon Prince preserved in salt-marsh and samphire among the timbered ruins of his palace.

            ‘I don’t want to hear anymore…’ his wife said, raw and red-eyed from another sleepless night. ‘You can’t bring him back.’
            ‘But I can clean him up. Reinstate him in a mock-up of his palace.’
            ‘Why don’t you leave him where he is? No matter how many bodies you bring to light it won’t make the slightest difference.’
‘We can learn from him.’
‘There’s nothing I want to know. He died. We die. That’s all I need to know.’

The young intern squatted by the burnt post-hole with yellow measuring tape. The Prince was nearby, staring up through the mud. The archaeologist felt the wind and thin boy fingers stirring his hair.
 ‘Below here,’ he shouted. ‘Right here..’ And then they were falling through the rotted thatch roof of the burial chamber. Light glanced off bronze bowls hanging on hooks around the bier, buckles and blue glass shone with phosphorescent fire. There on the stone bed was the young boy, half-raised, with hands outstretched and fingers that reached into your dreams.  The intern grappled with her boss, restraining him from embracing The Prince and all the time he whispered his son’s name.
He tried to explain to his wife that they shared a kinship—young men who have tasted the same soil, the bier only half a mile from the churchyard and the tower built from the ruins of a much older settlement. Stones that The Prince would have once crawled upon before taking his first tottering steps in the courtyard of his palace until the arrowhead, deep in his chest, did for him.
‘I think of his parents… all they could do,’ and he went to hold his wife but she pushed him away and told him to ‘give over,’ filling her ears with his nonsense but it was different when he placed the blue glass bowl on the table.
‘Is it safe?’ she said. ‘I mean hygienic…’ But she took it anyway, feeling its weight and coolness and stability.
The blue light danced on her hands as she turned the bowl over sending crazy little jags up the wall.  She didn’t know how to respond to its beauty—this thing, this luminous container of emptiness, destined to be filled with conkers and car keys and other crap exhorted her to live up to its promise. She stepped quickly into the living room and brought back the canister kept beneath the graduation photo and began unscrewing. The bowl was too lovely for that. Instead she touched her husband’s fingers that held onto the glass.

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