The jailer’s cap was pulled down, his oily beard gingered with dropped snuff. He signalled with pinched fingers. ‘Fourth one along.’
The stench was unbearable, the path slurried with leaves, the emptying of slop buckets. I lifted my skirts to keep the hem free of filth. I stopped, called my love’s name.
A hand appeared between the bars, the wrist too slender to be his, the nails once trim now long, torn, black. A moan drifted on the wind, a sound that was almost my name.
I’d imagined him slender, grubby, downcast but still with shining eyes, still himself. The creature that clawed and thrashed at the stone was not him, not the him I wanted to remember. My basket fell to the ground, bread tumbling, bottle thudding to the muck.
It’s quiet now, that clock, that bell that chimed the hours of our young lives away, that ticked the minutes off and struck the hours dead.
Ivy blinkers the windows, clogs the door that swallowed us each morning, that spewed us out just as the best of the day was done.
Here we learned of times tables and the alphabet, of continents and rivers, of brash kings and silent queens. Here too we learned of friendship, of power, of kind words and harsh words, the meaning of betrayal.
The world moves on and the pupils are grown, gone to practice what they learned within school’s rough walls.