by Sally Zigmond
Arm in arm, Dick and I fight our way through the forest of uncut barley towards the church along with our neighbours. We do not speak. We do not laugh. Even the bairns are silent. The mill has rusted and we hear Tom’s best cow pleading to be milked. I will put her out of her misery when I can but God comes first.
When we are all assembled we silently count the heads but don't tell others although we all do it. There were sixty of us last week including bairns and babes at arms. Today there are fewer than thirty.
‘Susan’s not here,’ I whisper to Dick, ‘nor Luke, nor Seth.’ He shrugs.
Something’s different though. It’s neither the absent neighbours nor the silence. Nor is it the growing forest of candles that flicker in the gloom but fear so thick I can taste it.
More than ten summers ago, when my chores were done, I’d run to the church field and play blind man’s bluff with the other village children among the daisies and the grazing sheep. We’d dodge and duck to avoid the blindfolded figure stumbling towards us, never knowing who’d be caught next. ’Twas but a childish game. We didn't know what it meant.
As we leave I take Dick’s arm. Sweat beads his pale face although the wind is chill. I dare not lift his sleeve because I know what he is hiding in his armpit. I will open our door and bolt it behind me and wait. It will not be long..