Sunday, August 30, 2009


They stood, opposites, on opposing sides of the cobble-stone courtyard. Between them, in the center of the open space, a fountain stood. Once the two had been separated by a spray of water gushing up from the fountain, but it had been years now since that fountain had echoed with the sound of falling water. Now the fountain stood, dusty and empty, thirsty for the taste of water once again, rust crusting it's spire, moss growing among the cracks in its masonry. An empty fountain is a beautiful and terrible thing to see, a work of art that has lost its meaning, but gained a new sorrowful symbolism.

The courtyard was surrounded mostly by buildings in a similar state of disrepair. But at either end of the courtyard, there buildings gave way to open space. Space occupied by others.

At one end, the end where the sun would first shine on, was a set of gallows. Like the fountain, it looked as if it had not been used for some years. The sun and rain had beat down upon the wooden framework, but still it stood in defiance of those two heavenly powers. Crooked steps led up to the platform, as if some builder had simply decided that it didn't matter whether or not those approaching their death would stub their toe. Though it had been years since those steps had been mounted, it was easy to see that they would sound out their own laments for the accused in the form of squeaks and groans. The trap door had long fallen down, it hung beneath the structure, swinging slightly whenever a wind swept across the courtyard. The rope was looped still over the top bar of the gallows, half rotten by water and sun, but still displaying its sinister count of thirteen twists, as if to say, "I will not let you forget who I am."

But just like the fountain, the gallows now stood useless. It had been so long since the last poor soul had surrendered his life in the name of justice upon them. It had been so long since the crowds had last gathered before the crude wooden frame, and the magistrate had last read out the proclamation of death, and the hang-man had last earned himself a pair of boots. The gallows stood useless and unused, empty and meaningless. There were no more criminals to die upon them, they were no longer needed.

On the other side of the courtyard, once hidden from the sight of the gallows by the gay shower of water which came from the fountain, stood a play ground for children. What perversion of city planning had caused this place of youthful happiness to be located so near a place of vengeful death is unknown, but it is true that many children learned their first lessons of crime and of death from the viewing gallery of their own playground. They needn't have looked up from their toys, they would learn all the lessons they needed in that field of play. The playground stood now, empty of the laughter of children. Devoid of human life of any sort. The slide had become overgrown with ivy and was barely visible under the foliage. The sandbox had rotted until the boards let loose the sand, and the dry grass had painfully crept across it until it was indistinguishable from the other ground, save for a slight lump under the sod. The teeter-totter had rusted until it would no longer move, the wood rotted until only the metal of the pivot was still standing.

Only the swing set was still easily discernible. And yet, to any viewer, it would have been better if it had not. The sadness there was immense, it's emptiness painful. In the wind, it moved gently back and forth, as if remembering the ghosts of the many joyful hours it had provided the children of this town. Squeaking slightly as it moved, if you just closed your eyes you swore that you began to hear the echos of long gone laughter, the splashing of a long dry fountain, and the gasps of a long past crowd as they watched a man hang from a rope.

The courtyard is empty now, the fountain no longer with purpose, the gallows now victimless, and the swing set without a playmate. It is such an empty courtyard, to have so such things filling it.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm. This makes me think.

    I love this: "They needn't have looked up from their toys, they would learn all the lessons they needed in that field of play."